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Twins Daily Awards 2017: Most Improved

Improvement was the story of the 2017 Minnesota Twins. From 103 losses to 85 wins; from worst team in baseball to a postseason berth. It was a year-to-year jump like none we've ever seen in this franchise's history.

Many different players contributed to this seismic upswing with their own individual progressions, making this first Twins Daily Award a tough one. As you'll see, there was plenty of diversity on the ballots, but in the end, one player stood out as a fairly clear choice.
Image courtesy of Jeffrey Becker, USA Today
Byron Buxton's massive strides forward were reflective of what we saw from this team as a whole in 2017: young, raw talent finally figuring it out and pulling things together.

A quick glance at his offensive numbers may not point to huge improvement – his OPS rose by only 14 points from 2016 to 2017 (.714 to .728), and his OPS+ jumped by only four (90 to 94).

But that doesn't tell the whole story by any means. Buxton comprehensively advanced his game, and – while this award intends to recognize positive change from one year to the next – his incredible in-season improvements are what really sealed the deal for him.

Let's break it down by three areas in which the 23-year-old budding superstar elevated his performance:

His Bat
Buxton got his season off to a disastrous start at the plate, going 3-for-37 with a 20-to-1 K/BB ratio in his first 10 games. From there, he gradually started to get on track, but digging such a deep early hole meant it would take awhile for his overall numbers to reach respectability. Buxton's batting average didn't surpass .200 for the first time until the last day of May.

His approach at the plate improved, and so did the results, but his first half was filled with fits and stops. At the All-Star break, when he went on the disabled list with a groin injury, the center fielder was sporting an ugly .218/.292/.311 slash line.

It was upon his return from that DL stint, on August 1st, that things truly began to click. In the final two months Buxton slashed .298/.342/.541 with 11 homers, seven doubles and five triples.

By the end of the year he looked like a totally different player. He was making regular contact, smashing line drives, working counts, bunting for hits, and producing steadily in the middle of the lineup. Whereas the September 2016 outburst that raised his OPS from .561 to .714 didn't carry the indicators of sustainability (he still struck out at a 34% clip while hammering nine balls over the fence), Buck's more gradual 2017 turnaround was quite convincing.

His Glove
In 2016, Buxton showed the makings of an elite defensive player, with his incredible speed enabling him to track down just about every ball. In 2017, he became THE elite defensive player, maximizing the impact of that speed with superior recognition and routes.

Per FanGraphs, his UZR/150 improved from 6.4 to 13.1. His DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) went from three to 24.

He led baseball in StatCast's Outs Above Average measure this year at 25; in 2016 he ranked 14th at 10. Buxton hauled in an astonishing 26 four-star catches after nabbing six a year ago.

His Baserunning
Much like his defense, Buxton's base-running went from promising to preeminent. In 2016 he stole 10 bases on 12 attempts. Not bad. In 2017 he stole 29 on 30 attempts (plus 1-for-1 in the Wild Card game), and not one single catcher was able to beat him with a throw all year – Buxton's only caught stealing came on an overslide.

According to Baseball Prospectus' Baserunning Runs (BRR) metric, which accounts for "a player's contributions on the basepaths based on activity during the run of play, on stolen base attempts, from tag-up situations, and other advancement opportunities," Buxton was the third-most valuable runner in the game behind Dee Gordon and Delino Deshields. In 2016 he ranked 14th.

The Full Package
In the final eight weeks of the season Buxton was probably MLB's single most valuable all-around player, everything considered. With his offense finally catching up to his other-worldly aptitude on the base paths and in center field, he changed games on a nightly basis, playing a pivotal role in lifting the Twins from alsorans to postseason entrants.

That earned him our Most Improved award over a number of deserving contenders.

THE BALLOTS

Here's a look at the ballots from each of our nine voters. Opinions varied greatly on this one. There were five different choices for No. 1, and no player appeared on every list.

Seth Stohs: 1) Eddie Rosario, 2) Byron Buxton, 3) Jose Berrios
Nick Nelson: 1) Byron Buxton, 2) Eddie Rosario, 3) Jose Berrios
Parker Hageman: 1) Byron Buxton, 2) Joe Mauer, 3) Eduardo Escobar
John Bonnes: 1) Jose Berrios, 2) Eduardo Escobar, 3) Miguel Sano
Jeremy Nygaard: 1) Joe Mauer, 2) Byron Buxton, 3) Eddie Rosario/Jose Berrios
Cody Christie: 1) Byron Buxton, 2) Jorge Polanco, 3) Eddie Rosario
Steve Lien: 1) Eddie Rosario, 2) Jose Berrios, 3) Byron Buxton
Tom Froemming: 1) Jose Berrios, 2) Eddie Rosario, 3) Eduardo Escobar
Ted Schwerzler: 1) Byron Buxton, 2) Kyle Gibson, 3) Jorge Polanco

POINTS

Byron Buxton: 17
Eddie Rosario: 11.5
Jose Berrios: 10.5
Joe Mauer: 5
Eduardo Escobar: 4
Jorge Polanco: 3
Kyle Gibson: 2
Miguel Sano: 1

Do you agree with our committee's pick? Who would be your choice for Most Improved Twin and why?

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28 Comments

I think award could have easily gone to Buxton, Rosario or Berrios and nobody could have complained.Nice to see three (3) young, key figures for this club in the future take such dramatic steps forward! Very exciting!

    • glunn, Mike Frasier Law and Dman like this
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clutterheart
Oct 09 2017 05:57 AM

I get why everyone voted Buxton based on his amazing 2nd half.He carried the team into the playoffs.But I I would've gone:

Rosario 

Mauer

Buxton

 

    • glunn, Thrylos and frightwig like this

Hard to argue with this verdict. Buxton showed considerable improvement this year, much to the relief of us all! But others aren't far off the mark in picking Rosario or Berrios as Most Improved too. Rosario perhaps showed the most surprising surge, whereas most believed Berrios would be much better.

 

Both Mauer and Gibson had impressive second half performances, but I think they would rate more as "Comeback Players" rather than "Most Improved" due to their years of experience. The maturation and improvements that the top trio of youngsters demonstrated was very encouraging. I only hope there is no regression from this bunch next year.

    • glunn and Original Whizzinator like this

 

Both Mauer and Gibson had impressive second half performances, but I think they would rate more as "Comeback Players" rather than "Most Improved" due to their years of experience. The maturation and improvements that the top trio of youngsters demonstrated was very encouraging. I only hope there is no regression from this bunch next year.

 

My dad and I were chatting this weekend, and he suggested that Mauer could be the American League comeback player of the year this year. I couldn't argue with that. I still went with Rosario, who I think made tremendous strides, and I hope he can continue to build from there. 

    • Steve Lein, glunn, Thrylos and 3 others like this

You could make a case for all three, but I would have leaned more towards Berrios getting the award. Berrios was utterly lost in 2016... 1 quality start in 14 attempts and -1.7 bWAR. This year he had a 3.4 bWAR turnaround to be +1.7 bWAR, and evolved into the 2nd most trusted starter on a playoff team. 

    • glunn, frightwig and Tom Froemming like this

I hadn't really thought of this, but how much of an increase following how much of a decrease is required for a comeback award? And if there's that much of an increase then shouldn't a player be both a comeback and a most improved?

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howieramone2
Oct 09 2017 09:05 AM

Too many good choices for me to pick one.

    • glunn likes this
Miguel Sano got a vote?

 

My dad and I were chatting this weekend, and he suggested that Mauer could be the American League comeback player of the year this year. I couldn't argue with that. I still went with Rosario, who I think made tremendous strides, and I hope he can continue to build from there. 

Kind of begs the question. I think there are official awards for this voted on sportswriters.Has there ever been an award winner for the league that was different than the same award winner for the team.For example if Buxton wins Twins comeback player and Mauer wins American League comeback player.

 

My dad and I were chatting this weekend, and he suggested that Mauer could be the American League comeback player of the year this year. I couldn't argue with that. I still went with Rosario, who I think made tremendous strides, and I hope he can continue to build from there. 

While trying to look this up I went to this site  

Its the official site of the Minnesota Twins. Kind of myopic on my part. I saw it listed Mauer with 2 batting titles so was focusing on the fact that he won three. Then it dawned on me that Oliva and Carew and I think Puckett had titles also.Am I missing something there?

 

Throwing some objective measures in the question:

Position players

 

fWAR 2017-fWAR 2016:
Escobar 2.2
Buxton 1.8
Polanco 1.7
Rosario 1.6
Mauer 1.4

 

wOBA 2017 - wOBA 2016
Escobar .051
Rosario .045
Mauer .023
Buxton .008
Polanco -.015

 

wRC+ 2017 - wRC+ 2016
Escobar 34
Rosario 30
Mauer 14
Buxton 4
Polanco -12

 

So the top 5 look like:

 

1. Escobar

2. Rosario

3. Buxton

- Mauer

5. Polanco

 

or so.As far as position players go.Berrios' fWAR difference this season was 3.2, which is much higher than any position player, but it is comparing apples and oranges if use that as a subjective comparison measurement; however, his improvement was definitely more than the others, going from a negative value to a positive, something that no position player has done.So mine would have been:

 

1. Berrios, 2. Escobar, 3. Rosario.

    • glunn, frightwig, Tom Froemming and 1 other like this
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puckstopper1
Oct 09 2017 11:12 AM

 

Too many good choices for me to pick one.

 

And that is a GREAT thing, and why this team had such a dramatic turnaround this season.

    • glunn and dbminn like this
Headline of this article is "Most Improved," and no question, Buxton was the man. It's no coincidence, that the team turned around same time Buxton did. Now next article should be MVP and I'll get my vote in early and that's Buxton.
    • glunn likes this
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Wookiee of the Year
Oct 09 2017 12:41 PM

Buxton obviously improved a lot over the course of the year, but much of that was about him realizing latent talent that we all knew was there.

 

When I think about Most Improved, fairly or unfairly, I think, "Who raised my expectations the most as to what he is going to be over the rest of his career?" While there are a few other ways to interpret Most Improved, this one would seem to be the most relevant and indicate the largest change in outlook for long-term value (as opposed to recognizing a flash-in-the-pan fluky season, or rewarding someone who demonstrated minor league talent and finally showcased it at the major league level).

 

That description probably telegraphs where my vote is headed, but my Most Improved selection would be Eddie Rosario. No player raised my opinion of him and what the rest of his career will hold for him more than Rosario this year.

    • glunn likes this

Fine analysis by Nick. Buxton was a force on defense, and his peripherals the last couple months are encouraging. But I couldn't call him the "Most Improved Player" with a 90 wRC+, just 4 points better than last season.

 

Eddie Rosario was a marginal bat with no plate discipline, and even in the early part of this season he seemed in danger of washing out. Then suddenly he stopped chasing pitches, drew walks, and he started to crush the ball. His 116 wRC+ is 30 points better than last season. On the other hand, his defense slipped (-6 DRS this year) and 116 wRC+ still is just OK for LF.

 

Jose Berrios, as we all know, was just awful in 2016: a 5.50 BB/9, 1.85 HR/9, 16.2 HR%. He's still a flyball pitcher who may be at the mercy of HR% fluctuation in the future, and his 4.51 xFIP this year indicates possible regression in 2018. But this year he did solve his control problem and knocked down his homer rates to 0.93 HR/9 and 9.1 HR%. His FIP dropped from 6.20 to 3.84 and his fWAR increased by 3+ wins.

 

Berrios would be my pick for "Most Improved" on the Twins this year.

    • Nick Nelson, glunn, jimbo92107 and 1 other like this

Byron Buxton's improvements truly were extraordinary this year, if you compare the level of his technique at the beginning of the season to the end. 

 

Among the specific areas I saw:

 

Bunting. His technique went from poor to expert. In April Buxton commonly would poke at the ball. He would pop them up, whiff, or offer at pitches well out of the zone. Around mid-season, Buxton became far more selective, and his bunts got much, much better. He was setting up earlier, meeting the ball farther out front, and waiting to finish the bunt before breaking for first. 

 

Weight transfer at the plate. April, Buxton's weight transfer was a confused mess. He was in the process of eliminating a big leg kick that wasn't doing him any good because he would kick his leg, then rotate his front hip away from the plate, making him meat for pitches outside. Gradually during the season Buxton began to get it right, more and more shifting his weight into the pitch, while keeping his torso level, like a balanced skate step. The outside hole disappeared, and as this happened Buxton's confidence rose, allowing him to become far more selective at the plate. These improvements combined into a sharp rise in good contact rate, power, average and OBP, as well as setting the stage for another huge asset.

 

Base stealing. Buxton clearly got by early in his baseball life with nothing other than blazing speed, and you can't really blame him. Even sans technique, nobody in the minors could hold him, so he frankly didn't need to improve. That changed when he hit the show, where pitchers hold runners better and most catchers have quick, powerful arms. Suddenly his speed wasn't enough by itself, so Buxton stopped trying to steal. For this improvement I give tons of credit to Paul Molitor, who spent time teaching Buxton every aspect of base stealing, from correct form to careful film study of pitchers to figure out their cues. Around the All-Star break, Buxton was becoming impossible to stop going from first to second. Next season it will be fun to watch Buxton learn to steal third with equal impunity. Buxton is now prepared to break records.

 

Fly ball catching routes. Not as noticeable as some of Buxton's other improvements, his routes to catch fly balls got better as the season progressed. This not only helped Buxton make more impressive catches, it also helped protect him from some of the more violent wall collisions we saw earlier, because now he was able to better control his bursts of speed, slowing down as he neared the wall on deep drives. Even on Buxton's last collision, clearly he timed his leap and squared his body to the wall, allowing him to make the catch without the ball popping out of his glove. He did get injured, but his improved technique may have prevented a more serious injury. 

 

The future looks incandescent for Byron Buxton. His awesome raw tools got him to the major leagues. With continued good coaching and Buxton's enthusiasm for learning how to do it right, he appears destined for multiple years of MVP-level play. 

    • ashburyjohn, Nick Nelson and glunn like this
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diehardtwinsfan
Oct 09 2017 01:47 PM

I have to think Mauer is more of the comeback player variety... I suppose that would be a landslide in TD voting as the other candidates would have been Hughes and Perkins... though technically Mauer wasn't hurt last year...

 

I really cannot argue with Buxton, though his improvement was more first half to second half as Nick noted. It would have been a tough choice between Buxton and Berrios in my opinion, as both took huge steps forward. Here's to hoping both take steps forward in 2018.

    • glunn likes this
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yarnivek1972
Oct 09 2017 02:11 PM
Kyle Gibson posted nearly identical numbers in 2016 and 2017.
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Deduno Abides
Oct 09 2017 04:01 PM
Bux, Bux, Bux of the outfield
Catches all that he can call
Bux, Bux, Bux of the outfield
Watch out for that wall!
    • ashburyjohn and glunn like this

Bux, Bux, Bux of the outfield
Catches all that he can call
Bux, Bux, Bux of the outfield
Watch out for that wall!


Sung to the tune of George Of The Jungle, I presume
    • glunn likes this
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Deduno Abides
Oct 09 2017 04:08 PM

Sung to the tune of George Of The Jungle, I presume


Brendan Fraser edition.

Brendan Fraser edition.


Consider yourself perma-banned.
    • ashburyjohn, snepp and 70charger like this
Rosario. Leader of Confident Young Hitters.
I remember telling people before the season and I believe predicting somewhere on TD before the season that Buxton will be HOF someday. My faith in his skills has only been enhanced by his baserunning this season and his second half patience with the bat. The future's bright!
Not sure how you don't Rosario here. Buxton had a nice streak towards the end, but I'm not ready to call him

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