It isn’t often that a player goes from goat to hero in the same game, but Plouffe did Wednesday, and thus wins our Big Switch award this week. Plouffe had the most damaging at-bat and the most valuable at-bat for the Twins – and believe it or not, we can measure these things.
The Twins are looking to switchthings around this year. Every week, Metro Transit recognizes a Twins player who successfully switched the outcome of a game for the better.
Something like 30 years of baseball games were broken down at-bat by at-bat. Each situation was noted: the difference in score, the inning, the outs, and which bases are occupied. The total number of games that ever had that situation was counted. And then the total number of times the team that was in that situation won was counted. The result is a very precise percentage that indicates historically how likely a team is to win a game given a situation.
Let’s use Plouffe’s at-bat in the ninth inning to show you how it works. You can follow along on the Fan Graphs site, which elegantly tracks games this way, play by play and in a summary. When Plouffe strode to the plate in the top of the ninth inning, the Twins had lost a 4-4 lead but were threatening to push the deciding run across the plate. Sam Fuld had opened the inning with a double and had advanced to third base on Brian Dozier’s ground ball. Joe Mauer had been walked to set up the double play.
Plouffe’s double-play had cost the Twins 32% of Wednesday’s game.
But it didn’t cost them the game. Because Casey Fien escaped a bases loaded jam in the bottom of the ninth. He then held the Rays without a hit in the tenth and eleventh innings. Fien, by the way, is the unheralded hero of that game. Nobody contributed more to that win. His heroics also gave Plouffe another chance in the 12th inning. This time Plouffe came through.
Mauer led off the 12th with a soft infield single to start the rally. Colabello got the accolades two batter later, finishing off a four RBI night that tied a record for the most RBI in April by a Twins player.
But it was Plouffe’s double in between the hits that most helped the Twins win. That knock moved the needle from the Twins having 58% chance to win to an 82% chance. While Colabello provided four RBI and a viral video, it was Plouffe’s double that turned the 12th inning from interesting to inevitable.
Plouffe has become far more interesting, too. We’ve seen a hot streak from him before; he hit 13 home runs in the span of a month in 2012. But we’ve never seen this combination of power, average and plate discipline from him before.
Most encouraging is that he’s hitting right-handed pitching. Over his career, he’s flashed power against right-handers, but holds just a .232 batting average, including 234 strikeouts compared to just 77 walks. This year? He’s hitting .327 with as many walks as strikeouts (12).
Plouffe entered the year with a question hovering over his career: how soon before uber-prospect Miguel Sano takes third base from him? If Plouffe continues to hit like this, the same question exists, but it’s no longer a threat; the way Plouffe is hitting now, his bat would play at just about any spot on the field.
From condemnation to redemption – in a game, and maybe in a career. That is indeed A Big Switch.