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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Rise of Super Plouffe

The last Twins game I attended was at Comerica Park against the Tigers on June 16th. The game ended in an 11-7 victory with the Tigers committing a cycle of infield errors within the first 3 innings. The beginning of the game was of especially low quality and at that time, myself and a friend of mine who was at the game, a Tigers fan, began a complain-a-thon about the guys on our respective teams who make their fans suffer the most. For him, that was Ryan Raburn (some things never change), for me it was Trevor Plouffe, who was at that time hitting .138. ‘.138,’ I kept complaining, ‘if this guy had minor league options left there is no way he would be playing in this game’. Later that night Plouffe shut me up by hitting a 2 run HR and has not stopped shutting me up ever since (Raburn, incidentally, is hitting .178, a mere 21 points higher than he was on May 16th.

Plouffe’s rise over the month of June has been truly remarkable. A first round pick by the Twins in 2004, Plouffe has always had pop in his bat, but consistently struggled to get on base at the major league level and struggled mightily to field any position the Twins put him in, achieving a pedestrian .305 OBP in 2011 and managing a fielding % of just .944 at his primary position of SS, where he started 45 games last season. Plouffe entered June with a slash line of .176/.270/.382, which he has since raised to .249/.326/.521. Over that same span Plouffe blasted 11 HR, batted in 21 and gained 72 total bases. So what is the difference between super Plouffe and the Plouffe of old?

Super-Plouffe, along with Josh Willingham, has been helping Twins fans re-think the notion of Target Field as a pitcher's paradise.
At first I thought Plouffe might be benefiting from a favorable Babip but his during the 2012 season stands at just .237 (what might his line look like if this figure was even at .280)! In one regard, Plouffe has not changed, he still strikes out a lot. Since his major league debut in 2010 however, Plouffe has managed to consistently reduce his SO%. In 2010 in a very limited sample size it was 31.8%, in 2011 over 320 PA it was 22.2% and in 2012 through 230 PAs it has fallen slightly to 21.3%, higher than the MLB average of 18.3 %. Plouffe has significantly increased his discipline at the plate however, taking walks at a rate of 10%, up from 7.8% last season and well above the MLB average of 8.3%. It is Plouffe’s HR/FB ratio that has taken the most noticeable spike. 23.1% of Plouffe’s fly balls become home runs, almost 1 in 4, that compared to a MLB average of just 7.5 %, a remarkable increase. While Plouffe still struggles in the field, particularly with his throwing, his power surge that has put him in line for a 28 HR 70 RBI season, albeit with a .235 average, which will be enough to keep the arrogant and under-performing Danny Valencia in Rochester, where he has struggled with consistency to a mere .250 average.

So what might Plouffe’s future be with the Minnesota Twins? Despite showing much improved form of late the Twins still figure to be sellers at this years’ trade deadline. Denard Span, Francisco Liriano and perhaps Justin Morneau (if he can find some consistent form) may all become targets for contending teams, of which there are an increased number with the new wild card format coming into play. With Plouffe out of minor league options and the Twins bereft of right handed power besides that bat of Josh Willingham, Plouffe will likely be on a very long leash with the Twins brass to show he can become an everyday player for the foreseeable future. IF Plouffe can continue to lower his strikeouts, improve his BB% and park fastballs into Target Field’s left field seats (which he is making appear nearer and nearer home plate) the Twins may have found an excellent power bat around whom they can begin to rebuild a team who can challenge for a weaker than though AL Central title sooner than later. With Plouffe under contract until 2018 and making just $485,000 this season, you might call him the best value player in the AL right now.   

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