Byron Buxton Hopes Adjustments Pay Off
Image courtesy of Kim KlementWhile Buxton acknowledged he was seeing pitches and movement that he had never truly experienced in the minor leagues, he was not making any excuses for the results either.
“I gotta sit in the strike zone,” he said about his tendency to chase pitches. “I mean, yeah, it's a big adjustment up here but you gotta make adjustments to pitchers too. It was a little tough transition for me to adjust early but later on in the season I started picking up a little more and I was starting to feel really good at the plate.”
After striking out in nearly 40 percent of his plate appearances over his first 21 games, he was able to reduce the frequency to 25 percent over the last 25 games. He quit chasing as many pitches out of the zone and he was able to put the barrel on a few more. Buxton said that he felt that he was able to anticipate a bit better what pitchers were trying to do with him in his last month of the season.
“I started figuring out a little bit of what they might be try to do to me in certain situations. When I went up there I just got ready to hit. I got ready to hit the fastball and if they threw a fastball in there I put a pretty good swing on it.”
Going forward, however, Buxton wants to be aggressive earlier in the at-bat and avoid the dreaded two-strike counts.
“It's hard to hit with two strikes, especially up here in the bigs,” he said. “So if they throw you a pitch you can handle or a pitch you want, that's the pitch the majority of the guys will jump on and do damage with. It's hard to hit with two strikes with the nasty breakers and change-ups and cutters and sinkers. It's too many pitches you try to rely when you just took a get-me-over curve ball or down the middle fastball.”
In terms of his contact, the gory batted ball numbers paint a somber portrait of Buxton’s first season with the Twins. ESPN/TruMedia’s data said that Buxton posted a .054 well-hit average (compared to the MLB norm of .138) which was the fifth-lowest among all hitters with 90 or more plate appearances. Likewise, according to BaseballSavant.com, Buxton’s 2015 Exit Velocity average was 87.3 miles per hour. In a simple terms, a ball hit 87 miles per hour roughly translates to a .236 average with a paltry .282 slugging percentage last season. On the other hand, if he were able to increase the exit velocity to send more pitches back out at the 90-95 mile per hour range, he could be looking at a .290 average with a .400 slugging -- a slash line that would be very respectable for a 22-year-old center fielder.
In order to generate more velocity off the bat, Buxton worked on incorporating a little leg kick into his swing.
“I went into the offseason last year and picked up a little bit of a leg kick, not too big,” Buxton said of his subtle change. “I want to keep [the leg kick] where it's at -- not too big, not trying to being overpowering. Keep me back behind the ball. Keep my head still. It's more for me to get that edge to make contact a little bit more, try to hit the ball hard and more consistent.”
With the new leg kick, Buxton is going back to his roots. Before he was drafted by the Twins he displayed an open stance with a leg kick but that was changed shortly after he entered the organization. “They changed me in rookie ball,” he says of the switch. “They closed me up and tried to slow down some of my movement a bit.”
Buxton’s mechanics may remind some of Torii Hunter’s swing but Buxton quickly dispelled that notion by saying that Hunter did not influence his swing style -- only helped him with the mental side of the game.
So far this spring he is satisfied with this changes in his swing. The hardest part, he says is gaining the right amount of at-bats to feel fully confident.
“It's all about getting comfortable, especially if you have never had it before like I had,” he emphasized. “Just getting at-bats, get it comfortable, get to where you know when you need to start your load, where to finish your load, things like that. It's going good. I've gotten comfortable at the plate.”
Byron Buxton is in the midst of the maturation process. In some capacity, all players go through this stage. Some do it quickly and some linger. Buxton has all the raw natural tools to be one of the game’s best two-way players. A rough introduction at the plate shouldn’t sidetrack that outcome.
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