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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Danny Valenca - Growing Pains

Danny Valencia is another Twin who suffered from over-inflated expectations in 2011. After an excellent debut in 2010 in which he contributed a .311/.351/.448 slash line to help guide the Twins to another AL Central title, Valencia struggled in his sophomore campaign eking out a tepid .246/.294/.383. Despite this decline, Valencia had some successes, leading the Twins in HR and playing in 154 games, a significant achievement given the constant nagging injuries that plagued the rest of the big league roster.

I have to admit I have a hard time liking Valencia, on the surface he is arrogant, which belies his status as a mediocre hitter and a horrible fielder. I wanted to look at his numbers from his rookie season to see if there were significant factors that contributed to his sophomore slump and what we can expect from him in 2012. Comparing some of Valencia’s numbers from 2010 and 2011 yield fascinating results; In 2010 Valencia had a monster BaBIP (batting average for balls in play) of .345, compared to a tough luck figure of only .275 in 2011. Below is a table that compares Valencia’s slash line from each of the last 2 seasons with what the average MLB hitter would contribute in the same ballpark. In other words lgBA represents the BA of an average MLB hitter whose home park is Target Field, similarly so with lgOBP and lgSLG.

Valencia BA
Valencia OBP
Valencia SLG

Clearly Valencia stacks up excellently against the rest of the league in his major league debut in 2010. Valencia falls below the adjusted league BA, OBP and SLG in 2011 but it is the OBP which is most concerning and severely limited his production. There are a number of factors that may have contributed to this.

Firstly, Valencia does not walk enough. He falls about 2% below the MLB average for BB/9, this may not seem like much, but equates to around 15 walks per season, a significant on base presence; this however, has been a statistic common to both of Valencia’s seasons in the big leagues. Valencia also has shorter plate appearances than the average MLB hitter. On average over his first two seasons, Valencia has seen 3.68 pitches per PA, compared with 3.82 for the average MLB player. While this may seem like an infinitesimal difference it equates to about 100 extra pitches over the course of the season. 

2012 will be an important year for Danny Valencia
Valencia has begun to develop more patience at the plate, increasing his walk rate from 2010 to 2011 as well as seeing more 2-0 and 3-0 counts than the average MLB hitter. If Valencia is getting himself in more and more of these excellent counts and beginning to walk more, what else could have contributed to his regression (besides a crashing BaBIP)? It is interesting to see what Valencia does when he is in these hitter’s counts. On average Valencia swung at less first pitches, had significantly more strikes looking than the average hitter and struck out looking 5% more than the average MLB hitter. Valencia only swung at 67% of the strikes he saw, compared with a league average of 72%. Finally, Valencia fouled off 7% less of the strikes he saw than an average MLB hitter. All of these statistics make me question two things, the quality of Valencia’s eye at the plate and his timing.

It seems that what we have seen from Valencia is an increased ability to get in solid ‘hitters’ counts followed by an extreme defensiveness at the plate. His ability to get in situations where he can get a good pitch to hit seems to be offset by an inability to get consistently excellent contact on pitches. Valencia suffers from a below average line drive rate and a significantly above average % of fly balls that fall in the infield. Valencia it seems needs to work on his approach at the plate to continue to increase his ability to manipulate counts, build on his increased BB/9 from 2011 and exert a more controlled aggression in hitter’s counts. Valencia is a right handed pull hitter well-suited to the confines of Target Field. Similarly to Alexi Casilla, a more measured aggression at the plate may serve him well. If he can work through these issues in spring Twins fans can expect Valencia to split the difference of his 2010 and 2011 campaigns.

Predicted Slash Line .270/.320/.390 18 HR 75 RBI

Now we have done enough looking back on 2011 it is time to look forward to 2012. The next few entries will be a series previewing the AL Central position by position, taking a look at who is primed for a big season and who will be in for big disappointment. 

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