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Article: Hardball, the Twins, and Byron Buxton

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#1 Ted Schwerzler

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Posted 30 August 2018 - 05:31 PM

Byron Buxton was activated off the Triple A disabled list in mid-August and returned to game action for the Rochester Red Wings on August 14. He’s played in 10 games since that point, but the Twins don’t seem willing to commit to the idea that he’ll be a big leaguer come September. Make no mistake about it, this is a service time issue, and a silly one at that.

UPDATE: Darren Wolfson of KSTP shared on Twitter that he has been told Buxton will be heading home at the conclusion of the minor league season.Friday evening update: Wolfson shared that Buxton would not be joining the Twins tomorrow, as the rosters expand to 40. He later confirmed that the plan, at least at the moment, is that Byron will shut it down as soon as Rochester's season ends Monday.
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In 2018 Buxton has played in just 28 games with the Twins, and his .383 OPS is third worst among all players with at least 90 plate appearances. Due to migraines, a broken toe, and a wrist injury, he’s missed a considerable chunk of the season. Calling 2018 a lost year would be defining it well, but there’s still opportunity to get something of value from the remaining slate.

At the crux of Buxton’s issues is the fact that he simply needs exposure. Playing time and competition against the best in the sport are the avenue to getting him back on track. A season ago, he was the Platinum Glove winner, a Gold Glove winner, and he garnered MVP votes in the American League. The bat still wasn’t where Minnesota had hoped, but the reality is that his defense is so good that there’s significant margin for error.

From this writer’s vantage point, the Twins have made some peculiar decisions with Buxton in 2018. Not sending him out on a rehab assignment following his time missed with migraines was fine in my estimation. After completing his rehab assignment revolving around his broken toe, demoting him to Triple A was nothing short of confusing. Regardless of standing, Minnesota went from suggesting that Buxton’s defense was so imperative to the team’s success that they needed him here, to believing he couldn’t hit MLB pitching and Triple A was the place for a jump-start.

Since rejoining Rochester from his latest stint on the disabled list, Buxton is slashing .386/.413/.659 with nine extra-base hits. He has a less than ideal 10/1 K/BB rate, but it’s again clear that he’s well above the level he's currently tasked with. Although he didn’t voice it publicly, I’d imagine Buxton would echo his wife’s sentiments when it comes to the oddity that the training wheels of Triple A seem necessary at this point in his career.

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As far as I’m concerned, confidence issues are real, but they only carry so much weight. Thus far Minnesota has opted to look at Triple A as a breeding ground for Byron to feast and “find confidence” at the major league level. That’s all fine and well in theory, but if the results don’t translate to the highest level, nothing accomplished on the farm really matters. Instead of facing far inferior competition, having Byron working with James Rowson on a daily basis and getting acclimated to a consistent dose of the best competition seems like a much more fundamentally sound plan.

Legally the Twins can’t publicly say that Byron Buxton won’t be up in September because of service time considerations. Per Jeremy Nygaard’s calculations, Minnesota can save a year of service time if Buxton is held back beyond September 18. The Rochester Red Wings end their season on September 3, and from that point on there’d be nowhere else for him to go play. Byron not being in Houston with the Twins on September 4 would signify nothing short of service time manipulation.

The idea of service time value doesn’t typically come into play with an established big leaguer. A prospect like Eloy Jimenez or Vlad Guerrero Jr. being held back through September to gain a year in a lost season makes some sense. The Twins manipulating service time for a guy they think needs Triple A to jump-start his big-league bat every time it slumps, or he misses time is an entirely different scenario. Arguably nothing could be more important for the star center fielder than exposure. Getting at-bats, getting into games, and making up lost time in the big leagues is a must. Giving up those opportunities under the guise of future considerations seems laughable at the current juncture.

I had hoped Buxton would be in a Twins uniform by now. He could’ve gotten in a couple of games with Rochester and then begun to re-establish himself through the remainder of the MLB schedule. It’s fine that the move hasn’t been made yet, but that won’t be the case if it doesn’t happen when September 4th rolls around.

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#2 mikelink45

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Posted 30 August 2018 - 06:06 PM

Well written.As the TD official (my designation) critic of this FO, I agree.What is their plan?What do they want to accomplish?I am not interested in service time if the player does not maximize his potential.

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#3 mlhouse

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Posted 30 August 2018 - 06:19 PM

 

Well written.As the TD official (my designation) critic of this FO, I agree.What is their plan?What do they want to accomplish?I am not interested in service time if the player does not maximize his potential.

 

Normally I am a critic of the service time thinking."We can't promote Brent Rooker too quickly because we could lose a year of service time", as if the Twins are scared their players will be successful (and they will have to pay them).

 

But in this instance, a lost season for both Buxton and the team, I see no benefit worth losing a service year over.Let him idle down the season and rest.That might be the best curative for him.Get him in a great workout/conditioning program, and hope he can be back next year totally healthy.

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#4 Old Twins Cap

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Posted 30 August 2018 - 06:36 PM

Nah, let him play.

 

He's working on his stance, his leg-kick, his process, the kid is a human being and deserves a chance to develop at the pace that he requires.

 

Anything less is manipulation and has terrible optics for the Twins, which will not be missed by their players.

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#5 spycake

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Posted 30 August 2018 - 06:44 PM

It's tricky. I don't necessarily mind some mild service time manipulation, but I don't like the idea of passing up an opportunity to face high level pitching. Especially when he has missed so many opportunities already this season (only 94 PA in MLB). And the flip-side benefit of rest comes before 4+ months of rest anyway -- the marginal benefit of an additional month rest seems small.
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#6 theBOMisthebomb

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Posted 30 August 2018 - 07:17 PM

He needs playing time and ABs at the big league level. Now.Buxton has thrived when he's healthy and comfortable and confident.
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#7 jorgenswest

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Posted 30 August 2018 - 07:38 PM

How is this any different than trading an expiring contract in a losing season.

Would I trade a month of Buxton this year for a full season in his prime? Yes.

Would I trade a month of Buxton this year to have him the full season next year? Yes.

The only stable numbers in AAA are a strikeout rate of 28% and a walk rate of 6.5%. That is not worthy of a call up. If he loses a year of service it is because he had so little command of the strike zone in the majors and minors. Those same rates we’re no different and maybe better in 2015-16 AAA than this year.

I must add that it would be folly to look at slash stats or any numbers on the last month. However the skilled eyes of those watching him everyday will know of a skill change long before they stabilize in the data. If those watching him are extremely confident that he has turned the corner in his strike zone recognition bringing him up could have benefit entering the off season.
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#8 TheLeviathan

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Posted 30 August 2018 - 07:44 PM

I guess I think the reason to not call him up is rather straight-forward....

 

His play has far from demanded it.  

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#9 spycake

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Posted 30 August 2018 - 08:12 PM

How is this any different than trading an expiring contract in a losing season.


I think it is done far less often than trading an expiring contract. Although some of that is rare circumstance, it seems true that service time is rarely a consideration beyond a player's initial call-up. You may not care, but it does feel like not calling him back up for September would violate the norms of the sport a bit.

Also, one of the prerequisites of doing this is that the player has to have struggled quite a bit, which diminishes the projected value of that future season too.
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#10 spycake

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Posted 30 August 2018 - 08:17 PM

The only stable numbers in AAA are a strikeout rate of 28% and a walk rate of 6.5%. That is not worthy of a call up. If he loses a year of service it is because he had so little command of the strike zone in the majors and minors. Those same rates we’re no different and maybe better in 2015-16 AAA than this year.

I must add that it would be folly to look at slash stats or any numbers on the last month. However the skilled eyes of those watching him everyday will know of a skill change long before they stabilize in the data. If those watching him are extremely confident that he has turned the corner in his strike zone recognition bringing him up could have benefit entering the off season.


On the flip side, the primary justification here -- his poor showing in MLB in 2018 -- seems to be based on a sample of only 94 PA.

His AAA K/BB rates aren't encouraging, but they also don't seem to be terribly different from the last few years when he has, overall, been an acceptable MLB player.
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#11 sftwinsfan

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Posted 30 August 2018 - 08:35 PM

Sadly he'd probably get a solid amount of at-bats in September against the same AAA-level pitching.Of the 28 games on the schedule only 9 are against teams that are still in the race and aren't going to lose 90+ games this year.Combine that with expanded rosters, the level of pitching they're facing on average isn't going to be great.It's been an ugly year, I'd just let him start the offseason early.  

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#12 yarnivek1972

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Posted 30 August 2018 - 08:41 PM

Nothing prevents the Twins from starting Buxton in AAA to start the 2019 season for say 3 weeks.
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#13 rghrbek

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Posted 30 August 2018 - 09:45 PM

 

It's tricky. I don't necessarily mind some mild service time manipulation, but I don't like the idea of passing up an opportunity to face high level pitching. Especially when he has missed so many opportunities already this season (only 94 PA in MLB). And the flip-side benefit of rest comes before 4+ months of rest anyway -- the marginal benefit of an additional month rest seems small.

 

 

If he had displayed any ability to hit AAA pitching besides the last 2 plus weeks, I would agree...I agree with Roy Smalley, both Sano and Buck should play winter ball and figure it out like other mid level guys who are are close but are not really...for both guys it's all about pitch recognition...when they recognize they are really much better, throw them a slider low and away...

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#14 SD Buhr

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Posted 30 August 2018 - 09:47 PM

 

Nothing prevents the Twins from starting Buxton in AAA to start the 2019 season for say 3 weeks.

Those three weeks will hopefully be a LOT more important than the final 3 weeks of this season. 

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#15 spycake

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Posted 30 August 2018 - 10:01 PM

Those three weeks will hopefully be a LOT more important than the final 3 weeks of this season.


Meh. The team has trotted out Hughes, Belisle, Breslow, Haley, and Kinley for at least that much time, in early/competitive seasons. I agree wins count just as much in April as they do in September, but it would be an odd time for the Twins to start thinking that way. (Especially after dealing Pressly?)

Plus it would give us a chance to look at a viable Buxton alternative for 2019, which really should be a priority after the 2018 debacle. Can Cave do it? Maybe we can lure a decent FA with the promise of an opening day job?
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#16 spycake

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Posted 30 August 2018 - 10:07 PM

If he had displayed any ability to hit AAA pitching besides the last 2 plus weeks, I would agree...


He's barely played in AAA this year, beyond the last 2 plus weeks. Really holding it against him that he scuffled his first 10 days of rehab in June? When he hadn't been healthy in a couple months? He's got a .936 OPS down there since July 1st, with a DL stint in the middle.
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#17 jokin

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Posted 31 August 2018 - 03:21 AM

It was just two days ago that Ted wrote this:

 

 

Distancing him from the nicks and bumps that have taken Buxton off the field has to be the next step in this journey.

 

Not all of Buxton's injuries are related to his centerfield exploits. He's hurt his wrist on the basepaths and at the dish, obviously migraines are a bodily issue, and things like an errant foul ball are simply bad luck. No matter what the malady though, having the Twins training staff best position Byron for success is imperative to his future development. Maybe the answer is to add muscle mass... At any rate, a new design taken with a focus on consistent health seems of the utmost importance.

 

There's no reason to panic on the player at this point. The talent and tools are all there for him to succeed, but he also needs to be physically capable of putting them on display in a more routine fashion.

 

 Going forward, the amount of time that Byron Buxton can limit away from the field of play only benefits the overall success of the organization. There's still a star in the making here, and worrying about the on field exploits does nothing for me. Keeping the young man healthy and in the action remains the biggest piece of the puzzle.

 

The above is a set of very sensible conjectures that likely reflect an action plan put in place by the FO as a set of goals and accomplishments to attain to both salvage Buxton's 2018 and best prepare him for 2019 going forward.

 

But now, 2 days later you, or your doppelganger, hit the "panic" button in "worrying about the on-field exploits" as you write this:

 

 

He’s played in 10 games since that point, but the Twins don’t seem willing to commit to the idea that he’ll be a big leaguer come September.

 

Make no mistake about it, this is a service time issue, and a silly one at that.

 

Has Ted's account been hijacked in a 48-hour time span by some conspiratorial Buxton fan-boy?

 

Consider the fact that up until last Saturday, Buxton hadn't played in consecutive AAA games since July 8. This indicates that the Twins are obviously taking Buxton's health issues and the proper rehab to remedy him from those issues very seriously. They mistakenly rushed him back to the majors, only leading to further disaster, and are now taking a more cautious and comprehensive approach to managing his situation.

 

Regarding AAA games ending on September 3, there are potentially up to 8 playoff games available to be played by Fort Myers- which might last up until about September 14- just a few days short of 9/18.

 

It's highly unlikely that the Twins would go that A+ level route to complete his minor league stint-

 

but I agree with the "first Ted"-

 

after making full assurances of a clean bill of health, implement a rigorous "pre-hab" program to build Buxton's complementary supportive muscle mass around his joints, a strict nutritional and lifestyle regimen;

meanwhile, have him continue to work on running OF routes that don't include headlong crashes into fixed barriers, and drill him daily in simulated situational ABs and basic pitch recognition to avoid continually falling hopelessly into 0-2 counts. Rod Carew had about a .750 BA bunting, no reason that Buxton couldn't work to upgrade his bunting skills to fully utilize the bunt weapon early in the count- and turning the tables on the ongoing MLB "book" on how to get Buxton out (if Buck consistently shows "bunt" early in the count, he's going to be looking at a lot more 2-0 counts than 0-2 counts).

 

As you said originally in your August 28 article, keeping Buck consistently healthy going forward should be the #1 priority. The Twins FO already demonstrated the willingness to make a radical intervention to address Sano's issues. The Twins are extremely likely to have put a plan in place to meet Buxton's "#1 priority" and the other areas of concern, as well. Playing- or not playing- in a handful of September games will be a reflection of the overall plan, the #1 priority, as well as "the next step in his journey."

 

No Service Time Conspiracy (Free Ted #1).

Edited by jokin, 31 August 2018 - 07:05 AM.

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#18 Thrylos

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Posted 31 August 2018 - 07:04 AM

 

 

Byron not being in Houston with the Twins on September 4 would signify nothing short of service time manipulation.

 

Or additional time to see what Cave and Kepler and even Rosario can do at CF.

 

And since it took Buxton an additional season of development (at least) before performing the way the Twins want him to perform, the Twins are fairly taking this season back.If he performed the way expected he would had not "lost" service time.

 

I think that it will be better for him and the Twins to finish the season at ahigh note at AAA instead of coming in the majors and hitting .175...

Edited by Thrylos, 31 August 2018 - 07:06 AM.

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#19 rdehring

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Posted 31 August 2018 - 08:01 AM

Does Rosario's injury come into play?Maybe they should have him in a Twins uniform tomorrow?


#20 Brandon Warne

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Posted 31 August 2018 - 09:43 AM

1. This isn't a "service time issue" until he's not on the roster when the Triple-A season ends. All of this is merely conjecture and frankly rallying the troops for something that isn't even that likely.

 

2. True enough, the optics would be bad if Buxton isn't brought up. "Service time" is something to worry about with guys like Acuna/Bryant, not guys who have 300-plus MLB games with middling results. 

 

3. See above with how Ted's mind changes from day to day. I'm surprised more people haven't noticed this. 

 

4. Buxton has been away from the MLB team for three months and has played a grand total of 35 games -- one at Fort Myers, and 34 at Rochester. Let's look at the Rochester games, as he's hit a respectable .280/.336/.470 with the Red Wings.

  • First 29 games: .234/.298/.405
  • Last six games: .524/.545/.810

To say his numbers overall deserve a promotion is totally true, but dig deeper and it's easy to see he was still knocking off some rust.

 

5. The Twins already know if they're bringing Buxton up -- they just aren't saying publicly. There's no reason for them to. Again, until he's not up on that day, this is just sounding the alarms for no other reason than to draw page views.

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