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  • What Happened To All The Swagger?

    After punishing spring training pitchers and promoting himself this offseason, Danny Valencia’s output in the regular season has left something to be desired. Coming off a down year in 2011 and made promises of rebounding and rededicating himself for this season. Rather than coming out the gates to a hot start, he now finds himself on the hot seat poised to lose starts.

    What has gone wrong for the Twins third baseman?

    In 2011, I attributed his sudden decline to a bit of the “sophomore slump monster” – one in which his line drive rate remained relatively consistent with his previous season but the amount of hits that found grass declined significantly. In 2010, he held a solid .771 batting average on his line drives. This past season his batting average on liners dropped to .651, well below the league average. The theory was, if he produced line drives at the near 20% rate he had over the past two seasons, this would likely equal out for the better.

    Unfortunately, both Valencia’s plate discipline and his wellspring of ropes have substantially decline so far in 2012.

    Addressing the latter first, Valencia has traded the once prevalent liners for a bunch of bounding grounders and harmless infield pop-ups. To date, his line drive rate has checked in slightly below the 14% mark while his ground ball rate has ballooned to 52%. However, when he does get underneath the ball, he has provided little damage, knocking 33% of his fly balls to infielders.

    Meanwhile, Valencia’s patience at the plate is about as thin as a fungo bat. In addition to swinging at a high clip this season, he’s chasing a heavy volume of pitches outside of the strike zone. According to Fangraphs.com’s plate discipline numbers, he has offered at 42% of all out-of-zone pitches, well above the league’s 29% norm. With that lack of zone discipline, it is clear why he has only coaxed one walk compared to 17 strikeouts.

    Between his contact and his plate discipline, the outcome for him has been laughably bad: a .220/.230/.339 hitting line that has incited calls from fans to see more Sean Burroughs, who has not seen regular playing time since 2005, on the field.

    How did it get so bad for Valencia?

    The Twins coaching staff attempted to correct a hitch this offseason, which they said added a longer loop to his swing, as well as encourage his to stop fixating on pulling the ball and hoping that it would improve his .246 batting average in 2011. This spring 1500ESPN.com’s Phil Mackey spoke with Valencia who claimed that one of his goals this year was to use the entire field better. And, so far, Valencia is failing at that objective.

    Thus far in 2012, heading into Tuesday night’s game, Valencia had put 44 balls into play and has taken seven of those to the opposite field. While the 16% opposite field rate isn’t disappointing in itself (after all, in his solid 2010 season, he went oppo just 19% of the time), it is that pitchers have consistently baited the Twins third baseman into swinging at pitches on the outer-half of the strike zone and yet he has pulled the ball at a high margin (52%).

    Compare these two swing charts. In his first stint at the major league level (on the left), the Valencia scouting report was not completely disseminated and, as such, he received a high portion of inside and middle of the zone type pitches. In 2012 (on the right), the word has spread throughout the league and opponents know that Valencia is susceptible when being pitched away – specifically from right-handed pitchers.

    (from TexasLeaguers.com)

    This season, with pitchers attacking the outside portion of the plate, Valencia has maintained a questionable aggressive approach (swinging at a career-high 47% clip) and has also kept his pull-happy tendencies in spite of opponents begging him to go with the pitch. Because he is swinging at so many pitches on the outer-half of the plate while trying to pull them, it is easy to see why his groundball rate has swelled so quickly.

    Valencia has demonstrated that he can be a high average, moderate power hitter in the minors and in segments of his major league career. What is needed is a re-calibration of the strike zone. Perhaps his early slump has caused him to press harder at the plate, swing more frequently with disregard for location, and forget the main focus of the off-season – to hit the ball to all fields.

    Let’s remember that it is early in the season and there is plenty of time to turn it all around. Still, with his continued insistence on pulling almost every pitch, frustration is mounting from the manager and Valencia’s playing time is quite possibly hanging by a very thin thread at this juncture.
    This article was originally published in blog: What Happened To All The Swagger? started by Parker Hageman
    Comments 10 Comments
    1. powrwrap's Avatar
      powrwrap -
      The Twins coaching staff attempted to correct a hitch this offseason, which they said added a longer loop to his swing, as well as encourage his to stop fixating on pulling the ball and hoping that it would improve his .246 batting average in 2011.

      [..]

      This season, with pitchers attacking the outside portion of the plate, Valencia has maintained a questionable aggressive approach (swinging at a career-high 47% clip) and has also kept his pull-happy tendencies in spite of opponents begging him to go with the pitch.

      [..]

      Still, with his continued insistence on pulling almost every pitch, frustration is mounting from the manager
      This guy is toast. He cannot take instruction. His fundies with his footwork on defense, his body positioning, his tendency to back hand balls he could get in front of, continued insistence on pulling the ball, taking his failures at the plate with him to the field--the guy is un-coachable. He won't be playing third base for the Twins much longer.
    1. Mr. Ed's Avatar
      Mr. Ed -
      Quote Originally Posted by powrwrap View Post
      This guy is toast. He cannot take instruction. His fundies with his footwork on defense, his body positioning, his tendency to back hand balls he could get in front of, continued insistence on pulling the ball, taking his failures at the plate with him to the field--the guy is un-coachable. He won't be playing third base for the Twins much longer.
      And he'll probably wind up playing at least decently(notice I didn't say GREAT) for some other team.

      That's my perception. Twins can't get guys to play the game their way, cast them off, and they play decently elsewhere.

      Garza
      Bartlett
      Ortiz
      Hardy
      Young
    1. Boom Boom's Avatar
      Boom Boom -
      I can't blame the Twins on this one. We all get tired of hearing the Twins preach "make contact and go the other way". It's not a one-size-fits-all approach, but the idea is to cut down on strikeouts and popups, which Valencia is having big trouble with.
    1. powrwrap's Avatar
      powrwrap -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Ed View Post
      Twins can't get guys to play the game their way,
      Forget about the "Twins Way" , Valencia is not playing baseball the proper way. Any team is going to tell their hitters to go the other way if the pitcher is working the outside corner. Any team is going to tell their infielders to use proper footwork and get in front of the ball. It's just fundamental baseball. Why would another team figure they can get Valencia to listen to them when he's been doing things his own way for (at least) three years?
    1. Steve Penz's Avatar
      Steve Penz -
      I can't help but agree with powrwrap. His days are numbered. His insistence on pulling the ball is so huge for me. He has hit a few balls to right center and when it happens it is a thing of beauty but it does not happen enough. I was even mad at his home run to bullpen on Monday. That pitch was up and away and luckily he caught it perfectly. That swing normally produces a ground ball to the shortstop and I am tired of it. He needs to watch Willingham for a while. Josh is a pull hitter and he is mature with discipline. When given the pitch he will drive it to right center and it has shown great results. If Valencia were to grow up he could net himself a multi-year and multi-million dollar contract.
    1. Mr. Ed's Avatar
      Mr. Ed -
      Quote Originally Posted by SRP View Post
      I can't help but agree with powrwrap. His days are numbered. His insistence on pulling the ball is so huge for me. He has hit a few balls to right center and when it happens it is a thing of beauty but it does not happen enough. I was even mad at his home run to bullpen on Monday. That pitch was up and away and luckily he caught it perfectly. That swing normally produces a ground ball to the shortstop and I am tired of it. He needs to watch Willingham for a while. Josh is a pull hitter and he is mature with discipline. When given the pitch he will drive it to right center and it has shown great results. If Valencia were to grow up he could net himself a multi-year and multi-million dollar contract.
      So all those years of hitting .246 to .277 have all-of-a-sudden made Willingham a better hitter? He's started great. Will you have the same feelings about him once they continue to pitch around him to get Morneau out, and see Hammer's average drop?

      Point is, we don't know the insides of the clubhouse and what is said/done.

      So to actually jump in bash a guy based on 'attitude/maturity' and 'discipline' without all the details is assuming a lot. Valencia may be pressing too. Others on this team are as well.
    1. Top Gun's Avatar
      Top Gun -
      I think Valencia is great!
    1. Siehbiscuit's Avatar
      Siehbiscuit -
      The BIGGER issue is what are the Twins going to do until Sano can come up? Next year we will have the same Parmelee/Morneau situation at first, hopefully some sort of Dozier/Carroll combo at SS and 2nd, but at third we have no prospects that are close to ready.
    1. Steve Penz's Avatar
      Steve Penz -
      Mr. Ed- Point taken. I will concede that I only know Willingham as a Twin which is a small sample. In that short period of time I think it is quite obvious that he is very mature at the plate. He takes a hard rip when he can and loves to pull the ball but has show that he does not force it so he will drive the ball with power to right when the pitch presents. I do not feel that Valencia does that with any consistency. I would love to see him succeed because Sano is gaining 25 pounds per year and I feel he will be too big to be agile at 3rd. Additionally, there is never a guarantee that he will make it to the big leagues, anything can happen. Valencia has shown potential to produce great #s and that is what is most frustrating.

      I bash attitude because it seems like we are watching the same things happen over and over.

      How did you like Danny's ground out to the shortstop last night on yet another pitch that was outer half? It was the first out in the bottom of the 9th.
    1. Bark's Lounge's Avatar
      Bark's Lounge -
      1. If you are a locked treasure chest. Valencia is not a key.
      2. If you have a chronically bad back. Valencia is not a Chiropractor.
      3. If you are a pirate and have lost your hand or foot. Valencia is not a peg or hook.
      4. If you are a vegetarian. Valencia is a pork roast or a porterhouse steak.
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