Buxton's Bad Breaks, and the (Futile) Search for Answers
Image courtesy of David Berding-USA TODAY SportsIt's understandable enough that fans see Buxton — who is without a doubt one of this club's most essential players — barreling into outfield walls, and envision simple coaching fixes that might remedy the problem. The truth is unfortunately a lot more complicated.
Let's review the various incidents that have landed Buxton on the disabled/injured list over the past two seasons:
- April 18, 2018: Placed on DL due to migraines
- May 20, 2018: Placed on DL due to fracture in left toe (suffered on foul ball during rehab stint)
- July 14, 2018: Placed on DL at AAA due to left wrist strain (suffered swinging the bat)
- August 1, 2018: Placed on DL at AAA due to lingering issues with left wrist
- June 18, 2019: Placed on IL due to right wrist contusion (suffered on HBP)
- July 16, 2019: Placed on IL due to concussion-like symptoms (suffered on impact with ground on diving catch)
- August 3, 2019: Placed on IL due to left shoulder subluxation (suffered in collision with OF wall)
Similarly, the play in Cleveland coming out of the All-Star break where he hit his head on the ground was not some crazy over-the-top effort. It was a ball he should've caught, and did catch, helping the Twins seal up a big victory.
Outside of those two plays, none of these mishaps can be attributed to Buxton's style of play. They are bad-luck breaks, which have unfortunately been plentiful in his young career. It's fine to be frustrated or disappointed with this pattern — I know I am — but let's ease up on the armchair coaching directives, and insinuations that Buxton is somehow at fault for playing the game hard.
In reality, he has come away from countless diving plays and run-ins with the wall over these past two seasons without major injury. And in the process, he has made numerous game-changing catches, helping him establish a reputation as the most valuable defender in baseball when on the field. By asking him to fundamentally change the way he plays, and "throttle down" based on game situations (a rather absurd request for a multitude of reasons, frankly), you're reducing his positive impact and taking away the very thing that makes him such an asset. Meanwhile, evidence suggests this course of action is not really preventing many, if any, of the costly injuries.
So, if you're amongst the crowd advocating for such measures, I urge you to take a look at the facts and exercise some perspective. There ARE feasible steps that can be taken to reduce injury risks and keep Buxton on the field, such as having him play deeper in the outfield and equipping him with an oven-mitt contraption to protect his fingers while sliding on the bases. These have already been implemented.
But telling a player who is the greatest center fielder in baseball, and one of the best athletes in the world, to take it down a notch when his level of effort and drive are exactly what earns him those designations? It's just silly.
Unfortunately, we're all going to have to live with the fact that Buxton carries a uniquely high level of injury risk, and there's no fixing that. It's the nature of the beast. There's no black-and-white adjustment to be made like tweaking Miguel Sano's swing or altering Jorge Polanco's throwing mechanics. The best thing the Twins can do for Buxton is carry quality CF depth (which they have), control what they can control, continue to give him the best recovery support possible, and hope for a little better luck going forward.
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