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  • The Big Switch: Trevor Plouffe

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    From condemnation to redemption. Trevor Plouffe traveled that path over the span of three innings in Wednesday’s win over the Rays. It also appears he may be well along that path in his Twins career.

    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.

    Sabrmetrics has come up with a nifty statistic called Win Probability Added (WPA) that never would have been practical in a world before computers. It’s easiest to understand if you start at the back of the acronym and work forward: it measures how much a player ADDS to the PROBABILITY of a WIN. Here’s how it works:

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    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.

    Teams in that situation – tie game, top half of the ninth inning, runners on the corners, one out – had won 69.2% of their games. But when Plouffe obliged with a sharply hit ball to the shortstop that turned into an inning-ending double-play, the scales turned completely. Historically, the chances of winning a game going into the bottom of the ninth tied are only 37.4%

    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.
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    Comments 10 Comments
    1. Sconnie's Avatar
      Sconnie -
      I would like to add that Plouffe's fielding is improved as well. 8 UZR/150 for 2014 compared to -8.6 and -14.9 in 2012/2013. It's still SSS, but if the trend continues, maybe Sano puts pressure on the first basemen rather than the third...
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Sconnie View Post
      I would like to add that Plouffe's fielding is improved as well. 8 UZR/150 for 2014 compared to -8.6 and -14.9 in 2012/2013. It's still SSS, but if the trend continues, maybe Sano puts pressure on the first basemen rather than the third...
      Plouffe's start is very encouraging. I would not be surprised if he is traded, assuming we get a Denard Span like return. A lot of teams are weak at 3B.

      If we keep Plouffe, he would be a nice piece on a contending team. He can play, 3B, 1B, LF, or RF and he crushes lefties (career .833 OPS). At minimum you have a very good bench/platoon player as well as depth. I am guessing the .900+ OPS does not continue. If that does he starts somewhere.
    1. Dantes929's Avatar
      Dantes929 -
      I have said it before but if we could get as highly rated a shortstop perhaps it is Sano that should be traded.
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Dantes929 View Post
      I have said it before but if we could get as highly rated a shortstop perhaps it is Sano that should be traded.
      Never say never, but it would take a lot. Sano may hit .260-.270, 30-40 HR, and walk 100 times a year.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by tobi0040 View Post
      Never say never, but it would take a lot. Sano may hit .260-.270, 30-40 HR, and walk 100 times a year.
      It just won't happen. It would take a Bogaerts-type player for Ryan to let go of Sano and the Sox would have to be insane to trade Bogaerts for anybody. Inversely, the Twins would have to be insane to trade Sano for anybody.

      Hence we find ourselves in a situation where top prospects never get traded for top prospects.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by tobi0040 View Post
      Plouffe's start is very encouraging. I would not be surprised if he is traded, assuming we get a Denard Span like return. A lot of teams are weak at 3B.

      If we keep Plouffe, he would be a nice piece on a contending team. He can play, 3B, 1B, LF, or RF and he crushes lefties (career .833 OPS). At minimum you have a very good bench/platoon player as well as depth. I am guessing the .900+ OPS does not continue. If that does he starts somewhere.
      I got derisive chuckles when I proposed trading Plouffe for C Jason Castro as Houston needs a 1st baseman and have their prized Catching prospect on the doorstep of the majors. This would have opened up a trade to Arizona to get Didi Gregorius for Josmil Pinto. Now I'm not so sure if what Plouffe's doing is sustainable or another mirage, ala 2012. It does look different this time, perhaps Plouffe can fulfill his ideal destiny as a Super-Util..... and Pinto is looking impressive at the plate, as well. As the saying goes, "Sometimes the best trades are the ones you don't make."
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      It just won't happen. It would take a Bogaerts-type player for Ryan to let go of Sano and the Sox would have to be insane to trade Bogaerts for anybody. Inversely, the Twins would have to be insane to trade Sano for anybody.

      Hence we find ourselves in a situation where top prospects never get traded for top prospects.
      I agree. Same reason why stars don't get traded for stars often. Fans are attached to their key guys and the Twins fans can't wait for Sano.

      Regarding Boegarts, I would rather have Sano. Don't get me wrong, I would love Boerarts at SS. But I see a gap between the two. I think Sano is Adam Dunn that will hit .260-.270 and Dunn may end up with 600 HR and close to hall of fame.

      Boegarts OPS in the minors is .750, he only hit double digits in HR twice and his career high in SB is 5. I know you can't compare the OPS of a 3B/DH to a SS. But if Boegarts is a .700 OPS guy up here, that is not special.

      Full disclosure: I am a little leary of any top ranked Yankee or Red Sox prospect.
    1. Badsmerf's Avatar
      Badsmerf -
      I'm excited about the start for Plouffe. I've always (always) been a supporter of him and hoped he could someday play exactly like he is now. His play this year gives the Twins some options. If he hits the whole year I could see the Twins giving him a team friendly 3 year deal with an option. I could see 3 years 12-15 million not being bad. Hard for a deal like that to hurt them since he can play so many positions. Might even take more than that. His offensive/defensive abilities (even just being average at both) are a commodity.

      If he continues this play into next season, and Joe Mauer continues his..... where do you put Sano? For all the crap Plouffe gets about his defense, it might actually be better than Sano's. Plus, he has the frame to stay at 3b for most of if not all his career while Sano does not. Plus, he is the veteran and the Twins tend to be pretty loyal.
    1. Badsmerf's Avatar
      Badsmerf -
      I'm excited about the start for Plouffe. I've always (always) been a supporter of him and hoped he could someday play exactly like he is now. His play this year gives the Twins some options. If he hits the whole year I could see the Twins giving him a team friendly 3 year deal with an option. I could see 3 years 12-15 million not being bad. Hard for a deal like that to hurt them since he can play so many positions. Might even take more than that. His offensive/defensive abilities (even just being average at both) are a commodity.

      If he continues this play into next season, and Joe Mauer continues his..... where do you put Sano? For all the crap Plouffe gets about his defense, it might actually be better than Sano's. Plus, he has the frame to stay at 3b for most of if not all his career while Sano does not. Plus, he is the veteran and the Twins tend to be pretty loyal.
    1. Circus Boy's Avatar
      Circus Boy -
      Quote Originally Posted by Badsmerf View Post
      I'm excited about the start for Plouffe. I've always (always) been a supporter of him and hoped he could someday play exactly like he is now. His play this year gives the Twins some options. If he hits the whole year I could see the Twins giving him a team friendly 3 year deal with an option. I could see 3 years 12-15 million not being bad. Hard for a deal like that to hurt them since he can play so many positions. Might even take more than that. His offensive/defensive abilities (even just being average at both) are a commodity.

      If he continues this play into next season, and Joe Mauer continues his..... where do you put Sano? For all the crap Plouffe gets about his defense, it might actually be better than Sano's. Plus, he has the frame to stay at 3b for most of if not all his career while Sano does not. Plus, he is the veteran and the Twins tend to be pretty loyal.
      Read both comments. Now will listen to Duran Duran wearing a tutu while the cows in the field go moo moo.
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