2 Biggest Questions About Byron Buxton in 2020
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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