For those of you who might not have caught it in several other of my posts, I make a lot of bets (and I mean a lot of bets) on things like "Will Justin Morneau record an RBI" or "Will Adam LaRoche score a run" or "Will David Price record over 5.5 strikeouts." For example, when lines opened this afternoon Johan Santana was at 5.5k for his OVER/UNDER, was facing the Orioles (who lead the majors in whiffs), and had had 6+ Ks in six of his last seven starts. Naturally he was an easy over play, which of course meant that he finished the night with five. Ass. Anyway, because of that I know lots about Vegas props. Every so often, probably 1-2 times per week (and there are 70+ bets per day so it's a rare bet) the prop will be "Will So-and-so hit a home run" (with obviously obviously slanted towards no). Today, that so-and-so was Trevor Mother-Effing Plouffe. Here's who I remember this bet being on so far this year: Tony Bautista, Matt Kemp, Josh Hamilton, Curtis Granderson, and Trevor Plouffe. I may be forgetting someone, but nobody on a Plouff-ian level.
So then I check the stats really quick because I know he's been hot and he has 14 homers, which ranks 14th in the majors. Fourteenth! Only he's done it in about 100 less at-bats than everybody in front of him. He's #1 in homers among middle-infielders (if you still want to count him as one). Going into tonight he was hitting a homer in every 11 at-bats. That would rank 54th all-time for a single-season if he kept it up (and would crush the career record held by Ryan Howard (lol wut?)). If we discount OFers and 1Bs who are supposed to mash, Plouffe's season right now would rank 4th all-time, and if we discount A-Rod's seasons because I don't really feel like looking up which ones he was at third and which at short, it would be the greatest home run hitting season in middle infielder history. Also feel free to conveniently ignore the fact that Plouffe has only played 21 (of 364) innings in the middle infield this year, because I am. It's way more fun to compare him to Zack Cozart and Aaron Miles than Joey Votto and Josh Hamilton, so that's what I'm going to do.
In either case that doesn't really matter, compared to if we think he's going to keep doing this, regardless of position, so that's what I'm going to focus on unless I get distracted by this hot, brilliant young cook on MasterChef or the NBA game (OKC rolling as Nick effing Collison takes it at Bosh for the And-1).
The #1 thing we need to look at is HR/FB. Although this number will vary wildly from player to player, it is also the first place to look when a player (or pitcher) is hitting (or allowing) a ridiculous amount of dingers. And Plouffe is at 24.6%, which ranks ninth in the majors. It would have ranked #2 last year. And in 2010. And third in 2009. To put it in perspective, the guys who are always at the top of this metric are always guys like Adam Dunn, Mike Stanton, Mark Reynolds, Jose Bautista, Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, and Carlos Pena - home freaking run hitters. Do you think Plouffe goes in this group, personally, I don't. However.......
Plouffe's career number in HR/FB is 15.8%, so although the 24.6% is a jump we aren't talking going from Denny Hocking to Prince Fielder here. That 15.8% actually places him 30th among all batters from 2010-2012 (as a combined number for the 3 seasons and if Plouffe qualified). Not bad. That's ahead of Carlos Beltran, Adrian Gonzalez, Carlos Quentin, Evan Longoria, and your boyfriend Josh Willingham. Maybe not in that first tier of sluggers, but definitely somewhere in that second group. Interesting.
So has he done anything to suddenly jump from good slugger to big-time bomber?
First off, last year after being shipped to Rochester, again, he hit 15 homers in 192 at-bats, a homer every 12.8 at-bats, not far off his current level. That power sure as shit didn't translate to the majors as he basically hit like an asshole after being pulled back up, but he did have some of it in the minors. And now?
We know about the jump in HR/FB. The key is if there is any way to trace that to a change in batting approach or if it just looks fluky. Do you like how I like all mysterious like a great writer like that broad who wrote Twilight? Gotta keep you guessing. Also I write before looking stuff up which is why I sometimes look like an ass dummy, but I'm not exactly ready to stop doing it that way yet so leave me alone. Anyway, one of the biggest deals I see when looking at his nerd stats are that in his three pro years his K-rate has declined while his walk-rate has increased. His walk rate this year would rank 26th in the majors if he had enough plate appearances to qualify, while his K-rate would be around bottom-75 or so, and more like Joey Votto and Ryan Doumit than Adam Dunn or Pedro Alvarez. Combine the two and his BB/K is 0.63, ranking 41st in the majors. Most of the guys who rank above him are slappers (Jose Reyes, Jamey Carroll) or girls (Joe Mauer, David Wright), so if you want to look at slugging types Plouffe would rank 14th best on my subjective criteria whereby I look at a name and decide if I think he's a "slugger" or not. Pretty impressive.
Looking a bit deeper, and I promise I'll rap this up soon before we get too far down the nerdhole and also I need to watch some of the basketball game, he's swinging at almost the exact same percentage of pitches as last year. However. He has cut way down on swinging at balls outside the zone (29% to 22%) while swinging at more balls in the zone (58% to 62%). He's also making far more contact when he swings (76% to 82%) and his swinging strike % is way down (10% to 7.7%). All of these point to someone who is figuring out the major league strike zone and major league pitching. At the same time is BABIP is way down at .217, and although his high percentage of flyballs hit (another metric that points to a "slugging" type) suggests he'd likely settle under .300, he's still had some bad luck this year.
Put it altogether? He won't keep up this level of HR production, but it's not as fluky as I first expected, and his batting average will almost certainly rise. A .270 average with 25-28 home runs seems like where we are probably trending, and that's an awfully solid year for a guy who is trying to find a position. Looking at his numbers (using Ultimate Zone Rating) he's likely to settle in at either 1b or RF with a chance and becoming a 3b. His value at either RF or 1b is minimized, but if he can stick at 3b it skyrockets. So that's what the Twins need to do with Plouffe - play him at third, every single day because Jamey Carroll really, and see what we see.
To sum up:
PRO: Plouffe is really, really fun to say.
CON: He's a total power hitter and the Twins hate that.