Buxton a Star in Center and 9th
Image courtesy of © Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY SportsFirst let’s look at that production. In his first 306 games with Minnesota, Byron owned a .230/.285/.387 slash line. He tallied just 44 doubles and while owning some seriously ugly strikeout numbers. Fast forward to 2019 and the Georgia native owns a .278/.336/.500 line across 39 games, has tallied an MLB leading 18 doubles, and has displayed an improved plate discipline.
Those doubles are where things really get off the ground for Buxton. A slight increase to the hard-hit rate, some positive trends in chase and whiff rate, and a consistent level of contact, nothing really jumps off the page there. Buxton is still spraying the ball to all fields, going to right more often than most points during his career. Instead of making fielders get him out though, he’s avoiding them altogether.
Launch angle is an often-mocked terminology within baseball but there’s nothing new school about it. Any object put into space from a position of zero movement will have a measurable launch angle. Baseball has simply sought out to find the optimal trajectory when determining flight baths on batted balls. There’s enough research now to suggest that, regardless of speed, putting the ball on the ground and beating it out or hoping for a professional to make an error is a bad plan of action. Having been tinkered with, and presented so many different directives, Buxton is now being himself in 2019 and it’s working.
As an uber-talented and toolsy prospect the thought that he’d hit was always there. Hitting for power would come, and while he may sacrifice some on the average side, the bat-to-ball skills looked exceptional. Buxton is utilizing that swing to drive the baseball in 2019, as opposed to relying on his speed to carry his bat. A year ago, Buxton’s launch angle on 63 batted balls was just 12.7 degrees. Through 95 instances in 2019 he owns a launch angle of 20.3 degrees. He’s not looking to hit through or around fielders anymore but is instead crushing it over them.
We come full circle now back to the doubles. Arguably more often than anyone in baseball, Byron will turn a single into an extra base. His speed on the basepaths is what allows him to push for more, and he doesn’t need the traditional gapper to get the job done. Jumping his average exit velocity from 85.7 mph to 91.6 mph, there’s more work for defenders to do in hopes of halting his progress. Lining more than his fair share of baseballs off the wall, the races begin when he steps out of the batter’s box.
Right now, so much of what Buxton is putting in the air has him winding up at second base. Of his 24 extra-base hits he’s got just two triples and two ding dongs. With the launch angle being what it is, and the batted balls leaving at what they are, 4.1% HR/FB ratio feels all sorts of out of whack. With the weather warming and ball flying throughout the sport, you can expect Buck to put plenty more in the seats.
I’ve never assumed Byron would be a typical .300 hitter, but the .260-.280 range with some real slugging prowess feels like a good bet. Batting in the nine-hole, Buxton has had ample opportunity to settle in. I like him at the bottom half so his wheels can wreak havoc without being wasted ahead of the boppers. At this point though it’s becoming questionable as to whether his bat is being fully utilized.
Operating under the rough assumption that Buxton will lose eight times as many opportunities batting at the bottom as opposed to the top, that’s a competitive disadvantage Rocco Baldelli must weigh. Max Kepler has looked good in short stretches, but the .305 OBP isn’t what you’d like to see at the top of the lineup. The German’s expanded ability has come in the form of thump, and the longball is a presence that can be felt in any role.
Without worrying about how the lineup juggles, moving Byron to the top is becoming more logical than ever. I liked him stopping at sixth before, but his explosion coupled with Kepler’s production makes this an ideal swap. He’s displaying the offensive abilities that added his prospect status, and out in center field he’s as great as he’s even been.
- pbrezeasap, Mike Frasier Law, hybridbear and 4 others like this