Just two seasons into Target Field’s existence and already the ballpark’s environment had drawn as much consternation from hitters as an expanded strike zone or moving the mound ten feet closer to the plate. Departing Twins took shots at the venue as they left the team, suggesting that the way the field plays makes players alter their swings to avoid long fly outs to the gaps.
Rather than continuing to jam square pegs into a round hole, the Twins made an offseason signing that is proving early on that if you select the right talent, Target Field can be porous. With a sampling of two seasons, the home run chart at Target Field showed that the easiest way to leave the field of play was to yank one down the left field line - and that’s where Josh Willingham comes in.
Because of his high pull tendencies and Target Field’s favorable environment to right-handed pull hitters, this winter’s acquisition had all the signs that it could be successful.
Just three games into the first homestand of the year, Willingham has reminded fans why the team named the third deck section of left field the “Home Run Porch” by pulverizing the Rawlings deep into the stands and narrowly missing a fourth by several feet on Monday. In concert with Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer, both of whom homered on Thursday, the Twins now have five home runs at home. That is downright a derby contest compared to last season in which fans had to wait until the twelfth home game of the season to be treated to the fifth Twins home run.
Let’s take a closer look as to why Willingham has been such a solid power source.
As I wrote back in December, what makes him such a dangerous hitter is that he “draws his power from a stiff front leg which helps with leverage and keeps his hands inside as his back arm stays close to his body at a little over a 90 degree angle – otherwise known as the “Power L” position. This combination, plus his natural strength, has led to a home run every 18.6 at bats since 2009.”
Here is an example of this in his home run off of Jared Weaver on Wednesday night. What I failed to mention back then is the explosive hip action he has when he uncorks. Take note of the stiff front leg and the way his trailing arm stays tucked in. Notice, also, that the point of impact is well out in front of his body resulting in him pulling the ball:
Next is an almost identical position for his home run off of Kevin Jepsen. Observe the same front leg, arm tucked in and the impact made out in front of his body:
Because of this approach, Willingham has had great success when being pitched middle-in:
Due to his early season success, one has to believe that the Rangers advanced scouts are filing reports that say “PITCH HIM AWAY! AWAY! AWAY!” in big bold letters and underlined. After all, Texas can neutralize him in this weekend’s series by forcing him to use the large part of the park rather than directing the ball towards the porch in left.
It is impossible to think that his pace will continue throughout the season, but pitchers do make mistakes – like Jepsen did when he tried to hit the outer-half the zone on Thursday only to have it stay over the middle – and Willingham appears to be a hitter who takes advantage of such mistakes. While this season still needs to play out, as of right now, it appears that the Twins front office has made one home run of a signing.
Over at TwinsDaily.com:
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