Friday, July 15, 2011

The power of Plouffe

You can say this about Trevor Plouffe: Whenever he shows up, he certainly announces his presence with authority.
When recalled in early May Plouffe smacked a home run off of Boston’s Tim Wakefield in his first at-bat. Last night, he matched that by displacing a Bruce Chen-delivered Rawlings into the left field foul pole.
This display of power a relatively new feature to Plouffe’s game. Despite hitting double-digits in home runs in 2010, slugging 17 home runs over the course of 489 plate appearances split between Rochester and Minnesota, the infielder is currently having one of his best power seasons. So far in 2011, Plouffe has topped that by hitting 19 home runs in just 296 plate appearances.
It is remarkable to go from hitting a home run every 28.7 plate appearances to tagging one every 15.6 plate appearances. For comparisons’ sake, last season Jim Thome popped off a home run every 13.6 plate appearances. So how is it that Plouffe suddenly pops off for this much power? It appears that Plouffe made some adjustments to his approach.
In early in the 2010 season, Plouffe demonstrated plenty of pre-swing bat movement – stirring the soup with his bat if you will. In this at-bat against Milwaukee’s Jeff Suppan, notice the constant movement of his bat. He continues to do this until the pitch is well on its way before he draws back his pre-launch point with his hands.

This is very similar to Danny Valencia’s bat-stirring prior to the pitch being delivered. From the side-view, you can see how far the bat has to travel from the starting point near his head to the loading, pre-launch point. It is noisy and, for the most part, unnecessary.

Meanwhile in this year’s version, Plouffe exhibits a much calmer demeanor at the plate, holding his bat still and reducing the distance it has to travel for it to reach the pre-launch position:

This improvement is better appreciated from the side view in which you can see his hands barely needing to cover any ground in order to get in the loaded position.

Another aspect that he has demonstrated better this year is a more violent leg lift/plant tandem then he did in the past season. This has created a firm front leg and allows for a more aggressive hip rotation which assists process of driving the ball.   
All of this has led to more connectivity, greater punch but most of all, lift. For most of his career, Plouffe was hovering around 45-50% in the ground ball rate department in the minor leagues. Meanwhile in Rochester this year, he has hit the ball on the ground just 31% of the time. In short, he is hitting the ball squarely.
The tall, long-armed Plouffe clearly has the body capable of generating power. In fact, he is built very similarly to last year’s shortstop JJ Hardy, who has been enjoying his first season with the Orioles. But, for the majority of his prospecthood, he failed to maximize his potential in that department. These latest adaptations have seemingly tapped into that source. Provided that the Twins can find a position for him, Plouffe could be a big offensive addition for the season’s second-half.