Byron Buxton's Not So Secret Value
Image courtesy of © David Berding-USA TODAY SportsBuxton has missed playing time during a couple of different stretches this season. He recently was placed on the 7-day concussion IL after making a diving catch. Back in June, Buxton missed time after being hit on the wrist with a pitch. Earlier in the year, he had a knee bruise after colliding with the center field wall.
One of Buxton’s biggest flaws might be his reckless approach in the outfield. Some might call it aggressive, but his injury history as a professional is tough to ignore. He’s been on the field more in 2019 than in 2018, so that’s a step in the right direction. However, he might be key to Minnesota winning games and this means they need him on the field.
Minnesota entered play on Tuesday with a 61-38 record (.616 PCT) which is good for the third best total in the American League. Byron Buxton has started 71 games, and, in those games, Buxton has helped the Twins to a 48-23 record (.676 PCT). With Buxton on the sidelines, the club has gone 13-15, which is a .464 winning percentage. There is something extra Buxton brings to the table.
Buxton’s defensive value is obviously the biggest part of the winning equation. Even with the time missed, he surged into the lead as baseball’s best defender according to SABR’s most recent Defensive Index rankings. The SABR Defensive Index draws on and aggregates two types of existing defensive metrics: those derived from batted ball location-based data and those collected from play-by-play accounts. Through the All-Star break, Buxton was 0.3 SDI points ahead of Oakland’s Marcus Semien and he was 1.6 points ahead of the next best center fielder, Tampa’s Kevin Kiermaier.
During the 2017 campaign, Buxton was awarded the Platinum Glove for being the AL’s best defender. In that season, he had a career-high 26 outs above average. So far this season, he has 12 outs above average, which is still very good and could have him on pace to have close to 20. His responsible plays chart (see below) should be submitted to the Smithsonian as he has multiple catches this season with a 0% catch probability.
Offensively, Buxton’s biggest improvement this season has been against the fastball. Last year, he hit .150 with .183 SLG when facing fastballs. So far this season, his average has jumped 135 points and his slugging percentage has gone up almost three times what he did against fastballs in 2018. Fastballs aren’t his only offensive area of improvement.
He had a 1.6 Barrel % in 2018 and that has increased to 8.1 this year (MLB average 6.3). Naturally his exit velocity has also increased from being in the mid-80s to 89.4 mph this season. His launch angle has also increased from being slightly above league average (11.1 MLB AVG) to 20.1 degrees. A 39.9 Hard Hit % puts Buxton over 5% higher than the MLB mark.
Minnesota Twins fans are well aware of the long-term impact concussions can have on players. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau both had their career’s altered because of concussion related issues. With multiple months left in the season, the Twins need Buxton healthy for September more than they need him at the end of July. But the team’s October chances could be hurt if Buxton’s return isn’t imminent.
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