Mariners Breakdown: What veteran A.J. Pollock brings to the table

Jan 10, 2023, 2:58 PM | Updated: 3:09 pm
Mariners White Sox A.J. Pollock...
A.J. Pollock of the Chicago White Sox celebrates his solo homer against the Mariners on Sept. 5, 2022. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Mariners have reportedly plugged one of their roster’s few remaining holes Saturday, agreeing to a one-year contract with veteran outfielder A.J. Pollock, per ESPN’s Jeff Passan.

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It may not be the flashiest move, but Pollock does bring a few notable things to the table for Seattle.

Let’s take a look at who Pollock is and what he adds to the M’s.

Pollock’s role on the Mariners roster

Last month on Seattle Sports’ Jerry Dipoto Show, the Mariners president of baseball operations spoke about looking for right-handed power. If there’s one thing Pollock offers, that’s it.

As things stand, Seattle’s outfield consists of Jarred Kelenic in left field, Julio Rodríguez in center, and Teoscar Hernández in right. Kelenic, 23, has struggled in parts of two MLB seasons thus far and it was widely believed the Mariners would look for a right-handed hitter to platoon him with so the lefty hitter could sit against southpaw starters. That’s where Pollock comes in.

The 2022 season wasn’t Pollock’s best. He posted a .245/.292/.389 slash line for a .681 OPS with 14 home runs in what his lone year with the Chicago White Sox. The key thing, though, is he still had plenty of success against left-handed pitching, which is exactly what the Mariners will be looking for him to do in 2023.

Pollock proved to still be a valuable bat versus lefties, posting a slash of .286/.316/.619 for a .935 OPS with 11 home runs in 133 plate appearances against southpaws. For contrast, he had just three homers in 394 plate appearances against righties.

His numbers stand out when compared to the rest of baseball, too. His hard-hit percentage of 39.4% against lefties ranked 40th in MLB, according to Fangraphs.

Even factoring in his struggles against right-handed pitching, there’s clearly still pop in Pollock’s bat. He was 71st percentile in max exit velocity last season, 69th percentile in expected batting average, 65th percentile in expected slugging percentage, and 61st percentile in both barrel rate and hard-hit percentage.

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Don’t expect Pollock to provide too much help defensively, though. While he won a Gold Glove during his 2015 All-Star season, he’s now 35 years old and has lost a step in the field (32nd percentile in outs above average, 27th percentile in outfield jump in 2022, per Statcast). He still possesses a strong arm (78th percentile) and above-average speed (60th percentile), and is certainly an improvement over Jesse Winker, who struggled mightily on defense in 118 games in left field for the Mariners last season.

A first-hand view

Play-by-play announcer Joe Davis joined Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk on Tuesday, and while the main reason was to preview the Seahawks-49ers playoff game Davis is calling Saturday for FOX, they also took the opportunity to talk to him about Pollock (listen here). That’s because Davis, who also calls MLB games for FOX, is the lead Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster and saw Pollock up close not just during his time with the Dodgers but also when he was starring for the Arizona Diamondbacks, an NL West rival of LA.

“Well, first of all, as a person he’s one of my favorite guys,” Davis said. “… When he’s healthy, he’s a good hitter. Not great defensively – I think part of that is the accumulation of the injuries through the years, but he can hit, man.”

Pollock was legitimately one of the most productive hitters on the Dodgers in the last two years of his three-year tenure with the team, posting LA’s fourth-best OPS in 2020 (.881) and third-best in 2021 (.892).

“On those star-studded Dodger teams, there were some stretches where he was their best hitter,” Davis said. “We saw this from afar when he was in Arizona for the first seven years of his career – we didn’t like facing him. So this is a dude who, when he’s healthy, he’s somebody that can really be a force offensively.”

But as you might expect with a power hitter, he can be prone to chasing at times.

“He can also go through stretches, like any hitter, where you’re not very good at all and he gets a little big and chases just about anything that you throw up there,” Davis said. “You’re gonna have stretches where you get really sick seeing him chase breaking balls down and away, but you can say that about most hitters. So great guy who’s a great hitter when he’s right.”

The veteran effect

The Mariners have shown in recent seasons how much they value what players, particularly veterans, can bring to the clubhouse. Davis hinted at that, and in addition to Pollock’s reputation as a good person off the field, he brings valuable experience to Seattle much like Carlos Santana did in 2022.

Entering his 12th MLB season, Pollock has a lot of playoff experience, playing in 34 postseason games and winning the World Series with the Dodgers in 2020. He came up huge in his last appearance in the playoffs, too. In 11 games during the 2021 postseason, he hit .314 with two home runs, four doubles, seven RBIs, a .333 on-base percentage and .933 OPS. He especially shined in six NLCS games against Atlanta.

Dipoto is clearly plenty familiar with Pollock, too. He was director of scouting and player personnel of the Diamondbacks in 2009 when Pollock was picked 17th overall in the first round of the MLB Draft by Arizona out of Notre Dame.

It’s worth noting that Pollock reportedly “never seemed truly comfortable” with Chicago after spending the entirety of his career before with teams in the NL West. Perhaps that was a factor in him declining a $13 million player option with the White Sox, instead taking a $5 million buyout. With his deal with Seattle reported to be worth $7 million, he leaves $1 million on the table while returning to the Pacific time zone.

Looking for more on the Mariners? Don’t miss the return of the Mariners Hot Stove live on Seattle Sports 710 AM from Hatback Bar & Grille from 6-8 p.m. Tuesday night. Click here for details on listening to the show or attending the broadcast live at Hatback, which is directly across the street from T-Mobile Park.

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