Before the 2015 season began, Minnesota Twins manager Paul Molitor discussed his options for cleanup hitter. His first choice he said would be Torii Hunter. Based on Hunter’s experience, approach and ability to put the ball in play, Molitor felt like the veteran would be a sound run production. Behind Hunter, Molitor listed Trevor Plouffe as another candidate for the meat of the order role.

Players like Kennys Vargas or Oswaldo Arcia, with their game-changing swings and imposing presence in the batter's box, have the appearance of an archetype cleanup hitter yet Molitor felt their approach did not match that of what should be a run producer. Someday, sure, but their all-or-nothing swings would leave them tied in knots in valuable RBI opportunities.
Yes, Mr. RBIs-Are-Overrated-Guy, RBIs are overrated and explain little towards a hitter's true abilities plus require the players in the lineup ahead of them to get on-base. Still, there are guys that fail to drive in runs for various reasons when faced with RBI opportunities. In 2014, the Twins lineup had several talented power-hitters that they viewed as trying to do too much -- swinging for the fences when a well-placed grounder would have done the trick. Instead, the at bat would conclude in a strikeout.

Once upon a time, Trevor Plouffe was that type of hitter. He would swing from his heels trying to drive himself and the run in on one pitch. Seemingly overnight, Plouffe improved his production and in 2014 he led the team in RBIs with 80. Now he is the guy you want at the plate with a runner in scoring position.

Quick history lesson: early in his career right-handed pitchers had Plouffe's number like Tommy Tutone had Jenny's. From 2011 through 2013, he struck out in 22% of his plate appearances while chasing balls out of the zone at a near 30% clip against righties. His 673 OPS was well below the 727 OPS that other right-handed hitters averaged when facing other righties. Despite the disappointing performance against righties, his success against left-handed pitching helped buoy his overall numbers and kept him in the lineup continuously in that time.

The young version of Trevor Plouffe figured that if you turned on an inside pitch, you could send the ball on a direct flight to the outfield bleachers the quickest. That philosophy helped him hammer out 46 home runs in his mid-twenties. Of course, pitchers and scouts recognized this trait and peppered him with a steady diet of offspeed offerings away which sent him into chase mode as he still tried to pull everything. His power binges were filled with spats of strikeouts.

Last year, however, Plouffe began to understand what was happening and how pitchers were setting him up. He knew couldn’t survive taking the giant swing at every pitch.


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