Trevor Plouffe: A Something to Enjoy in Minnesota

The reader may very well be totally and irretrievably drunk at the moment, but it’s not for that reason that he’s seeing Trevor Plouffe‘s name near the top of the preceding [leaderboard]. As of Tuesday night, at least, Plouffe had hit the most home runs (nine) among major leaguers in June.

– Carson Cistulli, Daily Notes

If you are a self-respecting, perfectly rational human, then you have no doubt been ignoring the Minnesota Twins. Even fans from the Northstar State have been watching their beloved team — now at 34-45 — through face-covering hands of anguish.

So it is likely you, like me, did not really think about Trevor Plouffe before right now or perhaps earlier this month. I knew his name, but it was not until a fan suggested he deserved a movie in his honor that I realized something was askew.

And a askew it is: Plouffe — a utility infielder with a consistent history of ~95 wRC+ in the minors — has 18 home runs and a .371 wOBA (137 wRC+). Not only has he earned the starting third base job in Minnesota, he has shot up the MLB leaderboards and would currently have the 3rd best wRC+ among third basemen if he had the qualifying plate appearances.

And though his home run power may be partly mirage, there is enough evidence now to think Plouffe’s re-birth is for real.

There are three major changes in Plouffe’s game from 2010-2011 to 2012: (a) more walks, (b) more fly balls and (b) more home runs.

More Walks
Plouffe had not sustained a double-digit walk rate in the minor leagues except since 2006 in High-A. Since that season, he has hung around a 7% walk rate. In 2012, he is at 10% on the button.

This is a good improvement, no doubt. But according to FI wOBA, if he have a 10% walk rate in 2011, he would still have only been around only a .312 wOBA (up from .305 wOBA), so it is not a really thrilling difference.

The upped walk rate has certainly been a component of his improvement, but not the material element of it. In fact, he might be getting more walks purely out of pitchers showing him more respect. The PITCHf/x zone data suggest pitchers are throwing him a career-low Zone%, but only but a little (0.5% down from last year).

More Fly Balls
Plouffe’s line drive rate, despite his strong hitting this year, has gone down from 17% in 2011 to about 15% in 2012. Meanwhile, his fly-ball rate has ballooned from 40% to 47%. And many of these fly balls have departed for dingers.

And if we can believe Plouffe, and I’m not sure why he would lie, then we can assume he is not deliberately lofting more balls:

“When you start to hit home runs, there’s a tendency to try to hit more,” he said. “Once you start doing that, it throws off your swing and you end up pulling off balls. At least, that’s the way I know it is for me. There are some guys that try to hit them. I can’t.”

But unlike many infielders who begin to lift fly balls beyond what their natural talents suggest they should, Plouffe has managed to turn many flies into dongers. His home run per fly ball rate has blossomed from 9.5% in 2011 to 24.7% in 2012.

More Home Runs
So how much of this intense home run frenzy is luck? That is very hard to say.

Using ESPN’s Home Run Tracker, we can get a better feel for how hard Plouffe is hitting his homers. And according to ESPN’s data, Plouffe has 6 “just enough” homers, 9 “plenty” homers and 3 “no doubt” homers.

ESPN says that the average rate of just enoughs is 27% — but that was in 2006, and even Jose Bautista (who leads the league in taters) has only a 22%. Looking at the likes of other infeilders — such as Robinson Cano (16%) and J.J. Hardy (17%) — I think it is more likely to expect a just-enough rate of around 15% for Plouffe. Currently, he has a 33% rate.

So: Either he needs to start cracking deeper homers, or we can expect his long balls will go for a few more long outs. Holding all else equal and adjusting his current numbers down to our expectation, we would slice 4 homers off Plouffe’s numbers.

Putting his new numbers into FI wOBA’s calculator, his wOBA drops 28 points, from .371 wOBA to .343 wOBA — still well above average for an infielder.

But, at the same time, his BABIP is at .237. Plouffe’s homers show a pull tendency, but right-handed pull-hitters rarely get shifted enough to hit BABIPs that low. His slash12 xBABIP is at .289, so if we throw those numbers into the De-Lucker, we see he has a .376 wOBA — which would be a 5 point improvement on his current wOBA.

If he starts hitting for more true power on his homers and sustains his current homer rate, a rate he nearly matched in his last season in Triple-A, then he would settle above .400 wOBA.

And if that does not sound crazy to you, then remind yourself: Before last year, this fellow never had above a .330 wOBA in the minor leauges. Something must have clicked during his 2011 Triple-A assignment because he is simply killing it right now.

Worth noting, however, are the two following, drastic splits: He has only a 100 wRC+ against right-handed pitching, and has a 91 wRC+ on the road this year. In other words, the bulk of his productivity has come at Target Field and against left handers. He is still only about 200 PA into the season, so maybe these two splits even themselves out over time, but it seems very possible that Plouffe is an opposite-hand masher who benefits from his home park. Guys like that exist; we know this. It, of course, does not make sense that Target Field, known for suppressing right-handed home runs, would somehow be an advantage to Plouffe.

Is Plouffe just another Brady Anderson in the making? A fantastic firework of random variation? Eh, maybe. I think there is enough here, though, to suspect Plouffe can be a fixture on the Twins infield for several years to come.




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Bradley writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyWoodrum.


27 Responses to “Trevor Plouffe: A Something to Enjoy in Minnesota”

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  1. Josh says:

    Robinson Cano hit 11 homers in June…

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    • Damaso's Burnt Shirt says:

      Because no baseball fan knows anything about Cano and his long track record of success due to the quiet media market of NY.

      +13 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Josh2 says:

      There was no valid reason to mention Cano, Plouffe also hit 11 and Bautista launched 14 in June…

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  2. Josh says:

    Nvm thats old..

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  3. JPKK says:

    One of the Twin’s blogs did an in depth look at his mechanics over the last several years and concluded the change is due to several adjustments to his batting stance and swing.

    *Reduced hand/bat movement pre-pitch
    *Added a more violent leg kick
    *Keeping hands further out from his body
    *Reduced head motion during swing
    *Adopted a lower stance, and kept weight loaded on his back leg longer, which also lead to his hip rotation finishing as he makes contact rather than slightly before

    http://twinsdaily.com/content.php?661-Where-Did-Plouffe-s-Power-Come-From

    Also while Target field tends to suppress right handed home run numbers in general, it has more to do with hitting it out to places other than the LF pole. Dead pull hitters have generally done fine there, and looking at Plouffe’s spray chart the only homer run that wasn’t between the left fielder and pole was hit away. You can also look at Willingham succeeding as a dead pole hitter, and Doumit’s 2 right handed batting home runs have also been down the line.

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    • Good stuff! Thanks for the insight!

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    • Matt says:

      I heard he worked out with Ryan Braun in the offseason, and that seems to have helped him quite a bit.

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      • DBA455 says:

        My first thought was “ah – cynical, snide PED joke”.
        Incorrect.

        ‘Braun and Plouffe have been friends for the better part of 15 years. Plouffe played baseball with Braun’s younger brother growing up in California and got to know Braun, who is two years older, quite well. They share the same agent and work out together in the offseason.’

        News to me, thanks.

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  4. MauerPower says:

    The Tigers only have 5 more wins than the Twins! Plouffe’s been really fun to watch. I always knew he had 15-20 home run potential but this is a treat.

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  5. Devon says:

    I like this, but Yeah…. you’re all a lil’ behind the curve on this one. Since I kinda follow the Twinkies (cuz I live near their AAA club), I’ll catch you up. ;-) Here’s an article (with videos) from mid-June about how Plouffe changed his swing and it’s led to better hitting stats. Also, since May 16th, the Twins are 24-19….only 1.5 games worse than the division leading ChiSox. In fact, from May 28th through yesterday, Minnesota’s been the best in their division at 19-13. They’re actually doin’ quite well… just masked by a slow start.

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  6. Luke in MN says:

    The other weird thing is that 100 plate appearances into the season, Plouffe looked as lack-luster as ever and DFAing him seemed like a pretty sane thing to do. It’s just been a crazy 7 weeks or so that has brought us Trevor Plouffe, Demigod.

    Also, all the insight above missed the fact that he shaved his head around the time of his turnaround. Duh.

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    • JPKK says:

      Small sample size/bad luck. His batted ball profile was actually improved from 2011 when he hit .237, but he was flirting with the Mendoza line.

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  7. antoine says:

    I picked him up in my league in early May for Brendan Ryan, I’ve been his #1 fan since his triple A campaign in 2011, now I’m in 1st place!

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  8. WinTwins says:

    I was a vocal Plouffe detractor ever since his debut. I’ve really had to eat my words this year and I am pleasantly surprised with his performance. He has really energized the fanbase and its palpable when he come to bat. The stadium has a little buzz wondering if he’ll hit another one. He’s real fun to watch right now.

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  9. Paul says:

    His hands remind me of Bonds. You simply cannot get a pitch far enough inside on him. Either he’s on it looking to just crush it down the line, or it’s gonna hit him because he really crowds the plate. But he’s really strong and gets nice leverage, so it’s going to be hard to stay away-away on him. I know there has been improvement both since he came up last year, then also this year, but this has been coming with the increased fly ball rate and HR% in AAA. The Twins really really screwed up on this one. He was a first round pick not just for his glove, they kept him protected from the Rule 5 draft. So they liked his bat, too, and when it finally started clicking for him they let the manager sit him. On a team desperate for offense with the M boys down. So he might just have a small chip on his shoulder to boot.

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  10. twinsfan says:

    Hit another jack tonight, and just made a fantastic play in the field.

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  11. Dale says:

    LIKE A PLOUFFE

    The Plouffer ’till I die!

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  12. Zak says:

    He got jacked around quite a bit last year because of his defensive woes anywhere he was put and that most likely factored in his offensive production some. This year he started off hitting terrible though his approach did seem to have improved a lot he was noticeably taking more pitches and walks though suffering through an extremely lucky babip most everything he hit hard was right at someone. Then with Danny Valencia struggling and finally demoted Plouffe who had been filling RF/SS/2nd/Utl was given another chance to start full time now at 3rd a position he had played very little of ever. He was pretty much on his last chance a DFA was probably in his future if he botched the opportunity but instead he exploded and started punishing any mistake pitchers gave him. Still isn’t hitting for a high but babip when he connects its getting crushed. He has also been suprisingly decent at 3rd making some very nice plays and pretty limited blunders over throwing seemed to be his biggest problem previously at short but he is making most of the throws well from 3rd and certainly has enough arm. Now there is something fun for the fans to watch as he and Willingham have been battling over the team home run lead multiple times it has changed more than once in the same game. As someone else said Target Field suppresses home runs but right handed pull hitters can put them out pretty easy directly down the line.

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    • I Agree Guy says:

      Paragraphs dude, paragraphs.

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    • Kell says:

      Actually, Terry Ryan told Gardy that Plouffe was going to play and the Twins were going to figure out what they had. I think most of Plouffe’s turnaround came from Gardy not being able to pull the rug out from under the kid whenever Plouffe had a bad day. Knowing you’re going to be in the lineup and on the field even after having a bad game or two goes a long ways to having a player not try to push so hard.

      Personally, I think Plouffe’s stint on the Twins last year was the reason he turned into such a monster in AAA. It’s obvious that he was making changes to his approach and learning in his time in the bigs, and he took that back down to AAA.

      Gardy really threw Plouffe under the bus last year, asking Plouffe to change his fielding style (which was necessary), but publicly deriding the guy and yanking him out of the lineup when he was making errors. You can’t ask a player to become more aggressive in the field, change his approach in live games and then publicly shame him and sit him when an error happens. It should have been obvious to the fans that Plouffe’s struggles were largely in his head.

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  13. spoof bonser says:

    how much better would his production look if he would have been able to stick at SS which has been his postion as a pro up until 2012? He is big for a SS no doubt and perhaps doesn’t have the glove work to stick there, but revisiting the position someday would be interesting. Seems like his biggest challenge was arm accuracy, which has been fixed by the shift to 3rd. Now that it is fixed, would it play at SS?

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    • Kell says:

      IMO Plouffe’s accuracy was a mental issue brought on by being told to change his play style in the field in live games and then being publicly blasted when a ball sailed high. Seems like Dozier is getting a free pass in regard to public humiliation for horrible play in the field, though.

      Anyway, I wouldn’t really expect to see Plouffe back at shortstop with him playing so well at 3B.

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  14. coltholt says:

    I have had my eyes on Plouffe ever since seeing him play on May 16 in Detroit. At the game I was at, Plouffe started the game 0 for 3 to drop his season line to 8 for 64 or a .125 average with 1 homer. In his fourth AB, he hit his second homer of the season. Beginning with that plate appearance, he has gone 45 for 151 (0.298 BA) with 18 home runs good for a .709 SLG if my calculations are correct (8 doubles, no triples).

    As much fun as it is to look back on his full season, it was more intriguing to see these 39 games unfold.

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