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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

 

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. 

I agree.STAR to me is if he can do what he did at the end of 2017 through an entire season. 

We are six weeks into the season.Can we wait and see where he is as we head into the dog days of summer?Last year he hit about what I weighed as a sophomore in high school.The stench of that is quickly subsiding, but can we pump the breaks on needing to label him STAR?

 

 

 

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Don Walcott
May 17 2019 06:37 PM

 

I agree.STAR to me is if he can do what he did at the end of 2017 through an entire season. 

We are six weeks into the season.Can we wait and see where he is as we head into the dog days of summer?Last year he hit about what I weighed as a sophomore in high school.The stench of that is quickly subsiding, but can we pump the breaks on needing to label him STAR?

I'd like to see what he's doing now, through the end of the season. I think he's a star. Obviously, if you don't like him you never have to call him a star . . . ever.

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

That you’re my MVP!

Ooh ga chah ga
Ooh ga chah ga
    • jokin likes this

 

>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.  

 

THESE! (for now, anyway, or Arraez, if he sticks past today.)

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RatherBeGolfing
May 23 2019 07:32 AM

 

Managers will often put a decent bat in the 9 spot to feed the top of the order.

 

 

What?

What?


Since Managers tend to put their best hitters at the top of the order. Many Managers will put a guy with some talent in the 9 spot to feed the ultra talented guys at the top of the order. There are many managers who put their worst hitter in the 8 spot instead.

Larussa and Maddon would/will frequently bar their pitcher in the 8th spot as a dramatic example.
    • jokin likes this

 

Since Managers tend to put their best hitters at the top of the order. Many Managers will put a guy with some talent in the 9 spot to feed the ultra talented guys at the top of the order. There are many managers who put their worst hitter in the 8 spot instead.

Larussa and Maddon would/will frequently bar their pitcher in the 8th spot as a dramatic example.

 

Which is why I shake my head when I see suggestions that Buck be moved up to 7th in the lineup.If he isn't batting in the top two positions in the lineup I would much rather see him at 9 where is batting in front of those guys.

Which is why I shake my head when I see suggestions that Buck be moved up to 7th in the lineup. If he isn't batting in the top two positions in the lineup I would much rather see him at 9 where is batting in front of those guys.

I always type the disclaimer that I don’t care about the batting order that much.

With that said. I absolutely get the concept and have no problem with it in theory but in our case. Does Kepler fit that ultra top of order mold to be fed by a Buxton in the 9 hole. Polanco and Cruz you bet. When your 9 is out producing your 1... you got it backwards. Especially when Cruz is our and now Buxton is feeding Kepler and Marwin. In that case you just have Buxton hitting after Adrianza for example and Buxton our producing the guys he is trying to feed.

But... in the end I don’t worry about the order that much. My thing that I watch is a somewhat permanent slotting or a template that is only deviated from slightly. I just don’t see any harm batting Buxton wherever in an effort to get him an extra PA during a given game.
Photo
RatherBeGolfing
May 23 2019 10:35 AM

 

Since Managers tend to put their best hitters at the top of the order. Many Managers will put a guy with some talent in the 9 spot to feed the ultra talented guys at the top of the order. There are many managers who put their worst hitter in the 8 spot instead.

Larussa and Maddon would/will frequently bar their pitcher in the 8th spot as a dramatic example.

 

Your example is admittedly somewhat common in the NL because of the unique rules. There is basically no advantage to this in the AL.

Your example is admittedly somewhat common in the NL because of the unique rules. There is basically no advantage to this in the AL.


If true... there is no reason for Buxton to bat 9th. He is currently out performing players slotted ahead of him.

I’d assume that AL teams have weaker hitters as well. Most Catchers for example and the 8th spot is where most catchers hit.

 

I always type the disclaimer that I don’t care about the batting order that much.

With that said. I absolutely get the concept and have no problem with it in theory but in our case. Does Kepler fit that ultra top of order mold to be fed by a Buxton in the 9 hole. Polanco and Cruz you bet. When your 9 is out producing your 1... you got it backwards. Especially when Cruz is our and now Buxton is feeding Kepler and Marwin. In that case you just have Buxton hitting after Adrianza for example and Buxton our producing the guys he is trying to feed.

But... in the end I don’t worry about the order that much. My thing that I watch is a somewhat permanent slotting or a template that is only deviated from slightly. I just don’t see any harm batting Buxton wherever in an effort to get him an extra PA during a given game.

 

Here are their 2019 stats against RHP.

 

Kepler - .258/.349/.508 with 22 K's in 149 PA 15%

Buxton - .238/.301/.467with 31 K's in 133 PA or 24%

 

So no, against right handed pitching, Buxton is not outproducing Kepler while striking out nearly 10% less.Now, Buxton is crushing left handed pitching this year, the problem is the Twins have seen very little left handed starting pitching.

    • Twins33 and Riverbrian like this

Here are their 2019 stats against RHP.

Kepler - .258/.349/.508 with 22 K's in 149 PA 15%
Buxton - .238/.301/.467 with 31 K's in 133 PA or 24%

So no, against right handed pitching, Buxton is not outproducing Kepler while striking out nearly 10% less. Now, Buxton is crushing left handed pitching this year, the problem is the Twins have seen very little left handed starting pitching.


We’ve seen enough left handed pitching for Buxton to overtake Kepler in overall stats and When we face lefthanders... Buxton still hits behind Kepler... If they are watching the splits.

 

We’ve seen enough left handed pitching for Buxton to overtake Kepler in overall stats and When we face lefthanders... Buxton still hits behind Kepler... If they are watching the splits.

 

Sure overall numbers he has overtaken him, that doesn't change the fact Kepler is indeed hitting better against RHP and it's been about an 4/1 ratio from a quick look standpoint.I would agree Buxton against lefties should be hitting 1-3 with the numbers he has put up, especially since it does indeed seem that Rocco pays attention to splits.  

Sure overall numbers he has overtaken him, that doesn't change the fact Kepler is indeed hitting better against RHP and it's been about an 4/1 ratio from a quick look standpoint. I would agree Buxton against lefties should be hitting 1-3 with the numbers he has put up, especially since it does indeed seem that Rocco pays attention to splits.


I’m not so sure that he does. He appears to be more concerned with left/right handed hitter seperation in the order and I don’t have a problem with that.

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