Monday, November 21, 2011

An introduction to Ryan Doumit's offense

The Twins front office worked quickly on the free agent market this winter, first signing Jamey Carroll to a two-year deal and now on the verge of inking Ryan Doumit to a one-year contract (pending a physical on Monday).

With the Twins looking to use the 30-year-old Doumit in a variety of ways (catching, first base, right field and DH), it is clear that they envision him to be an offense-first contributor. Doumit has had some ups and downs at the plate, many of these peaks and valleys are likely due to his laundry list of injuries over the course of his career.

For the most part, the switch-hitter has thrived at the left-side of the plate (798 OPS) but has been somewhat less effective from the right (718) during his seven years at the major league level. As a lefty, Doumit is a significant pull hitter, yanking 58.2% of all balls in play to the right side of the field:

Because he hits a high percentage of line drives this direction (over 20% of his career), Doumit has posted decent numbers. His left-side power numbers have been bolstered from playing at PNC Park – a field which is 320 feet to the right field corner despite a 21-foot tall wall – and he has hit 41 of his 67 career home runs in Pittsburgh. This approach may actually transfer well into Target Field. Target has very similar configurations to PNC, aside from the right field wall being eight feet further back and the wall being two feet taller, left-handed hitters have found the space between the foul pole and the stadium’s overhang seats to be very inviting.

Meanwhile, from the right side, Doumit is also a pull hitter:

The difference, however, is that from the right side, Doumit is much more prone to knocking the ball straight into the ground, bouncing out to third and short quite often (58% for his career). He does have a high tendency of line drives this direction as well but does not hit many fly balls. This means you won’t see a ton of home runs coming from what is his natural side (1 every 50 PAs on the right side versus 1 every 28 from the left).

The thick-built Doumit isn’t necessarily a prototypical “power hitter”. The most home runs he has hit in a season was 18 in 2005 split between AAA Indianapolis (12) and Pittsburgh (6). Yes, injuries have likely curbed some of his power one aspect of his swing stands out to me as a potential power restrictor.

Unlike the vast majority of major league hitters, Doumit does not pivot on his back foot – from either side of the plate. Whereas the rest of the offensive population tends to twist their back foot (a reverse pivot), Doumit keeps his foot planted and his heel to the ground. Here is an example from the left-side of the plate:

Compare that to Jason Kubel’s swing:

Here is Doumit’s swing from the right-side of the plate:

Now compare that to Michael Cuddyer’s swing:

While Doumit still has plenty of positive weight transfer and unloads his hips extremely well, not pivoting off of his back leg foot means that his upper body is doing more of the heavy lifting. Strong individuals have had some success swinging like this. Early in his career, White Sox right fielder Carlos Quinten shared this trait, performing extremely well in 2008, but has since changed his mechanics in recent years. So, although he’s got plenty of strength, Doumit is likely not generating the maximum amount of power he could if he swung more conventionally.

So what does the future hold for Doumit in Minnesota?

This past season in Pittsburgh, he posted what was perhaps his best season in limited time hitting a healthy .303/.353/.477 in 236 plate appearances. Going forward, I anticipate he will experience some drainage in his batting average and his on-base percentage next year.

On his way to the best season of his career in 2011, Doumit managed to hold a .331 batting average on balls in play – well above his .304 career average. Part of the explanation behind that was because a substantial amount of ground balls became hits (35.2% vs. 24.0% league average) which for a player with slower foot speed like Doumit, I would wager that a higher percentage of those bouncers are converted into outs in 2012.

On the other hand, even though his walk rate dropped, Doumit made some strides in his plate discipline.  He became increasingly patient at the dish. After swinging at 45.8 percent of pitches in 2010, he offered at just 42.4 percent this season, also reducing the rate in which he chased pitches outside of the strike zone (27% down from 32%). This helped trim down his strikeout rate from 19 percent to 15 percent. If he can continue this kind of restraint in 2012, he’ll likely see that walk rate rise again which may help his on-base percentage stay afloat despite the projected decline in his BABIP.

With a one-year deal, there is little risk involved for the organization. Signing Doumit provides the Twins roster with a player who can – at the very least – stand at a handful of positions and provide above-average production at the plate.