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Measuring Defense Matters For Buxton

There is no player on the Minnesota Twins roster who has been more polarizing in 2017 than Byron Buxton. The former top prospect in all of major league baseball, Buxton has struggled mightily at the plate. The Mendoza Line has gone from unreachable to home, and he's flirted with any number of stance tweaks. For everything that's been an issue at the plate though, his value has remained high because of his play everywhere else.
Image courtesy of © Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
On April 20, Buxton bottomed out at .082 on the season. He owned a .280 OPS (yes, somehow) and hitting for any sort of respectable mark looked like a longshot. Since that date, he's played in 56 games for the Twins. Over that time, he's compiled a .234/.311/.339 line equating to a .650 OPS. He has nine extra base hits, four of which have been homers. He's struck out 55 times, and drawn 19 walks. In a vacuum, that line leaves plenty to be desired. Batting at the bottom of the order and given what else he brings to the table however, Buxton is more than a valuable asset to the Twins.

Arguably the easiest thing to note when it comes to Buxton's game is speed. It's visible to the naked eye, and something that's generally accepted across the game. Recently however, Statcast introduced a sprint speed metric, that has Buxton as the second fastest player in all of baseball (thanks Billy Hamilton). When comparing to his peers, he absolutely flies, and that's apparent whether on the base paths or in the field.

Attached Image: Capture.PNG

Through the first half of the season, Buxton has swiped 13 stolen bases, being thrown out just once. Getting on base more would obviously produce more opportunities, but he's essentially a double when he reaches first. BsR (base runs above average) puts him at 3.8 on the season, putting him on pace to nearly double his 5.8 BsR from 2016.

It's all gravy at this point though when you look at Buxton's offensive game. His prowess on defense has become so valuable, that it all but negates the fact he's a .200 hitter. Despite being a significantly negative player offensively, the defensive ability has him grading out at 0.2 fWAR. While not being significantly above replacement level, it's that defense that helps to supplement a Twins team so desperately needing him.

Through 75 games, Buxton has been worth 16 DRS (defensive runs saved). That is the highest total in baseball for any position, in either league. He leads all centerfielders, and is 5 DRS ahead of second place Kevin Kiermaier of the Rays. A season ago, Kevin Pillar led the position at 21 DRS. When the dust settles on 2017, Buxton is paced for a 35 DRS mark. Examining a bit further, it's not hard to see why Buxton is able to save so many runs.

Range is something that is not easily quantifiable, but has begun to be measured by a few different outlets. RngR (range runs), which calculates the number of runs above average a fielder is, determined by how the fielder is able to get to balls hit in his vicinity (per Fangraphs), has Buxton at 3.9 or third in MLB behind just Odubel Herrera and Ender Inciarte. Balls hit to the gaps at Target Field, or any outfield that Buxton patrols, simply go to die when he is after them.

Since 2015, Statcast has been tracking catch probability. With 2017 being the first season as a regular for Buxton, he's shown incredibly well on that leaderboard. 4 star catches are defined as having a less than 50% chance of being made. The Twins centerfielder leads all big leaguers with 14 such catches. He is also 14 of 15 in those opportunities, putting him at 93.3% or firstl among players with at least 10 chances. The Twins centerfielder being able to be on the right side of a coin flip 93% of the time is something any gambler would take.

That leads us to those gamblers, the Twins pitchers. Starters have fared better than relievers on the season, but that's buoyed significantly by Jose Berrios and Ervin Santana. Three Twins starters, with at least 10 starts (Gibson, Mejia, Santiago), have posted high FIP numbers. Of the group, only Gibson's ERA (6.23) is above his FIP (5.60). Both Mejia (5.86 FIP) and Santiago (6.11 FIP) have been bailed out by a defense that has taken away hits for them. In fact if you throw in Phil Hughes' 5.40 FIP across 9 starts, and Ervin Santana's 4.58 FIP across 16 starts, only Jose Berrios' 3.37 FIP across 9 starts is truly a respectable number.

Putting a bow on the discussion, and summarizing Buxton as a whole, the Twins would be far worse off without him than with him scuffling at the bottom of the lineup. Sure, there has to be hope that at his best, he's more than a .650 OPS hitter. If that's all he is however, it can't be overstated how important he is to this club. Barring Minnesota running out a rotation comprised solely of Jose Berrios or better type pitchers, they will forever need assets in the field. Building around a player like Buxton is a pretty good place to start.

Oh, and as an aside, Buxton may also be the poster boy when it comes to the value of advanced analytics. Anyone can visibly see that he's valuable defensively. Understanding just how valuable (like, the best defensive outfielder in baseball by quite a bit), is a bit easier to see with some numbers to shape the conversation.

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8 Comments

"Sure, there has to be hope that at his best, he's more than a .650 OPS hitter. If that's all he is however, it can't be overstated how important he is to this club"

 

If that's all he ever becomes I'll be damned disappointed.

    • Jerr and Broker like this

I think defense gets a bad wrap because it's harder to understand and truly appreciate the value it adds.  Watching Mauer's defensive performance last night is an example of that.  Numbers don't always tell the entire story no matter how many there are, which makes it more difficult to follow closely for a more casual observer.  There is more to this game than offense.

 

How many of Buxton's leg kick tweaks and such are due to coaches tinkering and how much of it is him trying to find the right timing mechanism?  I've always wondered a bit if they'd just leave him alone that he'd figure it out or if he's trying to figure it out thus all of the tweaks.

 

I think defense gets a bad wrap because it's harder to understand and truly appreciate the value it adds.  Watching Mauer's defensive performance last night is an example of that.  Numbers don't always tell the entire story no matter how many there are, which makes it more difficult to follow closely for a more casual observer.  There is more to this game than offense.

 

How many of Buxton's leg kick tweaks and such are due to coaches tinkering and how much of it is him trying to find the right timing mechanism?  I've always wondered a bit if they'd just leave him alone that he'd figure it out or if he's trying to figure it out thus all of the tweaks.

I don't think we fully appreciate above said fielding performances until they are not made.Mauer has become a very good fielding 1st baseman and Buxton is as good as it gets in CF.Buxton's hitting continues to be beneath where it needs to be for certain.If he could get the BA up to around .250while drawing some walks/strike out less and utilizing his speed that would be great.

    • wsnydes likes this

 

I don't think we fully appreciate above said fielding performances until they are not made.Mauer has become a very good fielding 1st baseman and Buxton is as good as it gets in CF.Buxton's hitting continues to be beneath where it needs to be for certain.If he could get the BA up to around .250while drawing some walks/strike out less and utilizing his speed that would be great.

If Buxton becomes a .250-.270 hitter and continues to play the same level of defense he will be an all-star.

 

An OK and I think reasonable 2018 Buxton batting line would look something like this:

 

.255/.350/.410 (.760 OPS) with about 15 HR.

Photo
Tommygun921
Jun 29 2017 09:48 AM
He'd definitely be an all-star if he could only get on base more.
shorter more direct swing = ball in play more = all star
If the guy hasnt figured out how to swing a bat by now he is not going to figure it out down the line.

I know the man crush on Buxton is in full swing, but he cant hit and I would rather have a guy who is a slight threat at the plate with average defense than a guy at the plate who is an automatic strikeout.

If the guy hasnt figured out how to swing a bat by now he is not going to figure it out down the line.

I know the man crush on Buxton is in full swing, but he cant hit and I would rather have a guy who is a slight threat at the plate with average defense than a guy at the plate who is an automatic strikeout.


He's 23 years old. Of course he can still improve at the plate.
    • Dozier's Glorious Hair and Original Whizzinator like this

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