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  • Trevor Plouffe 2.0?

    The Minnesota Twins are currently 2nd in the AL in runs scored (86), 1st in OBP (.353) and 1st in walks (82). They also lead the AL in runs per game at 5.76. That’s not too bad for an offense that was routinely picked to finish towards the bottom of the league in nearly every category.

    Yes, it’s only April and the sample size is incredibly small – but it’s a good start.

    The offense has been bolstered by improved performances from multiple players including a breakout season from Chris Colabello and a surprising return to relevance from Jason Kubel. While Colabello is a great story and Kubel’s rebound is encouraging, the player that has been most impressive and, in my opinion, most improved, so far this season has been Trevor Plouffe.

    Through 67 plate appearances in 2014, Plouffe is hitting an impressive .308/.418/.436 with an OPS+ of 147. Plouffe has 4 doubles, 1 home run and has taken 10 walks to start the young season (he averaged just over 30 walks a season over the past 3 years). He’s more than doubled his walk rate from 2013 while cutting his strikeout rate by almost half. Of course, all early season statistics come with the caveat of small sample size and potential regression.

    A look at Plouffe’s advanced metrics; however, indicate Plouffe is taking a different approach at the plate this season. Perhaps Plouffe’s breakout campaign isn’t merely a run of good fortune, but the product of a new and improved player?

    Plouffe has been much more disciplined at the plate this season, as evidenced by his early season walk totals, but there’s more to this discipline than just taking more walks. Per PITCHf/x Plouffe’s O-swing% (the percentage of balls Plouffe swings at outside the strike zone) sits at 12.5%. He’s reduced that by over 50% from 2013’s O-swing% of 26.2%. In addition, Plouffe is simply swinging his bat less overall. His swing% sits at 35.2%, down from 43.1% in 2013. His Z-swing% (the percentage of balls Plouffe swings at in the strike zone) remains relatively unchanged from 2013 (58.6%) to 2014 (58.2%) while his overall contact % is nearly identical (81% in 2013, 79% in 2014).

    What does all of that mean? In short: Plouffe isn’t chasing bad pitches while he’s also being more selective in the strikes he does attack. This has resulted in an increased OBP and has helped Plouffe become a key piece in the offense’s early season success.

    It’s likely that pitchers will eventually catch on to Plouffe’s new approach and start throwing him more strikes and daring him to put the ball in play. For previous seasons’ Trevor Plouffe, this could have posed a problem as he was a notorious pull hitter. Teams could easily counter this by pitching him away, resulting in a weakly hit ground ball or shifting the defense to the left side, forcing Plouffe into easy outs.

    Luckily, Plouffe’s improvement has not solely come on taking more walks; he’s also driving the ball to all fields. Compare 2013’s spray chart:

     
     
    To 2014:


     
    Plouffe’s ability to use all fields is reinforced by his red hot BABIP of .364. While that number is sure to regress slightly as the season progresses other numbers indicate that the increased average isn’t a mirage. For example, Plouffe’s line drive rate has increased this season (29.5% up from 24.7%) as has his groundball rate (40.9% up from 38.6%) while his fly ball rate has decreased (29% down from 36.7%). Line drives and ground balls tend to lead to hits more than fly balls do, so an increase in those categories should show an increase in BABIP (and, in turn, batting average).

    We’ve seen Plouffe go on red hot streaks each of the past two seasons, so it’s easy (and understandable) to take a "wait and see" approach when it comes to the impressive early numbers he’s been putting up in 2014. I think what we’re seeing from Plouffe is more than just an early season hot streak. He looks to be a more disciplined and patient hitter this season. In addition, he’s making better contact and using all fields to put in the ball in play. I think this is the start of a new Trevor Plouffe – one that should be a building block for the Twins in the coming years.
    Comments 19 Comments
    1. Since71's Avatar
      Since71 -
      whoa grab the reins Nellie lol. I hope you're right and you might be, but saying "start of a new Trevor Plouffe - one that should be a building block of the Twins in coming years." is way too premature. I do really like your analysis of what has led to his early season success, but lets not go too far just yet. # hope you are right!
    1. blindeke's Avatar
      blindeke -
      Even when they lose, it's so much more fun to watch the Twins hit this year. Knowing that Plouffe, Kubel, Colabello, and Pinto are all power threats who will work the count and take a walk is pretty fun, and must make opposing pitchers sweat. Last year it seemed like everyone was striking out all the time. I can't wait until we have a whole lineup that has punch and patience.
    1. iTwins's Avatar
      iTwins -
      Quote Originally Posted by Since71 View Post
      whoa grab the reins Nellie lol. I hope you're right and you might be, but saying "start of a new Trevor Plouffe - one that should be a building block of the Twins in coming years." is way too premature. I do really like your analysis of what has led to his early season success, but lets not go too far just yet. # hope you are right!
      That's why I tried to put a lot of emphasis on short sample size and the very real possiblity for regression to his career averages. You're absolutely right - it's far too early to make any proclaimations of redeemed careers or big turnarounds. We've seen Plouffe put up great weeks before, only to regress shortly thereafter.

      I was just pointing out that his recent hot streak is coming from what appears to be a changed approach. If he can maintain that, then there's reason to believe he may be able to keep posting these improved numbers.

      If that's the case, we very well could be seeing the Plouffe fans have been waiting for over the past three years. I think we're all pulling for that to be true!
    1. drock2190's Avatar
      drock2190 -
      He's facing some tough SP matchups this next week.

      Lets see how he handles that.
    1. Sconnie's Avatar
      Sconnie -
      I hope you are right. With a .1 dWAR (average) at 3rd and so far very good hitting Plouffe, if has has turned a corner in his career, the timing is impeccable. I would like to see him own 3b and actually have competition for Sano when he is ready to come up.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Hate to say this, but other than the sample size difference, spray charts look pretty close to me... He is having better plate appearances, walks more and is more selective at the plate for sure...
    1. Jdosen's Avatar
      Jdosen -
      Even if the batted ball profile is at this point a fluke, the improved approach and patience at the plate itself is a welcome adjustment. I'm not ready to say that he has turned a corner, but his performance has been very encouraging.
    1. iTwins's Avatar
      iTwins -
      Quote Originally Posted by Thrylos View Post
      Hate to say this, but other than the sample size difference, spray charts look pretty close to me... He is having better plate appearances, walks more and is more selective at the plate for sure...
      Fair enough - with the limited amount of data for 2014, any change would be small and potentially hard to mark. (There's also the concern as to whether it's even statistically significant or just an anomaly).

      I'd argue that the ground ball and line drive distributions do show encouraging trends, but I can certainly see your point where that data wouldn't be significant enough to consider it a "change" just yet.

      It will be interesting to watch as the season progresses.
    1. twinsnorth49's Avatar
      twinsnorth49 -
      Is it just me or does Plouffe look a bit bigger this year? He looks like he's put on some size.
    1. Mr. Brooks's Avatar
      Mr. Brooks -
      Quote Originally Posted by twinsnorth49 View Post
      Is it just me or does Plouffe look a bit bigger this year? He looks like he's put on some size.
      I believe LENIII was reporting this spring that he added like 10 or 15 lbs of muscle over the offseason.
    1. twinsnorth49's Avatar
      twinsnorth49 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Brooks View Post
      I believe LENIII was reporting this spring that he added like 10 or 15 lbs of muscle over the offseason.
      Yeah, that's what I figured, he looks considerably bulkier, thanks for the info.
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      The approach is certainly sustainable. Don't swing at stuff off the plate. It will also eventually force pitchers to give him more fastballs... which I'd add would play into his power.
    1. DocBauer's Avatar
      DocBauer -
      My running joke is my crystal ball being in the shop. And the truth is that we HAVE seen tantalizing streaks from Plouffe in the past. And it is those streaks that would offer a bit of a pessimistic view of Plouffe for his prowess this early season. So there is no way to see or predict what is yet to come.

      But there are indicators that this early season success is not merely an illusion. The first being is that he is indeed a former 1st round pick who has shown glimpses in milb and at the MLB level. The second is, as was mentioned earlier, that Tom Kelly himself previously mentioned it can take around 1500-2000 AB's for a player to recognize what is going on and who he is. Plouffe is just reaching those levels. The third is that not only statistically but in visual presentation he just "looks" like a player who is starting to "get it".

      I truly believe the Twins have an excellent coaching staff from top to bottom. I know there are issues here and there, but really, look at the track records of our coaches and argue with me. Ullger, Vavra, Molitor and Bruno have ALL seen success as batting instructors at various levels. And there has never been so much as a whisper as to conflict between them and the team. Overall, despite what our impressions might have been coming out of ST, a year after being one of the most inept and flailing lineups in MLB, our Twins have been amongst the ML leaders in production thus far. Some guys have room for regression, to be true, but others have room to escalate, and we've already had 2 injuries that would have seemed to be significant, and yet, haven't.

      Now, it's true the roster makeover has eliminated some dead weight. But even still, there is significant improvement overall, and Plouffe's development is one of those key developments. I don't know if Bruno's tutelage is the sole/primary reason or not, but a big tip of my cap to all involved,
    1. halfchest's Avatar
      halfchest -
      I think his short bursts of productivity in the past are glimpses of what Plouffe is capable of and actually encourage me to think maybe he's finally putting it together. It's a time will tell scenario similar to what we saw last year with Dozier. Was it real or not? As of right now, despite the poor batting average, Dozier is definitely looking for real both in the field and at the plate.

      If Plouffe is for real, he could be huge for this lineup rotating at the corners in the outfield and infield once Sano comes up assuming he can stay at 3B. Hoping this is for real.
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      The thing about Plouffe's very good 18-game stretch to start the season is that it hasn't been fattened by home runs, he has only one. Yet his OPS is over .900 and he hasn't had the two guys projected to be the biggest boppers in the lineup for most of the time. Plouffe has the third best average among AL third basemen and the best OPS through 1/9th of the season.

      Everybody keeps talking about a super utility role in the future for Plouffe. How about a regular corner outfield spot? An OPS over .800 with less-than-horrible defense should garner regular status somewhere on a Twins team with still too many holes.
    1. DocBauer's Avatar
      DocBauer -
      Are we realistically talking Cuddyer part 2? I think we may be.
    1. Physics Guy's Avatar
      Physics Guy -
      Quote Originally Posted by DocBauer View Post
      Are we realistically talking Cuddyer part 2? I think we may be.
      I would take that in a heartbeat, especially if he doesn't have to move off of 3B like Cuddy did.
    1. Physics Guy's Avatar
      Physics Guy -
      Quote Originally Posted by Thrylos View Post
      Hate to say this, but other than the sample size difference, spray charts look pretty close to me... He is having better plate appearances, walks more and is more selective at the plate for sure...
      While I agree that the spray charts look similar, a look at his averages tells a different story (with the SSS caveat).

      2012
      ..411 to LF, ..262 to CF, .175 to RF

      2013
      .379 to LF, .358 to CF, .213 to RF

      2014
      .273 to LF, .429 to CF, .400 to RF

      His distribution may be similar, but he seems to be hitting the ball with more authority to RF. Whether he can continue it is up for discussion. I just hope he doesn't become averse to "yanking" one to LF with his new approach. The plate discipline is also very promising.
    1. kab21's Avatar
      kab21 -
      You just took a small sample size and made it smaller.

      It was pretty obvious to some going into the season though that Plouffe was the least of the Twins problems this year. And it would be nice if he took another step forward this season and become a Willingham/Cuddyer level player for the Twins.
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