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Game Thread Royals @ Twins 6/15/19 6:10 PM CDT

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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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Kelly Vance
May 16 2019 10:29 PM

 

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.

I think the fastest man in the game, and our best base stealer, should bat lead off

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Tom Froemming
May 16 2019 10:31 PM

Move him up already! 

 

I don't think he's comfortable because he's hitting ninth, I think he's comfortable because he knows he's going to be in the lineup nearly everyday and he just needs to be a guy on this team, not the guy. That won't change regardless of where he's batting. I think he deserves more plate appearances right now.

    • Don Walcott likes this
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Aerodeliria
May 17 2019 04:20 AM

He's a streaky hitter. In case anyone has forgotten, his BA had regressed to below .250 just a week ago; now he's been on fire. Now that he's hot, there is all this clamoring for him to be the leadoff hitter.

 

Rocco knows Buxton and how he should be dealt with. I don't always agree with Rocco about in-game decisions, but I think he really understands his players well, so I'll go with his instincts. When he thinks Buxton is ready, he can move him to wherever he wants in the lineup.

 

PS: There is a nice article on Rocco. Someone may have already provided a link to it, but it is a very impressive article: https://www.beyondth...culture-success

    • DannySD likes this

Don't look now but Byron Buxton is 15th among all MLB position players in fWAR (1.8) with about 40 fewer PA than most of those ahead of him. On pace to be a 6+ WAR player.

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Original Whizzinator
May 17 2019 05:21 AM

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.

All true but I don't see what the rush is. He comes up before the top of the order in the vast majority of his at bats anyway. The amount of at bats he'll miss out on in the next, say, month isn't that big of a deal. I could see first moving him up to around sixth for a while. With his track record I wouldn't rush him in to anything that might get him back into his own head.
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diehardtwinsfan
May 17 2019 06:32 AM

 

If Buxton keeps this up all season he will absolutely be very much in the conversation for MVP.

 

If he keeps hitting like he has in the month of May for the majority of the remaining season, yes... I agree. His April wasn't bad either, and certainly light years above his previous Aprils, but it wasn't exceptional. I still think calling him a star is a pre-mature. I'd like to see more out of him than good numbers over a month and a half being propelled by a 2 week hot streak before I start using that term. I've seen too many comparisons to Trout over the years to let a good 6 week start get me overly excited.

 

Right now, he wouldn't be the top MVP candidate on this team. That would be Polanco, and I suspect Garver would be rated higher in the national circuits as well (at least until the recent injury).

 

 

We know that Buxton has a problem with the head games sometimes. He is a streaky player and I think it is to early to move him anywhere yet. If he continues doing what he is doing for the month of May than move him up a couple of spots, but it is nice to have someone who can bat at the bottom of the order.
I’m fine with him staying where he is for a few more weeks to continue to allow him to build moment in a low stress way.

I do like playing around with some ideas that I think we could see as the season goes on if Buxton can continue to hit .265+ or so.

- Leadoff against LHPs. Baldelli has explored moving Kepler down against LHPs. Could be a nice strategy to give Buxton a feel for the leadoff spot and see how he handles it.

-#7? when the roster is healthy, against RHPs

Kepler, Polanco, Sano, Rosario, Cruz, Cron, Buxton, Garver, Schoop

That would be interesting.

Buxton, Polanco, Cruz, Sano, Rosario, Kepler, Cron, Garver, Schoop looks DEEP.

 

He's a streaky hitter. In case anyone has forgotten, his BA had regressed to below .250 just a week ago; now he's been on fire. Now that he's hot, there is all this clamoring for him to be the leadoff hitter.

League non-pitcher BA is .249 this year. I don't think "regressing below .250" is all that meaningful, especially when you're still picking up walks and XBH.

 

Buxton's only once had consecutive hitless starts this season, when the whole lineup was cold vs Houston (and he only had 3 PA in each of those games, by virtue of batting 9th). I don't think he's been particularly streaky this year at all.

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Thebigalguy
May 17 2019 09:09 AM
If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Yes, Kepler’s OBP isn’t sky high, but Polanco compensates in the two spot. Kepler as leadoff is an odd choice, but we can’t argue with the results so far. I say tinker with the lineup when the inevitable team slump comes to pass. Until then? Play ball!
    • DannySD likes this

 

Don't look now but Byron Buxton is 15th among all MLB position players in fWAR (1.8) with about 40 fewer PA than most of those ahead of him. On pace to be a 6+ WAR player.

I swear I just checked yesterday and it said he was 1.3 fWAR for the season, which is about a 5 WAR full season pace. I guess he did increase his season total of wRAA (weighted runs above average) by almost 30% last night. Was there anything special about his 5 putouts in the field?

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LA VIkes Fan
May 17 2019 09:24 AM

Let's not conflate the issues of Buxton's spot and Kepler at lead off. Buxton is doing great in the 9 hole and could be moved. I would advocate Sloooowly moved up towards hitting 6 or 7. There is a pretty big difference in Plate appearances for each spot in the lineup - 130-150 plate appearances a year between #1 and #9 - so moving him up makes sense to me. 

 

Kepler leading off is a different issue. Like or not, Kepler is out worst hitter among the regular players. He was out worst hitting starter last year other than Dozier (even Forsythe had a much higher OBP) and he is far and away our worst hitting regular this year. I don't understand giving your worst hitter the most at bats. That's what hitting Kepler lead off does. I also think it puts pressure on him and retards his development. Moving him down to somewhere in the 7 to 9 holes helps him AND helps the team. I see it as almost a no brainer.  

 

I would move Kepler to the 9 hole to give him a chance to find his stroke - 9 when Castro plays, 8 when Astudillo plays because Astudillo then becomes out worst hitting starter. Buxton can hit 7 or 8 and the top 2 spots can be a combination of Polanco, Garver (when he's back) and Gonzalez. Better for Kepler, better for Buxton, better for the TEAM IMHO. 

Just swap Kepler and Bux between the 1- and 9-holes versus righties and lefties.Can't ignore the L/R splits on these two guys.Rocco's resting Max against lefties anyway.

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nicksaviking
May 17 2019 09:47 AM

I was an advocate for Buxton to move up early, but since everyone is hitting, I don't know that I much care. If I was going to move him up, I'd probably put him in the #2 hole and have Polanco lead off though.

 

I swear I just checked yesterday and it said he was 1.3 fWAR for the season, which is about a 5 WAR full season pace. I guess he did increase his season total of wRAA (weighted runs above average) by almost 30% last night. Was there anything special about his 5 putouts in the field?

You are correct. It was a strange jump. Maybe they got some new statcast data or updated their algorithm? I mean, he had a good game, but not THAT good.

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Don Walcott
May 17 2019 10:47 AM

Kepler is not leading off against lefties at all. So we should only be using his statistics against righties to analyze his position in the batting order. Not that I'm a huge fan of Kepler batting leadoff. In fact, I've already made my opinion known elsewhere that Buxton should be leading off. Just want the debate to be based on accurate information.

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Joe A. Preusser
May 17 2019 11:24 AM

If he keeps hitting like he has in the month of May for the majority of the remaining season, yes... I agree. His April wasn't bad either, and certainly light years above his previous Aprils, but it wasn't exceptional. I still think calling him a star is a pre-mature. I'd like to see more out of him than good numbers over a month and a half being propelled by a 2 week hot streak before I start using that term. I've seen too many comparisons to Trout over the years to let a good 6 week start get me overly excited.
 
Right now, he wouldn't be the top MVP candidate on this team. That would be Polanco, and I suspect Garver would be rated higher in the national circuits as well (at least until the recent injury).


Oh, I agree, there's definately a longevity component to "Star" status and MVP consideration. I only meant that if his slash line ends the year what it is now, and his counting stats continue to count, I would expect his name to figure prominantly in the MVP discussion. As to your point about Garver amd Polanco...I agree, and I would just say that sometimes it feels real, real good to have problems like that :)
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diehardtwinsfan
May 17 2019 11:33 AM

 

Oh, I agree, there's definately a longevity component to "Star" status and MVP consideration. I only meant that if his slash line ends the year what it is now, and his counting stats continue to count, I would expect his name to figure prominantly in the MVP discussion. As to your point about Garver amd Polanco...I agree, and I would just say that sometimes it feels real, real good to have problems like that :)

 

It feels great.... I hope we get this feeling all season long. 

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I-I-I...
I’m hooked on a feeling,
I’m high on believing,

That you’re my MVP!
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Managers will often put a decent bat in the 9 spot to feed the top of the order.

 

This makes perfect sense but it only makes sense if you have a crappy 8 hitter that isn't capable of feeding the top of the order. We don't seem to have a crappy 8 hitter at the moment. 

 

And it only makes sense if the #1 #2 and #3 hitters are good enough to be fed. This point becomes really debatable when the #9 hitter is out hitting the #1 hitter. 

 

I honestly think we are looking at a manager who likes consistency in the batting order and I don't care much for that.

 

I Just don't see the damage caused by moving players around in the batting order. 

    • LA VIkes Fan likes this

Give him at least half a year before moving him up.

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Don Walcott
May 17 2019 03:23 PM

Against RHP, Kepler's OBP is .336. His OPS is .853. He doesn't lead off against lefties.

 

Against RHP, Buxton's OBP is .314. His OPS is .827.

 

I still think Buxton should be leading off. But these statistics don't demand that he replace Kepler against righties.

    • DocBauer likes this

Against RHP, Kepler's OBP is .336. His OPS is .853. He doesn't lead off against lefties.

Against RHP, Buxton's OBP is .314. His OPS is .827.

I still think Buxton should be leading off. But these statistics don't demand that he replace Kepler against righties.


Sure, but why not against lefties?
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Don Walcott
May 17 2019 04:30 PM

 

Sure, but why not against lefties?

Why not, period? DIdn't I just say that I think Buxton should be leading off?

Why not, period? DIdn't I just say that I think Buxton should be leading off?


Sorry, missed that the first time.

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