On Saturday, May 4, Ryan Doumit, at .203, was not even hitting his weight. With a slugging percentage of .291 to boot, the Minnesota Twins’ switch-hitting catcher/DH was a few nights of binge eating hot wings from matching that number as well. As a regular guest of manager Ron Gardenhire’s vital fifth spot in the batting order, Doumit’s woes directly impacted the team’s offense. An offense, which had concluded April with just 92 runs scored – ahead of only the Chicago White Sox at 89.
Last year, while providing crucial support in the heart of the order, the vast majority of his plate appearances came from the left side of the plate. His total numbers are buoyed by whether or not he succeeds as a left-handed hitter. In 2012, he hit a respectable .288/.335/.488 and dropped 13 of his 18 home runs from the port side. That carried him through the year and earned him his contract extension. This year, however, Doumit had yielded little returns from either side of the plate.
That is until the trip to Boston.
Despite leaving Thursday night without a hit, Doumit did a great deal of damage in a two-day span which included six hits in nine at-bats, two home runs and a double. Heading into Fenway, he was the owner of the sad .203 average and a middle infielder-esque .554 OPS. He had not hit one jack job all year. When the Twins left the city, Doumit’s average was 30 points higher and his OPS had 100 points added to it as well. He also smacked two dingers. What changed was his ability to square up on pitches…in the zone.
[Pause while audience gasps.]
Doumit entered the Boston series not necessarily chasing after pitches out of the zone at a higher rate than last year but he was making contact with pitches out of the zone. Opponents – fully aware of the fact that Doumit is a pull hitter – have attempted to defuse his powers by feeding him with pitches away, hoping he tries to pull them and, thus, turn them over for weak grounders. Here’s a better visual reference to understand what was happening during the series in Cleveland:
As a pull hitter, it is not a surprise to see teams attacking him with pitches away. Additionally, they had increased the usage of changeups on him (from 15% to 22%) in order to see if he will roll over on those offerings. These past few games, however, we have seen something different out of Doumit. Compare those points of contact to the ones he made while in Boston most recently:
Clearly, when a hitter makes contact with pitches in the zone, they are better able to square the ball off the barrel of the ball. Doumit’s poor pitch selection may indicate why he has had an inordinate amount of grounders put into play this year (54%) in comparison to his career average (43%). Without the elevation, he would suffer a power outage.
Heading into the Boston showdown, Doumit was put the ball on the ground 35 times versus the 31 times he got underneath it. That changed significantly in Massachusetts when he went vertical eight times and bounced three times (save for Thursday night’s game). It is no surprise, then, that when we witness Doumit accumulate extra base hits, he is elevating the ball much better.
Also a curious aspect to Doumit’s inauspicious start has been his inability to make pitcher’s pay when he has been in favorable counts. In 2012, when he had been up on pitcher’s, he absolutely raked - posting a .327 average and a 1.026 OPS ahead in the count. This year, that average is down to .154 with a OPS of .584. The results in those situations circle back to his expansion of the zone where two of the three examples above came in hitter’s counts.
Is this a corner-turn moment for Ryan Doumit? It is definitely plausible that the Twins are seeing the old Doumit return with his swing decisions exercised in Boston. It would be wildly beneficial as the team has suffered with his lack of production in the heart of the order. Keep an eye on his swing location through the upcoming home stand to see if this output continues.