Twins Daily Awards 2017: Most Improved
Image courtesy of Jeffrey Becker, USA TodayByron 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:
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.
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.
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.
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
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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