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Nicholas Castellanos, FA, your thoughts

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Buxton's Bad Breaks, and the (Futile) Search for Answers

When bad things happen, we inevitably grasp (and sometimes flail) for answers — solutions and safeguards that might prevent future occurrences. Sometimes these ideas are logical and realistic, and often they're not. We see this reaction play out in the gravest of circumstances (gun violence, terrorism, etc.), and in relatively frivolous ones (sports).

On the latter front, there is the case of Byron Buxton, whose familiar inability to stay on the field this year has triggered another round of declarations about what the Twins *MUST* do to nix the problem. From my view, this campaigning is futile and largely misguided.
Image courtesy of David Berding-USA TODAY Sports
It'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)
So there you have it. Seven different stints in the past two years, and only ONE was actually the result of crashing into the wall. Even in that case, if you watch the replay, I think it's pretty tough to make a case he was playing with reckless abandon; Buxton was chasing a ball in the gap, came up short, and stumbled into a wall that was closer than he expected in an unfamiliar outfield. It's simply the kind of risk you run when you're the fastest player in the game.

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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39 Comments

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Nick Nelson
Aug 07 2019 11:05 AM

 

Thanks, Nick.

 

Have been thinking about a possible contract extension this winter.Do they offer something similar to Kepler/Polanco, which would be low for someone with Buxton's talent?Then also build in bonuses for number of games played, say beginning at 120?  

 

Problem I see with that is Buxton's agent would say, "so you are penalizing him for playing hard and being who he is and what makes him great?"

 

Don't know what they do, other than they gotta keep him long term and on the field.

I touched on this over the winter when advocating for the Twins to sign Buxton to an extension:

 

Yes, there is a chance that Buxton never quite figures it out, or his injury woes prevent him from ever being a truly productive player. It's a bigger chance than it was a year ago. In his own mind, Buxton needs to account for that reality, and so does his agent. Which is why a long-term extension makes all the sense in the world for both sides right now.

 

I'm not sure why Buxton or his agent would view an extension in the Polanco/Kepler realm as some sort of affront. All this season has done is reinforce the fact that Buxton's health will likely always be an issue, and potentially a threat to his career. The Twins would be doing him a favor by guaranteeing him a bunch of money; I'd think relenting a couple FA seasons at a bargain rate would be a fair thing to give up in exchange.

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yarnivek1972
Aug 07 2019 11:18 AM

I touched on this over the winter when advocating for the Twins to sign Buxton to an extension:


I'm not sure why Buxton or his agent would view an extension in the Polanco/Kepler realm as some sort of affront. All this season has done is reinforce the fact that Buxton's health will likely always be an issue, and potentially a threat to his career. The Twins would be doing him a favor by guaranteeing him a bunch of money; I'd think relenting a couple FA seasons at a bargain rate would be a fair thing to give up in exchange.


The Twins only guaranteed Kepler $35 mil over 5 years. Given the injuries and the substantially lower offensive production, I don’t see the Twins offering Buxton more. I would say quite a bit less is far more likely and far more likely to be flatly rejected.

The Twins only guaranteed Kepler $35 mil over 5 years. Given the injuries and the substantially lower offensive production, I don’t see the Twins offering Buxton more. I would say quite a bit less is far more likely and far more likely to be flatly rejected.


Substantially lower offensive production?
Kepler signed his extension before his offensive breakout this year.
His previous 3 seasons OPS+ were 97,95, and 96.
If you toss out last season, when something clearly wasn't right with Buxton all year, he'll have a better 3 season OPS+ than Kepler had.

Even if you INCLUDE last year, Buxton has a chance to get his career OPS+ within 5% of what Kepler's was going into his extension talks.

Semantics. Let's go with avoidable, instead of reckless. There have been many center fielders in history that were aggressive in attempting difficult catches. Many knew how to mitigate risk while doing so, and, in fact, were rarely injured. Others, including Buxton, don't/didn't know how to do that. Agree that some of his missed time has been unavoidable...the hbp, etc. But, much has been avoidable.


Willie Mays and Jpe DiMaggio had superior defensive skills. Rarely--if ever--did they crash into things. I heard an old timer call in a radio show years ago and he said DiMaggio rarely ever dove for a ball.

That's the thing. With Buxton's world class speed and touted "athleticism" he should make things look easy. He has crashed into walls on balls he had literally no chance of catching. The line drive Nelson Cruz smashed over the wall in Seattle is an example of this.

I agree with you. Nothing ridiculous about getting this message across. If he keeps going like this (with his migraines and concussions mounting) he might be significantly slowed down or out of the league sooner than expected
    • Steve Lein likes this

Substantially lower offensive production?
Kepler signed his extension before his offensive breakout this year.
His previous 3 seasons OPS+ were 97,95, and 96.
If you toss out last season, when something clearly wasn't right with Buxton all year, he'll have a better 3 season OPS+ than Kepler had.

Even if you INCLUDE last year, Buxton has a chance to get his career OPS+ within 5% of what Kepler's was going into his extension talks.

.

Toss out last year because something wasn't right with him?

That doesn't work in sports. We aren't at the roulette wheel.

Let's talk about what last year was: He had migraine issues and a concussion. The Twins cannot ignore these issues as they continue to mount

To play contrarian, he has missed time on several occasions from running into walls. In these past 2 years he just didn't get placed on the IL and missed only a few games:

 

April 3rd through 5th (pinch ran on the 3rd) -> http://www.startribu...wall/508040142/,

 

May 28th & 29th -> https://www.mlb.com/...all-leaves-game

 

May 27th, 2018 -> https://www.mlb.com/...ury-c2087940783

 

My 4th, 2017 (missed 2 days) -> https://www.mlb.com/...jury-c228309144

 

July 8th, 2016 (missed basically 3 weeks) -> (http://www.espn.com/...mlb/id/16905241

 

He's gotten lucky that these recent events haven't put him out longer, in my opinion. The events mentioned in the article I agree are mostly unlucky, but he continues to walk a very tight rope that he has fallen off of several times already when it comes to walls. 

    • ashbury, markos and jkcarew like this

 

To play contrarian, he has missed time on several occasions from running into walls. In these past 2 years he just didn't get placed on the IL and missed only a few games:

 

April 3rd through 5th (pinch ran on the 3rd) -> http://www.startribu...wall/508040142/,

 

May 28th & 29th -> https://www.mlb.com/...all-leaves-game

 

May 27th, 2018 -> https://www.mlb.com/...ury-c2087940783

 

My 4th, 2017 (missed 2 days) -> https://www.mlb.com/...jury-c228309144

 

July 8th, 2016 (missed basically 3 weeks) -> (http://www.espn.com/...mlb/id/16905241

 

He's gotten lucky that these recent events haven't put him out longer, in my opinion. The events mentioned in the article I agree are mostly unlucky, but he continues to walk a very tight rope that he has fallen off of several times already when it comes to walls. 

He also get pulled out of the playoff game in 2017 after colliding with the wall early in the game. I don't know if that would have led to a IL stint had the Twins won that game, but it should be noted.

    • ashbury and Steve Lein like this
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yarnivek1972
Aug 07 2019 02:38 PM
Like I said, no evidence that he’s evolved. He’s been luckier over some of that span.

I also agree that “reckless” isn’t the word to use when describing his collisions. Avoidable is.
    • Steve Lein likes this
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Nick Nelson
Aug 07 2019 05:46 PM

 

Like I said, no evidence that he’s evolved. He’s been luckier over some of that span.

I also agree that “reckless” isn’t the word to use when describing his collisions. Avoidable is.

Nelson Cruz could've probably avoided hurting his wrist if he swung less hard. Mitch Garver could avoid foul tips exposing him to concussion risk if he moved to another position.

 

Do you want to take away the parts of these guys' games that primarily fuel their value in the name of lowering risk that is always going to be inherent to playing this game at the highest level? 

    • Mr. Brooks likes this

Nelson Cruz could've probably avoided hurting his wrist if he swung less hard. Mitch Garver could avoid foul tips exposing him to concussion risk if he moved to another position.

Do you want to take away the parts of these guys' games that primarily fuel their value in the name of lowering risk that is always going to be inherent to playing this game at the highest level?


And I could get killed crossing the street.
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yarnivek1972
Aug 07 2019 07:21 PM

Nelson Cruz could've probably avoided hurting his wrist if he swung less hard. Mitch Garver could avoid foul tips exposing him to concussion risk if he moved to another position.

Do you want to take away the parts of these guys' games that primarily fuel their value in the name of lowering risk that is always going to be inherent to playing this game at the highest level?


Lots of guys play CF. A lot of them even play it pretty well. They don’t land on the DL 2-3 times per year. Every year. There’s this one guy. He plays in LA. And another, I think just down I 35 a ways.

I have put up the Blog I promised - 

I hope you enjoy the historic comparison.

 

    • Nick Nelson likes this
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Nick Nelson
Aug 07 2019 08:46 PM

Great stuff mike! That's an awesome historical comp.

 

Also, I loved this line: "You can not legislate injuries. No rules can eliminate the dangers for men who are taught to always play hard." Perfectly stated. 

    • mikelink45 likes this

 

Great stuff mike! That's an awesome historical comp.

 

Also, I loved this line: "You can not legislate injuries. No rules can eliminate the dangers for men who are taught to always play hard." Perfectly stated. 

The notion that the injuries related to Buxton's play in the outfield are the inevitable result of "playing hard" is beyond simplistic. There is a real and material aspect that impacts the likelihood of injury...they are abilities. One is the ability to be aware of your surroundings, even when things are happening fast around you. Another is the ability to comprehend the difference between good risks and bad risks. Buxton does not consistently demonstrate these abilities and it absolutely 100% contributes to his issues.

 

Quarterbacks who looks like they're going to be killed, but are always able to get down at the last second...are they just lucky?...or are they not playing hard...or are they just good at recognizing where they (and others) are as the play unfolds? Quarterbacks who run out of bounds on first and second down, rather than going for the extra yards...are they not playing hard? Or are they just smart?

 

On Wednesday against Atlanta, Jake Cave made an extremely 'hard'/aggressive play on a ball hit over the fence. He made very hard contact with the wall. But, he wasn't injured and it wasn't the result of good luck. He went after the ball in an effective way (if the ball had been hit just a couple of feet shorter, he would have caught it)...but, he did so in a manner that protected his limbs and his head...he did so in a way that mitigated the risk/likelihood of injury. He could make that exact same attempt...successfully making the play on occasion...100 times without sustaining an injury beyond sore ribs.


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