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  • New swing helps Twins' Clete Thomas contribute

    Clete Thomas's swing overhaul has rekindled his careerWhat Clete Thomas experienced last year at the major league level was the opposition's complete ownership of the airspace in and around the strike zone. He was, as the internet kids say, pwned.

    In 29 plate appearances in 2012, he struck out 16 times and did not draw a walk. What the data tells us, but does not need to, is that in this small sampling Thomas was a complete free-swinger. Not only that, he was chasing after anything that moved in the general vicinity of the stadium. This resulted in a quick and much needed demotion to Rochester.

    The whiffing did not stop while playing in The Flower City (Authorís note: itís a thing, look it up) either. He was thrown a chair a whopping 109 times in 426 plate appearances. After parting ways briefly in November, the Twins re-enlisted Thomas in December for organizational outfield depth. He was told to tone down his swing and improve his contact.

    The idea of retooling a player's swing or pitching mechanics fascinates me Ė particularly for guys on the fringe. You know that thing you have complete muscle memory for and are comfortable with? Change it. If it doesn't work? Oh well, you may be out of baseball. Pat on the butt and best of luck.

    Plenty of struggling players are asked to rework this or tinker with that and the vast majority of them seem to stay at or near the level of production they had before the overhaul. That said, there are a few notable players who have turned their careers around by changing things up, like Roy Halladay or Jose Bautista. But players like these are the exceptions, not the rule. Locally, Twins hitter Trevor Plouffe made improvements to his swing and that turned into one of the most potent 30-day power binges this state has ever seen. Although the third baseman has had trouble at third and staying healthy, he has shown an ability to drive the ball better since his re-education. On the other hand, players like Delmon Young and Luke Hughes also made some adjustments that helped fuel brief hot stretches but never really made much long term progress.

    On the recent FSN broadcasts, Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven lauded Thomasís work to improve his contact rates; this effort helped him produce a fantastic start with Rochester this year. True, Thomasí strikeout rate stayed the same but it was not due to wild swinging. The edict to change not only incited alterations in Thomasí mental approach (i.e. plate discipline, pitch selection) but also in his mechanics to ensure a greater rate of contact. He improved his walk rate from 6% to 12% and with that came an increase in strikeouts looking. When he put the bat on the ball, it packed some punch. He raised his slugging percentage from .405 to .576 thanks to nine home runs in 36 games, after hitting 12 in 109 last year.

    Thomasís changes started with the set. In 2012 (right) he stood more upright, holding his hands higher and keeping his front foot opened. Comparatively, this year, Thomas has brought the front leg inward, lowered his hand level and has a more compacted stance.

    The side-by-side differences are evident but how did they affect his swing?

    Thomas has had a long, looping swing that generated some power but far more empty swings Ė as evidence by his 23% strikeout rate in the minors and a 25% rate in the majors. With an opened and upright stance, Thomas exhibited a sizable load with his hands prior to bringing the bat through the zone. During his swing, his head would change planes, likely causing some hand-eye issues and resulting in the hefty in-zone swinging strike rates. Though many hitters have open-stances like pre-2013 Thomas had, those players typically have a toe-tap or other timing mechanism (not unlike former Twin Jason Kubel) to keep their weight back and evenly distributed. In Thomasí case, the front side is all drifting away from the plate leaving him susceptible to pitches away.

    The most noticeable change in how muted his hand-load is this: instead of drawing his hands as far back as he did in 2012, he has a smaller loading point which quickens his hands and bat through the zone. With bat speed being one key to power, this alteration is part of the reason for the increase in power. Second, with the compacted stance, his head does not change planes as much which leads to better vision. If a hitterís eye level is changed during the swing he will have additional difficulty squaring up on the ball. Last, with the more closed stance, his weight stays centered at the middle of the hitter's field rather than pulling open, giving him better plate coverage.

    Dating back to his tenure with the Detroit Tigers and their minor league organization, Thomas always had high levels of whiffability but also displayed enough power and speed to continue being considered a fourth outfielder candidate stashed away in Triple-A. However, once at the major league level, pitchers would exploit his deficiencies and render him fairly useless at the plate. The work ethic shown in being able to revamp his approach and swing has made him a useful component to the Twins. His stay with the Twins may be short-lived once Aaron Hicks proves ready to return; nevertheless, give Thomas credit for being willing and able to make enough adjustments in his approach and mechanics to have given himself value to the Twins .
    This article was originally published in blog: New swing helps Twins' Clete Thomas contribute started by Parker Hageman
    Comments 15 Comments
    1. John Bonnes's Avatar
      John Bonnes -
      As of today, his 730 OPS is close to his career average, though maybe he's platooning less now? He sure looks a lot better. I honestly wonder if the Twins might stick with him when Hicks comes back, and let Hicks learn to dominate AAA.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by John Bonnes View Post
      As of today, his 730 OPS is close to his career average, though maybe he's platooning less now? He sure looks a lot better. I honestly wonder if the Twins might stick with him when Hicks comes back, and let Hicks learn to dominate AAA.
      That very script has written itself since Hicks went on the shelf and I surmised as such. The Twins desperately needed an alternative in CF, for the short-term at least, they now have one- plus they have the added benefit of a guy who actually has shown any ability whatsoever to bat lead off for the Twins.

      It would make perfect sense that now is the time not to rush Hicksie's return. The issue can be revisited some time after the All Star break if Thomas just maintains something close to his current production level.
    1. fairweather's Avatar
      fairweather -
      I did say that people would be pleasantly surprised by Thomas if for no other reason then expectation were garnered from the worst of the smallest of sample sizes last season.
    1. Thegrin's Avatar
      Thegrin -
      As long as Thomas is productive, let Hicks regain his hitting stroke in Rochester.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      re: Hicks:
      a. he is improving
      b. he is saving runs with his glove.
      c. last but not least. Everyone is saying that Hicks' season with the bat has been horrible; and with an excellent reason. But chew this: .275/.348/.550 as a RH hitter. He has no business batting left handed. I would not mind him spend a couple weeks in AAA and batting exclusively right handed (so he gets a good look at righties) and then come up. His issues from the left side are not new. About time the Twins do something...
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      I'm having trouble understanding why anyone would advocate playing Clete Thomas over Aaron Hicks.
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      I think Clete's real competition is Ramirez. Does he speak Spanish? As a LH hitter who can pass in CF, Clete is the better option as a fourth OF.

      Optioning Hicks makes sense from a player control perspective and actually might be better for his development. I respect your opinion Thry, but to ask a guy to stop switch hitting after six years is pretty drastic. Hicks' history is to struggle at a new level, particularly lefty, and then catch up. He's struggled for sure in the major leagues, but if his history holds, he will catch up from the left side.
    1. BabyJesusBuxton's Avatar
      BabyJesusBuxton -
      Quote Originally Posted by USAFChief View Post
      I'm having trouble understanding why anyone would advocate playing Clete Thomas over Aaron Hicks.
      It's not necessarily that Clete should play over Hicks but rather what is best for Hicks' development.

      Honestly, I don't know if time at AAA will be beneficial or not but I have seen Hicks improving his approach at the plate since April. If it is decided he will remain with the Twins after this DL stint I am okay with that especially for the his defense in center.
    1. orangevening's Avatar
      orangevening -
      CF backup is what is scareing me more. I shudder to think Parmalee/Escobar in CF. I see Hicks backup here with Thomas playing against right-handers. Haven't heard much Rameriez lately speaking of which....
    1. BabyJesusBuxton's Avatar
      BabyJesusBuxton -
      Ramirez is still dealing with concussion symptoms.
    1. orangevening's Avatar
      orangevening -
      Quote Originally Posted by BabyJesusBuxton View Post
      Ramirez is still dealing with concussion symptoms.
      Yeah, thats is the last I heard. He was going to rehab in Fort Myers and that was holding up Buxton's promotion. Now even that is on hold (Ramirez)
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Thomas is a marginal upgrade over Hicks offensively at this time. But Hicks is much better in the field and is developing into a better player than Thomas will ever be. This year is supposed to be about getting ready for next year. I think Hicks will learn to play in the majors more quickly by playing in the majors now. So Thomas should go down when Hicks is ready. But it's nice to know Thomas a decent replacement in case Hicks' hammy injury recurs.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Quote Originally Posted by USAFChief View Post
      I'm having trouble understanding why anyone would advocate playing Clete Thomas over Aaron Hicks.
      As BJB said well, it has nothing to do with Thomas vs Hicks, it should be whatever is best for the long-term future of Hicks. I don't think he'll be down long. I personally would like to see it be 3 weeks after the rehab stint to keep him an extra year... but they probably will let him rehab and get him back.
    1. birdwatcher's Avatar
      birdwatcher -
      Quote Originally Posted by USAFChief View Post
      I'm having trouble understanding why anyone would advocate playing Clete Thomas over Aaron Hicks.
      Me too.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      I interrupt this Hicks-fest to thank Parker for another edifying pictorial explanation of what's going on with a player.

      / edit - I think of an open stance as what a pull hitter adopts to maximize home run power. With 1 HR so far this season in the majors, it's too soon to say much, but at Rochester his power numbers were actually up, assuming he was using this swing down there too. I guess I'm wrong to think closing the stance means consciously giving up some portion of his power.
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