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  • Will Trevor Plouffe's Hot Start Continue?

    Trevor Plouffe was essentially an afterthought this winter viewed as a third base placeholder until Miguel Sano takes the position from him. By the grace of the inelasticity of an elbow ligament, Plouffe's job security increased considerably. Sano's misfortune would be Plouffe's godsend.

    And, to his credit, the 27-year-old has made the most of this opportunity.

    After several seasons of mishandling the hot corner and minimal offensive contributions, Plouffe's game took giant leaps forward in 2014. Defensively he has looked improved and the magical defensive metrics reflect it. Offensively, there have been signs that he has matured as a player like using the entire field and laying off pitches out of the zone.

    Of course, Twins fans have gotten excited once before for the big breakout.

    In 2012, Plouffe gained attention by hitting roughly 750 home runs (estimate) in June and July. At that time, I documented his mechanical changes since his rookie year that allowed him to pull the ball with such might. By quieting his bat movement and aggressively deploying his hips, he fired red-seamed rockets into the outfield bleachers. Part of what made that stretch so successful for Plouffe was his ability to let it fly early in the count. According to ESPN/TruMedia, he was 14-for-26 and banged 7 of his 14 home runs in that situation. Of course, the baseball bombardment would not last as teams adjusted to his new approach and Plouffe could not reciprocate in kind.

    Following what felt like a lost year in 2013, Plouffe overhauled his strategy at the plate and refined his mechanics in order to become a more complete hitter.

    The first change was improving his base. Prior to this season, Plouffe demonstrated a wider stance with his weight distribution on his back leg. This season, the stance has been shortened and his distribution is more balanced.

    In his swing, or more specifically his leg lift, we see a muted version of the front leg lift. Over the previous two seasons, Plouffe used a higher lift and shifted more of his weight onto his back leg before shifting forward. Not only that but he also This creates a situation with plenty power but also overcommitting to fastballs and the selling out on the pull-side. Now, with his balanced approach, he is able to allow the ball to travel deeper while staying back. This gives him the ability to drive the ball hard to all fields with impressive results -- he is hitting a robust .333 when driving the ball to right field and .357 up-the-middle.

    2012

    2013

    2014

    Plouffe explained this change in his approach to 1
    500ESPN.com’s Derek Wetmore at the end of April by saying:

    "If you're thinking about using the middle of the field -- the big part of the field -- usually your bat path will stay through the zone longer. As opposed to if you're thinking about going out and getting a pitch and trying to pull it, you're going to be quicker through the zone, out to where you want to catch up with the ball," Plouffe said. "So if you got a pitch on the outer half of the plate when you're trying to do that, you might slice it, but when you're thinking about using the big part of the field and your barrel is through the zone, then you generate a little bit more power."
    Will this approach be sustainable?

    Plouffe has thrived this year by smacking pitches that have remained up in the zone for hits. In fact, his .340 average on pitches in the upper-half is 100 points better than the average. It is clear that this trend has been spotted by opposing teams when you consider how Plouffe has been pitched as of late and his performance in that time (.132/.175/.211 since May 1).



    Now, as you can see from the ESPN heat map, teams are throwing him down-and-away. Over his career he’s hit just .128 on pitches in that area and is a miserable 0-for-17 this year when putting those balls into play. Perhaps as a result of this new attack, Plouffe has also started to stray from his newfound approach of swinging at just pitches in the zone. Prior to May, Plouffe chased after 15.5% of pitches out of the zone, says ESPN/TruMedia. This month he’s expanded this region and offered at 26.7% of all out-of-zone pitches.

    Unless Plouffe can adjust to that plan of attack -- or capitalize on mistakes -- he is almost certain to see his numbers fall. That being said, Plouffe’s maturity and willingness to make these changes bodes well for his ability respond.
    Comments 23 Comments
    1. Jerr's Avatar
      Jerr -
      Great breakdown and graphics!!!
      Nice to be on a site with such wise baseball fans, as I can learn so much!!!
    1. Halsey Hall's Avatar
      Halsey Hall -
      That's really cool how you put those graphics together.

      Of course, I think he'll go down rapidly. His defense seems better though, but maybe that's just my impression for what games I have seen.
    1. Badsmerf's Avatar
      Badsmerf -
      He will adjust. I'm sure they have figured out what is going on by now. Plouffe just has to adjust accordingly. I think he just needs to get aggressive early in the count again. I love that the Twins have a guy like Plouffe that gives us something to talk about on the way to a 90 loss season for the 4th or 5th season (who's counting anyway).
    1. DuluthFan's Avatar
      DuluthFan -
      In 2012, Plouffe gained attention by hitting roughly 750 home runs (estimate) in June and July.
      That must be a record!
    1. Sconnie's Avatar
      Sconnie -
      Well written with great illustration. Thanks Parker. I think Plouffe will adjust as well. He has shown the ability to adjust in the past, and the season is still young.
    1. twinsfaninsaudi's Avatar
      twinsfaninsaudi -
      When and if Mauer, Willingham, and Arcia are all back does Plouffe continue to bat third?
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Prior to May, Plouffe chased after 15.5% of pitches out of the zone, says ESPN/TruMedia. This month he’s expanded this region and offered at 26.7% of all out-of-zone pitches.


      May is small sample size

      here is Plouffe's annual out of zone swinging percentage:

      2010 - 46%
      2011 - 29.4%
      2012 - 26.8%
      2013 - 26.2%
      2014 - 18.8%

      Normal progression. He is 27. It usually happens. It is called "maturing as a hitting", "reaching his prime", etc. Totally normal and there is no reason that it should not continue until he reaches his peak
    1. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      Since we know everybody in baseball has these same heat maps, then it becomes like a game of poker, except it's zone hitting. Plouffe needs to learn to cut the outside pitches out of his trigger zone temporarily. This will result in some walks and some standing strikeouts. However, once he sees a pitcher starting to throw a lot of outside strikes, then he needs to pounce on one of those outside pitches, thus creating doubt about that strategy.

      Plouffe seems like a pretty smart guy, and he's got a lot of smart coaches. He'll adjust.
    1. h2oface's Avatar
      h2oface -
      Thanks for the great article and graphics. I really enjoy them both. It seems that Plouffe's hot start has been over for a couple of weeks now, though. If he gets back to how he started, it will be a rebound, and not a continued "hot start".
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      It appears it's over officially. Now can it be regained is the better question.
    1. Riverbrian's Avatar
      Riverbrian -
      Prior to May, Plouffe chased after 15.5% of pitches out of the zone, says ESPN/TruMedia. This month he’s expanded this region and offered at 26.7% of all out-of-zone pitches.

      Bingo... This has been his problem in the past and this is his problem during the current slump.

      If he fixes this... We got ourselves a great ball player.

      Also... Props to his defense in 2014. He's been much more engaged... In my opinion.
    1. Hosken Bombo Disco's Avatar
      Hosken Bombo Disco -
      Quote Originally Posted by Riverbrian View Post

      Also... Props to his defense in 2014. He's been much more engaged... In my opinion.
      You are right. Other than that one game, he's been doing a pretty good job in the field.
    1. Winston Smith's Avatar
      Winston Smith -
      The guy is hitting .239 with an ops of .706 and we want to give the guy a parade?
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Quote Originally Posted by Winston Smith View Post
      The guy is hitting .239 with an ops of .706 and we want to give the guy a parade?
      It was really weird timing for this article. May as well ask if Colabello's hot start will last now? Or Kubel's? Or Gibson's?

      That said, I am not too worried about Plouffe. Looks like he could be a .700 OPS player even without the HR binges, that's probably a little under recent average for 3B but not too bad, and his defense looks average/acceptable. He's not a #3 hitter, of course.
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      Guys -- The beginning was explaining the fast start, the last two paragraphs explain the production drop. Read from beginning to end please.
    1. twinsguy14's Avatar
      twinsguy14 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Parker Hageman View Post
      Guys -- The beginning was explaining the fast start, the last two paragraphs explain the production drop. Read from beginning to end please.
      Don't we wish everyone would read past just what they want to read? Nice article.
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Quote Originally Posted by Parker Hageman View Post
      Guys -- The beginning was explaining the fast start, the last two paragraphs explain the production drop. Read from beginning to end please.
      Parker, I did read the article fully. Your final paragraph conclusion that "he is almost certain to see his numbers fall" is still pretty odd, since his numbers had already fallen by the time you published this. (I am guessing you started researching/writing this a week or so earlier, when his OPS was closer to .900 than .700!)

      And you have to admit the title of the article likewise doesn't make much sense, given that the production drop was already there -- his hot streak can't "last" or "continue" if it's already over!

      But, that's mostly nit-picking. Definitely appreciate your research and analysis -- you really offer an in-depth look at the Twins that isn't available from other writers, even here at Twins Daily.
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      Your final paragraph conclusion that "he is almost certain to see his numbers fall" is still pretty odd, since his numbers had already fallen by the time you published this.
      Pretty odd or pretty spot on? He was at 769 OPS at the time of research and has gone 0-for-12. Numbers fell.

      ~ Sincerely, the prognosticator of prognosticators.

      And you have to admit the title of the article likewise doesn't make much sense, given that the production drop was already there -- his hot streak can't "last" or "continue" if it's already over!
      At the time, he was in the middle of a speed bump -- after all, when research began he had just come off a 5-for-17 stretch with 3 doubles. Now, of course, he's in the middle of an 0-for-20 stretch so it looking considerably worse. Much of what we are seeing is due to the things pointed out in the final two paragraphs -- teams adjusted, he hasn't adjusted.

      I'm biased of course, but it is more relevant than ever.
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      @spycake -- To be clear, I understand what you are saying.
    1. Paul Pleiss's Avatar
      Paul Pleiss -
      I think Plouffe is a fine 3B for a team trying to figure themselves out and waiting for the future. If/When he gets expensive it'll be tough to find a spot for him. If Sano can take over the everyday 3B duties Plouffe still has a roll as a bench bat or utility guy, but only if his arb numbers dont get out of hand.
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