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Buxton a Star in Center and 9th

It wasn’t long ago that Paul Molitor was attempting to show belief in Byron Buxton by batting him third to start the 2017 season. Minnesota’s centerfielder responded by going 1-18 with 11 strikeouts. Coming off a lost 2018 season, Buxton has batted in the final spot in the lineup during all 39 of his games played this year. Given the production, what do we do now, and will it all continue?
Image courtesy of © Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
First 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.

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64 Comments

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RaymondLuxuryYacht
May 16 2019 04:35 PM

It's working

 

Let's change it

    • James, Puckett34, Danchat and 4 others like this
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mickeymental
May 16 2019 04:39 PM
as they say in off-broadway circles: i love you, you’re perfect, now change.
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terrydactyls1947
May 16 2019 04:40 PM
Ted Serious question for you. I don't understand what you are trying to say in the statement "Buxton will lose eight times as many opportunities batting at the bottom". I'm old and easily confused. Thanks.
    • jkcarew likes this
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diehardtwinsfan
May 16 2019 04:40 PM

Me thinks it's a bit too early to use the term Star and Buxton in the same sentence. He's got elite defense and (right now) a better than average bat in SSS... I'd like to seem more July-Sept 2017 Buxton before I use the term star to describe him. 

    • ewen21 likes this
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diehardtwinsfan
May 16 2019 04:41 PM

 

Ted Serious question for you. I don't understand what you are trying to say in the statement "Buxton will lose eight times as many opportunities batting at the bottom". I'm old and easily confused. Thanks.

 

yeah, me thinks that the math is off. 

    • bighat, jkcarew and Aerodeliria like this
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TheLeviathan
May 16 2019 04:52 PM

It's been awesome to see.At this point, let's just hope the train keeps rolling.

    • DocBauer likes this
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Kelly Vance
May 16 2019 04:59 PM

I think that was just a comment on his getting fewer at bate at the 9 hole that leadoff.

 

I'd like to see Buck bat first and steal second base. His doubles would put him in scoring position for the second batter in the game... like that  thought 

    • Jerr, DocBauer and Nine of twelve like this
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Ted Schwerzler
May 16 2019 05:01 PM

Me thinks it's a bit too early to use the term Star and Buxton in the same sentence. He's got elite defense and (right now) a better than average bat in SSS... I'd like to seem more July-Sept 2017 Buxton before I use the term star to describe him.


Being the best defender in the game, and posting an OPS north of .800 (even at an offensively starved position) is a star.
    • Blake, SwainZag, TNTwinsFan and 4 others like this
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Ted Schwerzler
May 16 2019 05:02 PM

Ted

Serious question for you. I don't understand what you are trying to say in the statement "Buxton will lose eight times as many opportunities batting at the bottom". I'm old and easily confused. Thanks.


Probably articulated this poorly, but the point I was making is any argument regarding a shift up in the batting order is about generated ABs. Your leadoff man gets one more AB than the 2 hole and on down the line. Obviously it’s more nuanced than that in a mathematical sense, so the 8x was probably a bad suggestion in a literal sense.
    • glunn, Jerr, DocBauer and 2 others like this
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diehardtwinsfan
May 16 2019 05:05 PM

 

Being the best defender in the game, and posting an OPS north of .800 (even at an offensively starved position) is a star.

Doing it for amonth is not a star... sorry. Mike Trout is a star. He's been performing at an MVP level for a while. Even if Buxton kept this up all season, he wouldn't be in MVP conversation...

 

I like Buxton. I'm encouraged by his start. Let's not get ahead of ourselves...

    • Jerr and DocBauer like this
He’s the fastest guy in the majors, he’s leading the MLB in doubles, he’s been thrown out trying to steal twice in his last 50 (approximately) attempts, he’s got an .840 OPS overall. He’s hitting over .300 with an OPS north of .900 in his last 15. Once he gets on base, he changes the game.

He’s one of the best hitters we have right now, despite what people think. I just don’t see the rationality in keep him locked into the 9-hole because of quasi-superstitious fear that it’s the 9-hole making the hitter. He was drafted and developed to be a franchise cornerstone and offensive centerpiece.
    • Siehbiscuit, Kelly Vance, tarheeltwinsfan and 4 others like this
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LA VIkes Fan
May 16 2019 05:12 PM

Like your suggestion of changing up the Order. It's not working ot have Kepler hitting .234 with a .305 OPS in the lead off spot. It's one of the main reasons why the Twins' runs per game is down over the last 15-20 games (during which Kepler owns a .158/.231/.246 slash line). Take out the two 8 run games and one 9 run game and the last 15-20 games show a lot of 3 and 4 run outputs. I like Kepler and like his potential but having him lead off may be putting too much pressure on him - kind of like when Molitor batted Buxton 3rd. 

 

I say move Kepler down the lineup and either Gonzalez or Buxton up. I like Gonzalez in the 2 hole behind Polanco with Kepler hitting 6 or 7.  

    • jokin and Original Whizzinator like this
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diehardtwinsfan
May 16 2019 05:15 PM

 

He’s the fastest guy in the majors, he’s leading the MLB in doubles, he’s been thrown out trying to steal twice in his last 50 (approximately) attempts, he’s got an .840 OPS overall. He’s hitting over .300 with an OPS north of .900 in his last 15. Once he gets on base, he changes the game.

He’s one of the best hitters we have right now, despite what people think. I just don’t see the rationality in keep him locked into the 9-hole because of quasi-superstitious fear that it’s the 9-hole making the hitter. He was drafted and developed to be a franchise cornerstone and offensive centerpiece.

 

I do think it's time to move him up. Not sure I'd put him at leadoff just yet, but bumping him up to 6 or 7 on a nightly basis would be a worthwhile test.

    • CUtomorrownight and Minny505 like this

Probably articulated this poorly, but the point I was making is any argument regarding a shift up in the batting order is about generated ABs. Your leadoff man gets one more AB than the 2 hole

Not unless he makes the last out of every game (or, more accurately, the last out occurs during his PA but before the next guy's PA is complete).

 

I look at it this way. Suppose you had a lineup of equally talented hitters. The odds would be 1/9 in any given game that any particular hitter makes the final out. So, one out of 9 games, #1 gets an additional PA relative to #2, and so on down the line. 162 / 9 = 18. Moving someone up from #2 to #1 would get him 18 more PA. Moving up from #3 to #1 would be 2*18=36. Moving all the way up from #9 to #1 would be 8*18=144. I think that's the '8' you were looking for.

 

Of course talent is not equal, and is purposely not distributed randomly through the lineup. But as a first-order approximation I'd go with that. "Your leadoff man gets 18 more PA in a season than the 2 hole." And on down the line.

    • glunn, Riverbrian, Jham and 2 others like this

Doing it for a month is not a star... sorry. Mike Trout is a star. He's been performing at an MVP level for a while. Even if Buxton kept this up all season, he wouldn't be in MVP conversation...

I like Buxton. I'm encouraged by his start. Let's not get ahead of ourselves...


If Buxton keeps this up (aka hits .275-.280, with 70-80 doubles, 8-10 triples, 10-20 HRs, a .850 OPS, and the best defense on planet earth), he’ll be around an 8 WAR player. For reference, fan graphs has Yelich with 7.6 last year. Jose Ramirez was at 8.
    • pbrezeasap, DocBauer, CUtomorrownight and 4 others like this
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LA VIkes Fan
May 16 2019 05:35 PM

I was sure someone must have done a study on plate appearance differences in different batting order spots. Sure enough, there's a Fangraphs article on it and the conclusion in the article is that the #1 spot averages 4.65 PAs per game, #2 4.55, #3 4.43, #4 4.33, #5 4.24, #6 4.13, #7 4.01, #8 3.90, all the way down to 3.77 for the #9 spot. Multiplying the .88 PA per game difference per game between spots 1 and 9 by 162 games, the difference is 142.56 PAs a season.Assuming that both Buxton and Kepler play 150 games a season and each hit in the #1 and #9 spots (I know that Kepler moves down against LH starters) , Kepler would get 132 more PAs. 

 

The question is, does that make sense? Is Kepler worth 132 PAs more than Buxton? I say no. I also say that the player who should get the most PAs for the Twins this year is the same player who should be the lead off hitter for all of the other reasons like OPS, speed, etc. - Polanco.  

    • glunn, Jerr, brvama and 7 others like this

Max Kepler is batting .230 - he batted .220 last year, 4th worst among AL regulars. Sure, he's a guy you want in the lineup...but not batting leadoff. Buxton surely isn't a better hitter than Polanco or Cruz, but he's an improvement to Kepler.

 

In the end though, the Twins are 10 games above .500 and we should be pretty pleased that we've got Buxton playing a big part in this, regardless of where he hits.

    • LA VIkes Fan and DocBauer like this
Kepler’s OBP of 305 is irrelevant for the conversation. Seems many are not grasping that Kepler is only the lead off hitter when facing right-handed starters. His OBP against righties is 331...not great, but better than Buxton’s 316.

Meanwhile, Buxton has owned an OPS north of 800 for about one week in his entire career now...that being this past week. Maybe we move him up against lefties to see how that goes?
    • glunn, DocBauer, gbg and 4 others like this

Johan Santana was pitching great out of the bullpen, and then they had to go make him a starter. Batting Buxton lead-off threatens the same kind of disruption of the status quo. Who are we to acknowledge Buxton's mature new approach at the plate? I say we stay here in Europe, where the world is nice and flat!

    • brvama, tarheeltwinsfan and DannySD like this

He's not going to stay in the 9th spot forever, if he continues to produce like this. I'm not getting too worked up over exactly when the manager moves him, if it's before the All-Star break.

    • glunn, DocBauer and Original Whizzinator like this

 

Even if Buxton kept this up all season, he wouldn't be in MVP conversation...

 

 

 

Buxton finished 18th in MVP voting in 2017 while slashing 253/314/413

 

while it's debatable whether that is considered "in the conversation", if he keeps up his current 278/336/500 line, he'll be on more than a handful of MVP ballots this year

    • pbrezeasap likes this

Buxton finished 18th in MVP voting in 2017 while slashing 253/314/413

Marwin finished 19th that year, Schoop was #12, and Nelson Cruz was 10th. We're working on collecting the whole set! Hope Mookie Betts (#6) and Francisco Lindor (#5) show up on the trade market soon. (Craig Kimbrel was #6 for Cy Young, hint hint.)

    • glunn, pbrezeasap, Don Walcott and 1 other like this
I would like to see someone other than Kepler lead off. We have better options.
    • LA VIkes Fan likes this
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Joe A. Preusser
May 16 2019 08:16 PM

Doing it for amonth is not a star... sorry. Mike Trout is a star. He's been performing at an MVP level for a while. Even if Buxton kept this up all season, he wouldn't be in MVP conversation...
 
I like Buxton. I'm encouraged by his start. Let's not get ahead of ourselves...


If Buxton keeps this up all season he will absolutely be very much in the conversation for MVP.
    • glunn, pbrezeasap and DocBauer like this
I think this is a tremendous OP and discussion. And I don't want to turn it in to a Kepler/Polanco post because that's not what jts supposed to be. But I have to, for a moment, as stated, Kepler is hitting #1 against RH batters, where his OB is at least acceptable, combined with power. Polanco may actually be the best #1 hitter in the team. But if be thrives so well where he is at, and a flux of Kepler, and previously Garver, do the job ahead of him, does it make sense to change at this point?

Honestly asking as it it is working!

Before I can honestly address Buxton, I have to regress a bit. When I heard rumors about a Cruz signing I didn't buy in. Didn't think it would happen. Personally, I wanted McCutchen or Brantley for greater roster/lineup flexibility. When I heard Falvey talking about the possibility of signing a veteran bat who could be productive and offer leadership and experience to the lineup and the team in general, I felt Cruz was a done deal. Shortly thereafter, it was. And there was a lot of conversation in regard to Cruz being not only productive, but a great role model for Sano and others.

For those who may have missed it, about a week ago, during a telecast, Morneau I believe it was, was talking about Buxton going up to bat. The report was when Buxton returned to the dugout, Cruz would always ask him; "Did you have a plan? Did you have fun?"

THAT is leadership, and it is HUGE!

Even some of the greatest talents in any sport can take time to find themselves. Because Buck wasn't Griffey Jr out of the gate is no reason to penalize him. He beefed up, and came in with a different attitude this season. The attitude was simply, paraphrasing, do what feels right, trust in it, quit worrying and tinkering, and just let his natural ability take over. Do you realize he only has about 1,100 ML AB thus far?

Buxton remains uber talented. His new found determination and approach is working. He is STILL learning, but producing! On a talented and deep team, he is making the most of his opportunities as the #9 hitter, behind decent hitters, and ahead of other good hitters for one of the most prolific lineups in the ML.

What on earth could be wrong with letting him be relaxed and productive in the 9 hole for a few months more, or even the whole season, as he grows in experience and his approach?

I am reminded many years ago when Manny Ramirez didn't want to hit cleanup. He wasn't comfortable there. Imagine that. One of the most prolific batters of his generation not initially comfortable with being pressed in to that spot. We all know how it eventually turned out.

What is happening with Byron right now is working. He is growing and learning on a winning team with a hell of a lineup. Don't be too quick to ask for change. It seems unnecessary right now.
    • Jerr, brvama, SwainZag and 8 others like this

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