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  • Where Did Plouffe's Power Come From?

    Unquestionably, Trevor Plouffe has been one of the hottest hitters in the month of June, smacking eight home runs and five in the past six games.

    Needless to say, it took plenty of work and patience on both the part of Plouffe and the Minnesota Twins to coax this power out. If you review his minor league numbers, he was scarcely a player one would describe as being blessed with raw power. After all, he hit 49 home runs in his first 680 games in the minors, hardly a fountain of clout. Nevertheless, with a steady tinkering of his mechanics and approach, the Twins were able to tap into a substantial, if unexpected, power source.

    Over the past three seasons, Plouffe has made the transition from a slasher to an unbelievably potent bat.
    In 2010, Plouffe maintained a somewhat crouched, closed stance. He held his hands high and, as you can see in the video clip, he had plenty of pre-swing bat movement. This caused him to have to move his hands a great distance from close to his head all the way back to the load position.

    However, in 2011, as you can see in the front view image below, Plouffe opened up his stance, keeping his front foot aim towards the shortstop side of the diamond, rather than at the second base side. This season, he made two important changes that aided him in hitting a career-high 26 home runs split between Rochester and Minnesota. The first was keeping his bat still before the pitch. The second was incorporating a more violent leg kick, helping to generate power.

    In 2010 Plouffe hit what was then a career best of 15 home runs in 445 plate appearances at Rochester. In 2011 it took him only 220 plate appearances to reach that mark proving he was progressing in the power department.

    A strong kid, Plouffe’s mechanical adjustments resulted in a batted ball type shift from being a ground ball hitter to one who could elevate pitches. Prior to 2011, his ground ball rate was consistently between 42% and 50% in the minors. Afterwards, that ground ball rate dropped significantly to 31% while at Rochester in 2011.

    Fast forward to the current season, Plouffe started the year off extremely slow, hitting just .133 with two home runs in his first 73 plate appearances. For the most part, his mechanics were very much the same as his 2011 season – one which produced both a glutton and famine of production. He still had the opened stance, the tall starting position and aggressive leg kick but now he was getting his bat position off of his body.

    As you can see from the front view below, Plouffe moved his hands away from his body a bit and, as has been repeated by the FSN analysts, Ron Coomer and Roy Smalley, Joe Vavra was working on getting him to keep his head still during his swing to improve his contact rate.

    In the season’s first two months, Plouffe was hitting a high percentage of fly balls, but did not quite get the desired distance. As I mentioned a little over a week ago, that began to change rapidly. This month Plouffe has turned into a manimal, tearing the cover off the ball and obliterating opponent’s fastballs. According to Fangraphs.com’s Pitch Value data, Plouffe has hit the fastball 5.2 runs above average in June alone – only the Angels’ Mike Trout at 7.8 runs above average has had a better month against the heat. This has led to eight home runs over 46 plate appearances and another four doubles to boot.

    There are a few minor alterations Plouffe has made since May 28 that has led to this unbridled and unadulterated display of power. The first is getting his back elbow up, which you can see in both the side and front view images. The second, and probably more important addition, is that he is placing his weight more on his back leg and giving him a slightly lowered and wider stance. In the video clip you will see that, in action, he keeps his weight back during his leg kick and we see his hip rotation is centered well almost directly above his back leg.

    What helps too is Plouffe’s ability to make contact out in front and pull the ball. As I have previously discussed in regards to Josh Willingham Target Field can been inviting to those who have mastered the art of pulling the ball with authority. Now you can add Plouffe to that list. In terms of isolated slugging, a metric that subtracts batting average from slugging percentage to reveal just the power contributions, Plouffe has posted a .692 isolated slugging percentage when pulling the ball, second only behind Chicago’s Adam Dunn (.828).

    Will Plouffe’s power continue? Despite the improvement in his swing, a lot of whether he continues to pop has to do with his contact rates, pitch recognition and ability to adjust.

    A year ago, we saw some streaky power binges but opponents were able to get him to expand the zone (32% out-of-zone swing rate versus 31% league average) while his in-zone contact was firmly below average (83% in-zone contact versus 88% league average), which may be attributed to the aforementioned head movement that Vavra was attempting to correct. So far this year Plouffe has been noticeably better in both departments. He has greatly reduced his tendency to chase after pitches (26% out-of-zone swing rate versus 30% league average) and has an above average contact rate with in-zone pitches (89% in-zone contact versus 87% league average).

    Part of the improvement in his contact rate, along with the potential head stabilization, is his ability to handle sliders better. In 2011, Plouffe was unable to do much against sliders, particularly from right-handed pitchers. PitchF/X data suggests he swung at 51.6% of all sliders thrown his direction that year and, all said, he was 1.4 runs below average when facing sliders. Plouffe’s inability to allow a slider to pass by likely was the reason behind his ground ball rate spiking to 40%. This year, however, he has managed to lay off more often than not when a pitcher spins one his direction. PitchF/X data says he’s swinging just 36% of the time on sliders. What’s more is that when he does put a swing on a slider, he has been doing damage to the tune of 1.9 runs above average.

    Last, as mentioned above, Plouffe has been decimating fastballs, particularly on the inner-half of the zone. These facts will not likely escape advanced scouts for upcoming opponents. Soon enough, the fastball well will dry up or teams will begin to stay away from the inside part of the plate. Plouffe will need to adjust to whatever the new plan of attack is and continue to punish any mistakes thrown his way.
    This article was originally published in blog: Where Did Plouffe's Power Come From? started by Parker Hageman
    Comments 30 Comments
    1. glunn's Avatar
      glunn -
      This is one of the best articles I have ever read. I learned a lot about the potential effects of small changes in a batter's swings, and the videos are very helpful.

      It sounds like Vavra deserves some credit here, as does Plouffe himself for working hard to make the changes work for him.

      Great work Parker. You are an outstanding writer and analyst.
    1. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      I can sum up Plouffe's improvements with two observations:

      1. He's using a stance and swing more like Ricky Henderson.
      2. He's put some dance in his butt.

      The more crouched stance and rear position of the hands creates a natural pull when he pops his hip, rotating his belt buckle towards the second baseman. This helps create a quicker and more powerful whip in his swing.

      The dancy butt is huge. If you plant your feet like Dozier, you'll be a crappy hitter with slow reactions. A good hitter has to be like a tennis player practicing high-speed volleys. You have to keep a little dancy waggle in your butt, and keep your feet just a little bit in motion. Plouffe now has a properly rubbery grip on the bat, and his feet are just busy enough to react in real time to the pitcher's motion.

      A perfect example of a great dancy butt is BJ Upton. Serious waggle down there, and the result is explosive. In contrast, planting your feet and tensing your legs is as dumb as squeezing the bat really hard. It just slows you down. Plouffe now has good waggle. Ka-boom!
    1. Turd Furgeson's Avatar
      Turd Furgeson -
      Very well written article. In that last gif, it looks as though all of the moving parts in his swing are in perfect unison to generate that power. In some of the other gifs the different parts of his swing look disjointed a bit.

      I'm very interested to see how well he adjusts once the inside fastballs are few and far between.
    1. h2oface's Avatar
      h2oface -
      great article! is it possible to line these gifs up horizontally, so you could watch them all at once, together?
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Truly a fantastic article, Parker. Great work.
    1. James's Avatar
      James -
      Great article. Probably the best I've read on this site. Keep up the great work Parker.
    1. roger's Avatar
      roger -
      Great article Parker, thanks!
    1. Curt's Avatar
      Curt -
      Excellent article. A lot of marginal MLB ballplayers are superb athletes with so-so-to-miserable mechanics. Bad habits are learned early, reinforced when the special athlete excels over his competitors and then are hard to break due to (however occasional) positive reinforcement, ignorance, stubbornness, ego or stupidity.

      Kudos to Vavra, et al., for identifying area of improvement and, especially, to Plouffe for heeding the advice and being able to execute the changes. I hope he can keep it up. MLB pitchers are best at finding and exploiting (new) weaknesses of hitters. They never give up. It is what separates them from the animals.
    1. luckylager's Avatar
      luckylager -
      Say what you will, I believe he is hitting better because he cut his girly hair.

      Seriously, great article Parker!
    1. twinsfan214's Avatar
      twinsfan214 -
      Great article. I'm impressed by Trevor's ability to make these adjustments in his swing. It's a lot to keep in your head. If he continues to show such dedication, I'm encouraged that he'll learn to handle the other pitches that come his way as fastballs become scarce. Plus, as Willingham has shown, even when it's well known that you should not throw him a fastball up and in, all it takes is one mistake.
    1. powrwrap's Avatar
      powrwrap -
      Great analysis. In the first video you can see that he never truly loads. The bat is in constant motion. Also, he puts the weight on his front foot too early and he has a bit of an overstride. In the corrected swing, he loads up, the bat is still and his transfer of weight to the front foot is timed out better, plus his stride is a bit shortened. It's amazing what a few minor adjustments can do.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      In the stock market, there are fundamental analysts and there are technical analysts - one researches what is behind the company, the other watches for wiggles in the stock price and tries to gain insight from that. Both are valuable. Most of what's on TwinsDaily qualifies as technical analysis, good in its own way, but Parker gives fundamental insights that really buttress anything technical. Kudos.
    1. JS's Avatar
      JS -
      Fantastic article, well done.
    1. TwinsGuy55422's Avatar
      TwinsGuy55422 -
      I enjoyed reading this article. It was well researched and thought out. When you look at the progression of Plouffe's hitting mechanics over the past few years, you can really notice a difference. I think one of the biggest factors as to whether Plouffe continues to have success is his personal drive. Sometimes when you have a lot of success it is easy to get complacent and assume that the success will continue. Hopefully he continues to work his tail off so that he can make the adjustments necessary to keep hitting the cover off the ball. On a side note, one of my favorite hits by Plouffe this year was not a patented homerun to left field. It was a double he crushed to right centerfield on Tuesday against the Phillies. That showed me that he is developing the maturity to not try and pull everything.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      good stuff and timely Today is Plouffe's 26th Birthday.
    1. Paul's Avatar
      Paul -
      Parker, nice job. Great article. Great analysis.

      I know I'm preaching to the choir here, and you know this as well as I. There're plenty of successful batters with all kinds of hitches, glitches, faults and various weirdnesses in their swing. There's such a fine line between success and failure at hitting ML pitching and so many factors that come into play. Probably first and foremost would be the batters comfort level. Especially with Plouffe. Look back to when he first came up. He was a mental wreck. He lost the position he owned his whole life because he couldn't throw straight. That's nerves. I agree with all the improvements you noted. But the big thing with this kid is he hit a few bombs and now he BELIEVES he belongs. He found a comfort level that works for him. He's seeing the ball well. He's gaging the zone well. Now he's got confidence. Personally, I'd like to see him push Dozier to 2B.
    1. SarasotaBill's Avatar
      SarasotaBill -
      The comparison from a few years is interesting. The analysis is off.

      Earlier this year Plouffe was late getting his foot down.

      Too early - nothing behind swing
      Too late - dead

      fyi - nobody teaches the high elbow any longer - the elbow has to come down to 45 degrees before the swing starts.
    1. YourHouseIsMyHouse's Avatar
      YourHouseIsMyHouse -
      I think it's worth noting that Plouffe is 2nd on the team in OPS behind Josh Willingham (5th in AL) on the Twins.
    1. twinswon1991's Avatar
      twinswon1991 -
      HGH anyone???

      I have talked to several folks who know the Mauer family and it is well known that Joe used HGH to get healthy and "power up" for his BIG HR year and then backed off the drugs once he was paid. Maybe Joe gave Trevor the secret potion so he can dupe the Twins FO into a multi-year albatross contract just like Joe did.
    1. CDog's Avatar
      CDog -
      I know it's from a troll that isn't worth the time to read or respond to, but I'm wondering how long we have to read idiots accuse people of crimes without any evidence before the people who run this site have had enough and do something about it. I would hope and expect that doing so to another poster or community member wouldn't be tolerated, and I really don't get why it is fine when it's someone that is only the subject.
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