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2 Biggest Questions About Byron Buxton in 2020

Byron Buxton had one of his most productive seasons in 2019, but once again it was shortened by injuries. For this year, he needs to tackle two big question marks about himself: Can he sustain his offensive improvement? Can he stay healthy? Let’s discuss.
Image courtesy of © David Berding-USA TODAY Sports
This year’s main projections do not show Buxton much love. PECOTA projects him for a batting line of .230/.288/.436 (.724 OPS), 19 home runs, 63 RBI, 33 BB, 135 strikeouts. Fangraphs and Baseball Reference aren’t expecting much of an improvement this year either. But last season, though cut short by injuries, provided us with a lot of optimism.

Buxton had, by far, his best offensive performance in 2019. He slashed .262/.314/.513 (.827 OPS), with a career high 34 extra-base hits in only 87 games. Even though he didn’t play a full season, he was still worth a decent amount of Wins Above Replacement, according to the three main websites that measure it: 2.7 fWAR, 2.9 WARP and 3.1 bWAR. But his offensive improvement is not superficial. He’s also improved his power, plate discipline and quality of hit balls.

According to Baseball Prospectus metrics, he swung the bat more than in any other year of his career, with a 53.3% swing rate, but that increase came with quality too. He had career bests at contact rate (71%) and zone contact rate (81.5%). Per Baseball Savant, he also had his best year in a number of offensive metrics, such as wOBA (.340), exit velocity (89.3 mph), launch angle (19.5º), hard hit rate (38.7%) and barrel rate (8.3%). All of this resulted in much better hit balls, dropping his ground ball rate almost 15% in 2019 (29.6%), in comparison to his previous career average (44.1%).

Along with the increased power, he’s also become more aggressive, as he’s had a career high 37.6% first-pitch swing rate. Contrary to what one might think, that didn’t do any damage to his plate discipline, as he had the lowest swinging strike rate (28.9%) and strikeout rate (23.1%) of his career. All of those numbers point to a significant improvement in comparison to 2017, his best year in the majors to date.

Thus far, because of his superstar defense, considered by many the best in the majors among outfielders, and his clear offensive improvement since 2017, the greatest obstacle between Buxton and all-star status is his health. So, we must ask: can he remain healthy all year? I asked Twins Daily contributor Dr. Lucas Seehafer to talk a little bit about Buxton’s health and here’s what he has to say:

The 2020 season figures to be a big one for Byron Buxton. The speedy centerfielder is currently on track in his recovery from late season surgery that repaired a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder. Buxton has had to battle a number of injuries over his young career, causing some to label him as injury-prone, however, none of his previous injuries have much in common.

Over the course of his career, Buxton has been placed on the injured list for a sprained left thumb, a migraine, a fractured left big toe, a left wrist strain, a left groin strain, a right wrist bruise, a concussion, and the aforementioned labrum tear that occurred because of a left shoulder subluxation. These are not chronic injuries that could have been prevented through strengthening of his rotator cuff muscles or by maintaining good joint flexibility. Groin and wrist strains are common amongst baseball players and many of Buxton’s other injuries were caused by acute events such as sliding into a base, crashing into a wall, or getting hit by a pitch.

Buxton would have to make major changes in the way he approaches defense to have his best chance at remaining healthy over the course of a season. To put it simply: Buxton would need to cease crashing into walls and be more particular about which batted balls he lays out for.

Here inlies a Catch-22. Buxton’s speed and ability to catch nearly any ball between left center and right center field is what makes him arguably the best outfielder across major league baseball. By cutting down on his aggressiveness in the field, the Twins and Buxton would run the risk of limiting his overall value on defense.

Buxton’s most recent shoulder injury shouldn’t be of great concern in either the short- nor long-term. Most athletes, especially non-pitchers, are able to return to their previous level of performance after undergoing labral repairs, and the fact that Buxton’s surgery occurred in his non-throwing shoulder means that he’ll be able to maintain his rocket arm.


NOTE: I’d like to thank Twins Daily’s contributors Dr. Seehafer and Matthew Trueblood for assisting me with this article. Your help has been invaluable.

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7 Comments

I don't question Buxton offensively, despite not a full season, because we know his talent and potential and what we saw last year.

My only question is health. NONE of his injuries are chronic or repeat injuries. Has he just been snakebit? Or is he just one of those guys, for whatever reason, tight and taught and not flexible in the right way who is always dinged?

If he could fight instinct, hold up just a bit, become the 4th or 5th best defensive CF in baseball and play 140 games, I think I'd go for that.

He is just too talented to not be on the field.
    • JoshDungan1, nclahammer and Nine of twelve like this

Because his game is speed we are starting to see the combination of injuries and age challenging his potential.I have no answer, but I need to see more than a few glimpses of potential before I buy into Buxton the star (let alone superstar).

 

You might want to check out an earlier fence crasher - Pete Reiser  https://sabr.org/bio...person/92638bc5 Pete was a better hitter than Buxton, but "All attention turned to number 27, who lay on the field motionless, facing the sky, his shoulder separated and blood trickling from his ears. When Durocher reached him, the manager started to cry. Pete was carried off on a stretcher and woke up the next morning in the hospital with a fractured skull and a brain injury."  

What Buxton has going for him is both better medical attention and better team awareness. 

 

"Alas, in the heat of the moment, Pete Reiser just never could pull up and play it off the wall. Every fly ball was his to catch, and catch them all he would—or kill himself trying."

    • nclahammer, Wizard11, Bamboo Bat and 1 other like this

Great read.I think PECOTA was a little tough on Byron with their .230 slash line, but I hope Buxton will prove them wrong and inprove on last year's numbers.

 

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Doctor Gast
Feb 16 2020 06:06 AM

 

Because his game is speed we are starting to see the combination of injuries and age challenging his potential.I have no answer, but I need to see more than a few glimpses of potential before I buy into Buxton the star (let alone superstar).

 

You might want to check out an earlier fence crasher - Pete Reiser  https://sabr.org/bio...person/92638bc5 Pete was a better hitter than Buxton, but "All attention turned to number 27, who lay on the field motionless, facing the sky, his shoulder separated and blood trickling from his ears. When Durocher reached him, the manager started to cry. Pete was carried off on a stretcher and woke up the next morning in the hospital with a fractured skull and a brain injury."  

What Buxton has going for him is both better medical attention and better team awareness. 

 

"Alas, in the heat of the moment, Pete Reiser just never could pull up and play it off the wall. Every fly ball was his to catch, and catch them all he would—or kill himself trying."

Thank you I never heard of Reiser, very inspiring! Buxton is like him! An impact player which super charges the atmoshere. Love to watch him play! Missed a lot of interstate turn-offs due to listening to him on the radio

mikelink !!That's a GREAT comparison.I've been thinking about Buxton's similarity to Pete Reiser for a long time.Reiser was a .300+ hitter, very fast and a super aggressive outfielder.He played CF for Brooklyn in the 40's.I agree that PECOTA is a little harsh toward Buxton but remember, Buxton's sample size is pretty small and I can see how PECOTA could project him this way.However, Twins fans who watched a lot of games last year saw a completely different approach at the plate from Buxton (and Sano for that matter as well).Maybe it was the influence of Nelson Cruz (I don't think it was a coincidence).It seemed that Buxton and Sano each had a definite "plan" in mind while at the plate last year.This is where PECOTA comes up short...the eye test.As with Pete Reiser, so with Buxton.If he can stop crashing into outfield walls and play 140-150 games we will really enjoy seeing Buxton's "baseball gifts" for the better part of an entire season.

Those projections are a joke, IMO. I would bet any amount of money that his average is over .240 (let alone .230) if he puts together a significant number of healthy ABs.

.230 is below his career average even when factoring in the immense struggles in his first couple of seasons. From 2017 through today, he’s been north of .250 in over 800 ABs. Last year when healthy, he showed a significant step in terms of his approach, IMO.

I have no idea how you project .230 for the fastest guy in baseball coming off a 40% hard hit rate, hitting over .250 in his last 800 ABs. One of the worst and projections I’ve seen.

Not that he’s ever going to light the world on fire. But, if out him somewhere in the .250 neighborhood.
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twinssporto
Feb 16 2020 03:10 PM

Great article! Thanks for putting it together. It was good to get a summary of Buxton's prior health issues and learn a little about his shoulder injury.

 

By the way, a .230 projection from PECOTA is totally nuts. 

 

I'm going to make my own projection for Buxton: .288 in 2020

 

I can project whatever I want because I'm a biased, hopelessly dyed in the wool Twins fan.  Scratch my prior projection of .288. I'm now projecting Buxton with .292 in 2020.

 

Oh, and he'll start in 142 games.

    • tarheeltwinsfan likes this

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