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Article: Trevor Plouffe's Improved Defense

trevor plouffe scouting defense
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#1 Parker Hageman

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Posted 16 January 2015 - 10:05 AM

Trevor Plouffe’s 2014 was quietly impressive.

With super prospect Miguel Sano out for the season with UCL surgery, there was little pressure on Plouffe’s job security. Some believed he would not be able to respond without the push but not only did the 28-year-old infielder make strides at the plate, supplying value in the lineup as a run producer, he turned a corner in the field as well.Lately the Twins have been lacking severely in the department of defense but Plouffe defensive capabilities were markedly improved in 2014 and the data backs that up. Mark Simon at ESPN Stats & Info passed along the critical defensive data that highlights in what areas the third baseman has improved:



Simply put, Plouffe has increased the number of runs saved by reducing the number of errors and misplays (plays that don’t result in outs but are not necessarily errors), converting on more of the plays that are in a standard third baseman’s zone, and increasing the number of out-of-zone plays.

According to BillJamesOnline.com, Plouffe finished ranked 12th among third basemen in runs saved. Ultimate Zone Rating says he was sixth. Inside Edge’s Fielding rated him 23rd in terms of making the plays right at him this season. While the last one might be a bitter pill, all of those stats show progress in his defense. He has come a long way since his inaugural season at third.

What has led to this improvement?

This first factor is better throws.

Early in his career, a lot of misplays and errors were a product of his throws. He was coming off a season in which he made 11 throwing errors at short and continued that in 2012.

In his first season at third, Plouffe demonstrated a side-arm slinging motion when throwing the ball across the diamond. That year, while playing 801 innings at third, he made eight throwing errors. That was the sixth most among third basemen with a minimum of 500 innings, yet the ones ahead of Plouffe found themselves with nearly twice as many chances. Additionally, after reviewing clips of his plays, opportunity for more errors were there had veteran first baseman Justin Morneau not saved some of his offline throws.

Watch this play in which Plouffe makes a nice pick up only to throw wide and pull Morneau off the bag. Look at Plouffe's throw. He tilts his shoulders and delivers an almost submarine side-arm sling.

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Here is another example of this in 2012. The Orioles have the bases loaded so the Twins bring the infield in. Plouffe makes a good play on a grounder to him but rushes the throw home, once again tilting and delivering a submarine side-armed throw that sails above Mauer's head.

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Now here is an example from 2014 of almost the exact same play. Notice how Plouffe sets himself and keeps his shoulders square on his throw to Suzuki at home:

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When asked heading into the 2013 season about his throwing woes, then manager Ron Gardenhire told reporters that Plouffe is “doing fine. He'll be fine. We all know about the throwing part and all those things. I know Plouffie worked his butt off out there trying to get better. That's half the battle. You've got a guy willing to go out and do extra work, tried a lot of different things.”

The second factor for improvement is his position.

There is an observable difference in his method that has led to fewer miscues and errors stemming from his throws. While he has made the same number of throwing errors this past season as he did in 2012, he put himself in position for more chances. Some are a result of still rushing throws or trying to make a play when he should have eaten the ball.

In terms of playing the infield, where and how you field a ball will dictate how a throw will be made. Making a play deep down the line will necessitate a full overhand to get as much mustard on the ball as possible. Fielding a medium paced chopper towards the mound with a quick runner heading down the line may require a quick flip throw from whatever angle you can. A slow roller down the line might require a bare-hand and a submarine throw to first. What makes the difference is comfort and experience. In regards to the two plays at home, Plouffe had rarely been in that situation before and likely just rushed his throw. Meanwhile, in 2014, he had plenty of practice and was able to avoid making a hasty play.

Another area that Plouffe has improved is his ability to get to more balls. No, he has not increased his speed but his instincts and his coaching have led him to putting himself in better positions to get to those balls.

Take a look at how his plays made has expanded east-and-west from the two previous season:

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There is a noticeable difference in the number of balls he has been able to get to to his left (towards short) than he had gotten to in the previous seasons. Some of that may be due to experience but positioning also appears to play a key role.

"I think overall his confidence level in catching and throwing the ball is as high as it's ever been," Twins infielder coach Paul Molitor told reporters in September. "We still try to tweak different things about positioning and try to find ways to help him maybe get to a few more balls. I think everyone would like to do that if they could."

It is no secret that Molitor played in significant role in the positioning of the Twins’ defense last year -- which likely was the reason behind Plouffe’s increased out-of-zone plays -- and now as the manager this year, there likely will be the same emphasis (if not more) on shifting and positioning to maximize coverage.

Plouffe has shown improvement over his three seasons at third base for the Twins -- both statistically and through the eye-test. With the tantalizing bat of Miguel Sano putting the finishing touches on his major league preparation, Plouffe better continue to show that he can be a high caliber third baseman both offensively and defensively if he wants to avoid another position (or maybe even a uniform) change.

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#2 jimmer

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Posted 16 January 2015 - 10:17 AM

Fangraphs had Plouffe at 10th in DRS (a counting stat), 6th in range (RZR), and 4th in UZR.  He had a very good year in the field.

Edited by jimmer, 16 January 2015 - 10:19 AM.

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#3 Brock Beauchamp

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Posted 16 January 2015 - 10:19 AM

Trevor doesn't get enough credit among Twins fans. He has turned into a competent starter with a decent glove. He's not the type of guy you sign for four years but he's certainly the type of guy you can win with if you have flashier players at other positions around the diamond.

 

He's no Corey Koskie but few are... And even Koskie was largely unappreciated in Minnesota during his tenure. He was a hell of a player.

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#4 REPETE

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Posted 16 January 2015 - 10:32 AM

Using the eyeball test (very scientific), Plouffe did improve.But improving from terrible to OK is not what this team needs.My issue with his throwing errors weren't the "hurried" throws.  The people in Section 108 were in danger when Plouffe got a routine grounder, and made the casual throw.Again, by the "eyeball test", he seems to rarely make a great play.3B is a great place to be flashy, and he certainly doesn't have Flash.

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#5 Mike Sixel

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Posted 16 January 2015 - 10:42 AM

He didn't go to "ok", he went to above average/very good. We don't know if he'll repeat it, buy why wouldn't he?

 

I agree, he is under appreciated.

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#6 jimmer

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Posted 16 January 2015 - 10:46 AM

He didn't go to "ok", he went to above average/very good. We don't know if he'll repeat it, buy why wouldn't he?

 

I agree, he is under appreciated.

Exactly.  Top four defense is better than just okay. As with many of our players who really outperfomed their regular career norms (Hughes, Escobar, Plouffe, Dozier, Suzuki) will they be able to sustain that level while the new people are adjusting to the bigs? Although new, we likely should include Santana in there too.

Edited by jimmer, 16 January 2015 - 10:47 AM.


#7 stringer bell

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Posted 16 January 2015 - 10:49 AM

I'm with Brock on this and have learned to appreciate Plouffe for what he has done to become, by almost all measures, an above-average third baseman.In the Dozier thread there were comments about having 3-4 good players capable of having a great year.I would put both Plouffe and Dozier in that category.Their floors have gone up to capable or average and in good seasons could be in the top quartile at their position. 

 

Regarding the comments above, Plouffe isn't one to make many highlight film plays, but that shouldn't sully his defensive reputation.Making the plays that should be made is much more important than having Manny Machado throw out a guy from beyond the coaches box. 

 

Plouffe's (and Dozier's) improvement didn't make the Twins a contender in 2014, but having guys that can be counted on makes the climb to respectability and contention that much easier. 

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#8 Halsey Hall

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Posted 16 January 2015 - 11:20 AM

Plouffe easily could have been credited with a half dozen more errors last season.He's paying off the score keeper.I'm not buying any of the hype. 

he gone!


#9 jimmer

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Posted 16 January 2015 - 11:38 AM

Plouffe easily could have been credited with a half dozen more errors last season.He's paying off the score keeper.I'm not buying any of the hype. 

I suppose if you choose to judge defense by errors and fielding %, but having 30 or more different scorekeepers views on what is and isn't an error is too subjective to me, so I find it to be a very unreliable way to judge defense (on top of the sure number of fielding chances that can effect those numbers along with difference in home field surface (turf, grass), etc. Jeter, by errors and fielding %, was a good defensive shortstop. Except that he wasn't a good defensive shortstop at all.

Edited by jimmer, 16 January 2015 - 11:45 AM.


#10 TheLeviathan

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Posted 16 January 2015 - 11:40 AM

Plouffe easily could have been credited with a half dozen more errors last season.He's paying off the score keeper.I'm not buying any of the hype. 

 

I do think this has to be part of the conversation too.  But there is no question he has transformed himself beyond most expectations.  


#11 Brandon

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Posted 16 January 2015 - 11:44 AM

I am happy with what he has done as he was almost a failed prospect altogether a few years back and he kept grinding it out.Now he has trade value and value to this team.If he is playing above average defense and hits .260 with 30 2Bs and 20 HRs I can live with that. 

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#12 Brock Beauchamp

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Posted 16 January 2015 - 12:27 PM

Plouffe easily could have been credited with a half dozen more errors last season.He's paying off the score keeper.I'm not buying any of the hype. 

Trevor was credited with 10 errors at home in 2014 but was only credited with four on the road.

 

If he's paying off scorekeepers, someone should explain to him that there's a better way to do it because it appears that he's not very bright.

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#13 mnfireman

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Posted 16 January 2015 - 02:08 PM

Plouffe improved immensely in 2014 compared to the previous years. However, every time a ball was hit to third, I was extremely anxious. As in how I felt the first day of practice with a new group of seventh graders! Is he going to catch it? Is he going to throw it away? It get better as the season wore on and he was making plays, but there was always that nagging anxiousness. Hopefully he continues to improve and be an important contributor to the team.


#14 Linus

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Posted 16 January 2015 - 03:02 PM

Exactly.  Top four defense is better than just okay. As with many of our players who really outperfomed their regular career norms (Hughes, Escobar, Plouffe, Dozier, Suzuki) will they be able to sustain that level while the new people are adjusting to the bigs? Although new, we likely should include Santana in there too.

There is no way Plouffe is one of the top 4 defensive 3rd basemen.This is an example where defensive metrics are still evolving.

 

He has improved markedly and deserves credit for doing the required work to get better at his craft.His throwing is noticeably improved and his ability to make the plays that he should has gone up as well. 

 

When / if Sano takes over 3rd he could be a nice trade chip (much better than moving him to another position).

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#15 Dantes929

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Posted 16 January 2015 - 03:02 PM

Exactly.  Top four defense is better than just okay. As with many of our players who really outperfomed their regular career norms (Hughes, Escobar, Plouffe, Dozier, Suzuki) will they be able to sustain that level while the new people are adjusting to the bigs? Although new, we likely should include Santana in there too.

In the 4th paragraph I saw rankings of  12th, 6th and 23rd.  I used to not like Plouffe on offense and hated his defense but now like what he brings on offense. I think his defense has improved and the throws and positioning have  a lot to do with it but his actual fielding leaves me unimpressed.  When seeing him live his ready position was the worst out of all the 7 fielders. The pitch was being thrown and he was standing upright. He also still seems to be a little afraid of getting hit by the ball which is just not the mentality you want in a third baseman. I don't think he is anywhere near a top 4 3rd baseman. I think he is bottom half but much closer to the middle than he was 3 years ago and hope he can make a little more improvement to get to average or maybe a little better.

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#16 jimmer

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Posted 16 January 2015 - 03:03 PM

In the 4th paragraph I saw rankings of  12th, 6th and 23rd.  I used to not like Plouffe on offense and hated his defense but now like what he brings on offense. I think his defense has improved and the throws and positioning have  a lot to do with it but his actual fielding leaves me unimpressed.  When seeing him live his ready position was the worst out of all the 7 fielders. The pitch was being thrown and he was standing upright. He also still seems to be a little afraid of getting hit by the ball which is just not the mentality you want in a third baseman. I don't think he is anywhere near a top 4 3rd baseman. I think he is bottom half but much closer to the middle than he was 3 years ago and hope he can make a little more improvement to get to average or maybe a little better.

I said 4th based on Plouffe's Fangraphs UZR and DEF rankings last year. not sure he can maintain that, but that's what I used.

Edited by jimmer, 16 January 2015 - 03:04 PM.


#17 jimmer

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Posted 16 January 2015 - 03:11 PM

There is no way Plouffe is one of the top 4 defensive 3rd basemen.This is an example where defensive metrics are still evolving.

 

He has improved markedly and deserves credit for doing the required work to get better at his craft.His throwing is noticeably improved and his ability to make the plays that he should has gone up as well. 

 

When / if Sano takes over 3rd he could be a nice trade chip (much better than moving him to another position).

I agree he likely isn't. It's normal practice for people who have a good understanding of stats not to base a player's actual abilities off one year's worth of anything especially if he has a decent amount of history. That goes for offense, defense and pitching. I made it clear I wonder if he can maintain that level of defense. Yearly stats only says what a player did that year, does not mean he is always going to be that player. We also need to remember UZR is a comparative stat and that talent at positions fluctuate. Some may think he's just an okay defensive 3B but maybe last year was a down year for defense at 3B so his ranking is artificially higher.

 

But in regards to how he was last year, Fangraphs says he was top 4 defensively for qualifying 3Bs.  I don't think any of us using the eye test watch anywhere near enough of other teams games to really say where he ranks against others.  And we definitely don't do it with the sole purpose of evaluating a player's defense at a certain position in order to make a comparison to the other 29 players at the same position. 

Edited by jimmer, 16 January 2015 - 03:23 PM.


#18 Parker Hageman

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Posted 16 January 2015 - 03:24 PM

Data versus the eye test is fun with Plouffe. Data at Fangraphs says he's 4th among qualified 3B in defense. The Runs Saved from Baseball Info Solutions says he's 12th. When run through SABR.org's SABR Defensive Index (which accounts for 25% of the Gold Glove vote), he wound up a top-4 defender in the LA. On the other hand, those that voted in Fangraphs' Fan Scouting Report had him as the 22nd defensive 3B overall. 

 

There clearly is a divide in the perception of his defense based on previous seasons versus what actually happened this season (created more outs, etc).

 

Is he an elite defender? Probably not. Biggest takeaway should be that in 2014 almost every measurement was an improvement over the last season. 

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#19 jimmer

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Posted 16 January 2015 - 03:37 PM

The Runs Saved from Baseball Info Solutions says he's 12th. When run through SABR.org's SABR Defensive Index (which accounts for 25% of the Gold Glove vote), he wound up a top-4 defender in the LA. On the other hand, those that voted in Fangraphs' Fan Scouting Report had him as the 22nd defensive 3B overall. 

 

There clearly is a divide in the perception of his defense based on previous seasons versus what actually happened this season (created more outs, etc).

 

Is he an elite defender? Probably not. Biggest takeaway should be that in 2014 almost every measurement was an improvement over the last season. 

Fangraphs had his DRS at 10th, so fairly close there.  Still, DRS is a cumulative stat and is driven by opportunities.  Opportunities helped by not only the player's ability (range) but by the pitching staff giving up batted balls in their direction.. As far as the Fan Scouting, previous performance almost assuredly let their opinion of his fielding in previous years cloud their thinking in regards to performance this year..

Edited by jimmer, 16 January 2015 - 03:40 PM.

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#20 Dantes929

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Posted 16 January 2015 - 05:41 PM

I agree he likely isn't. It's normal practice for people who have a good understanding of stats not to base a player's actual abilities off one year's worth of anything especially if he has a decent amount of history. That goes for offense, defense and pitching. I made it clear I wonder if he can maintain that level of defense. Yearly stats only says what a player did that year, does not mean he is always going to be that player. We also need to remember UZR is a comparative stat and that talent at positions fluctuate. Some may think he's just an okay defensive 3B but maybe last year was a down year for defense at 3B so his ranking is artificially higher.

 

But in regards to how he was last year, Fangraphs says he was top 4 defensively for qualifying 3Bs.  I don't think any of us using the eye test watch anywhere near enough of other teams games to really say where he ranks against others.  And we definitely don't do it with the sole purpose of evaluating a player's defense at a certain position in order to make a comparison to the other 29 players at the same position. 

I guess if you are saying the average was pretty bad which makes Trevor average or better than average I can live with that. I don't completely trust all the metrics especially over 226 chances. From what I could see and what was mentioned in the article is that his throws were better. That is improvement. I still see him let the ball play him and turn to his side rather than get in front of balls. If 10 balls played him last year and he  managed to field 4 of them more by luck than skill and this year he only had 8 of that variety hit at him and he got lucky and caught 6 of them it can make a big difference without really being an improvement in his skill.  Likewise speed of runners is not constant and having a great 1st baseman makes a big difference.  Average at best is what I see but as you point out my point of reference for what is average might well be skewed. 

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