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Article: Get Buck in Here – Moving Time?


Twins Daily Contributor

Your 2019 Minnesota Twins are off to a solid start. As of this writing they are in sole possession of the AL Central lead and own the third best record in all of baseball. Rocco Baldelli has this lineup firing on all cylinders, and one of the most intriguing pieces is the emergence of the long-awaited Byron Buxton. Nineteen games in, we’re left wondering if a jump in the order might make some sense?Looking at their ranks across baseball, it’s hard to nitpick anything in the lineup that’s a glaring weakness. This group is second in wOBA, ISO, SLG, and OPS. They are top five in wRC+ and top in in both fWAR and OBP. Scoring an average of 5.63 runs per game, they are producing at the fourth best clip in the sport. All of this has taken place without Miguel Sano and withhaving played a handful of National League games which excluded slugger Nelson Cruz.

 

Now, back to Buck. The former top prospect posted a 3.5 fWAR in 2017 thanks in large part to a ridiculous end of the season. 2018 was a lost year due to injury, but 2019 has started out on a trajectory that has the Georgia native’s arrow pointing way up. He’s already compiled 0.7 fWAR and owns a .283/.338/.517 slash line. Leading the majors in doubles with 12, Buxton has consistently put himself into scoring position from the bottom of the lineup.

 

Operating under the assumption that Baldelli wants to move Byron up, we need to look at the order to figure out where the best fit presents itself. In my opinion, there are three different spots he fits: first, second, or sixth. Leadoff hitters of yesteryear were cut from the cloth that is Byron’s most obvious asset, speed. He can get on and immediately wreak havoc upon opposing pitchers. The two hole is typically one of your best hitters, maximizing the opportunity to score that leadoff batter. Sixth would be a combination of a run production spot, as well as a secondary leadoff type for the bottom half of the order.

 

Making the argument for Buxton to hit leadoff isn’t one considered in a vacuum. The decision must come down to whether you’re better suited with him there than Max Kepler, and if Kepler produces as much value in the six hole. Through 69 plate appearances Kepler has turned in a .242/.319/.435 slash line. His 10.1% walk rate is down just over a percent from 2018, but the heightened hard-hit rate should be inducing a better BABIP than the current result as time goes on. It’s an incredibly small sample at this point, but the inputs don’t jump off the page as problematic. Baldelli needs more than a .319 OBP from his leadoff man, but time for it to trend upwards is still there.

 

I think we can probably rule out the two hole completely. Jorge Polanco is currently hitting in that spot and is among the best hitters in all of baseball at this point. He’s not going to continue posting a 1.083 OPS forever but expecting that bat to play at a high clip has always been the blueprint for the converted second basemen. Allowing Polanco to both drive in and produce his own offense makes him an ideal fit for this spot in the lineup.

 

Although not the massive jump in the order some may like to see, sixth is where Buxton could have the greatest impact. When going at his best, the profile looks the part of a run-producing slugger more than that of an on-base machine. Byron has thrived by attacking earlier in counts and avoiding an opportunity for the pitcher to get ahead. His 6.5% career walk rate doesn’t fit the mold of a leadoff hitter, and while the doubles are plentiful now, some of those balls will leave the park as the weather warms up.

 

Looking at the bats employed by the Twins, and how Buxton’s impact is felt once he’s on the bases (again: he’s fast), there becomes an opportunity cost to factor in. Should Buxton reach and steal ahead of guys like Nelson Cruz, Eddie Rosario, or eventually Miguel Sano, he can score from first base on a large portion of their base hits. Conversely, batting ahead of the bottom half immediately vaults the importance of grabbing an extra base and generating scoring opportunities. In the lower half of the lineup, Byron could legitimately threaten 50 stolen bases. If he’s hitting ahead of the thumpers, there’s less desire for him to be running and therefore an under-utilization of arguably his greatest asset.

 

To generate the level of production Buxton is currently clipping along at he obviously needs to have made strides across the board. That much is evident when looking at his batted ball profile. He’s got a career best 37.8% hard hit rate (nearly 10% north of his career average) and has pushed his fly ball rate over 50% for the first time. As far as contact goes, things have stayed relatively status quo. Byron is still swinging through the same rate of pitches and putting bat to ball as often as he always has. It’s the quality that has allowed results to vastly improve.

 

At the end of the day there’s no denying that this is the Byron Buxton we’ve all (and likely the man himself as well) been waiting for. The presence of a hitter of this caliber anywhere in a big-league lineup is going to be a significant asset. As time goes on, it will be on the Twins baseball staff to decide where his production is maximized. With a couple of options at their disposal, we’ll need to wait and see what route is chosen. This change could be coming sooner rather than later however, and the center fielder forcing his club’s hand is a problem this organization has long awaited. It’s time to hit ‘em off with somethin’ proper, get Buck in here!

 

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He has by now become a longshot for eventual enshrinement in the Hall Of Fame. But if Byron Buxton gets there, it won't be as a ninth-spot hitter.

 

Still, I'm not in a rush. Riverbrian and I went back and forth on this already, and I still feel that there's no urgency to change something that is currently working. Buxton struggled for so long, and one of the ideas was to bat him ninth to remove some of the pressure. The fact it's working doesn't tell you when it's time to change.

 

If Rocco announces tomorrow that Byron's batting leadoff, I won't be upset and won't second guess. I think it's nearly impossible for someone on the outside looking in to know the exact set of conditions that need to be met in order to move him up. This is as much about his mindset as anything else.

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Ted, do you have access to transcripts of radio interviews?

 

I ask because I thought I heard Rocco say he’s in no hurry to move Buxton out of the ninth spot. Same as the above poster I wouldn’t second guess if he did, but I don’t feel any urgency for that to happen either. I might want him to bat ahead of Castro when Castro’s in the lineup, otherwise I’m happy to let it ride for a bit with Buck batting ninth and creating havoc from there.

 

Anyway just a question for you.

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I agree with the above comments about not rushing him. However, I also like the idea of having Buxton bat leadoff. Not just because of the havoc he can wreak getting on in front of the best hitters on the team, but also because it would get him more ABs.  At this time, I see no reason to give Castro, Schoop and Cron (and maybe Kepler) more ABs than Byron in any given game.

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I totally agree! Why tinker with something that's not an issue. Man this lineup is scary when you have a threat like that at #9. Opposing pitchers(and catchers) must get squeamish when they realize there just arent any abs that you can make a mistake. If you get caught slippin, We gonna make you pay. I say leave Buck alone and let him do his thing. So far I'll take it.

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Not sure I like the idea of slotting him right into the lead off spot; we’ve seen him get too inside of his own head before. I think I’d like a 1-2 of Polanco and Buxton though.

 

I have no problem making the change incremental though and slotting him in at the sixth spot in the immediate future.

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Kepler in a small sample size  of 27 AN has an OPS of .870. I wouldn't call it a failure to put him there  Buxton has led off an inning 12 times and had better results.  Buxton could be moved up to wherever Gonzales is batting.  Batting 6th might not have the pressure of leading off a game yet is important.

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I know it's going to sound like I care about the batting order but honestly... I don't care that much. 

 

However... I don't believe there is any benefit to a static batting order... I only see detriment. 

 

I honestly can't imagine a logical argument that makes sense to keep a static batting order and I've been forced to endure it for way too long. Dozier bats leadoff every single game... No Matter if it's the multiple month long slumpy Dozier who produces out after out or the Power Hitting Monster Dozier who hits a ball out of the park every 3 AB's. Neither Dozier is an ideal leadoff hitter but that's where he hits every single game. Mauer hits third every single time and it took dynamite to move him to the #2 slot. What is the benefit of locking players into a batting order and leaving them there through good times and bad. 

 

Why does Marwin hit 6th? I'm happy he is here...  I believe he will get it going... I wanted the Twins to increase flexibility and I wanted them to sign Marwin and I'm still happy we signed him but he is now 54 AB's into the season and he's slugging .278!!! I believe Marwin will find it but why can't he hit 9th until he finds it and then move him into the 6th spot. 

 

Do we ruin Buxton if we move him from 9th to 1st and have to move him back to 9th in case he is just fooling us right now? Personally... I don't think so... if players are so mentally fragile that they can't move to different spots in the batting order... then how will they get through the playoffs when mental toughness is flat out required in almost all circumstances. 

 

In my opinion... I'd like to see Polanco, Buxton, Cruz and Rosario getting the most AB's at this moment. I reserve the right to change my mind later based on who is putting the barrel of the bat on the ball.  

 

However... I'll state again... I honestly don't care that much about batting order... other than... when I see a locked in batting order... I start to believe the manager is on auto-pilot. 

 

Think about this... When Adrianza plays... he hits in front of Buxton because Buxton is locked into the 9th spot. This can't be justified other than, you'd like to have a good hitter to roll over into the top of the order but there we are with Kepler at the top of the order. So you rolling into a struggling leadoff hitter who is locked into the leadoff spot even if he isn't really producing like a leadoff hitter at the moment.  

 

None of this can be justified. But as long as the team wins... it won't matter and I really don't care about batting order.  :)

 

 

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I know it's going to sound like I care about the batting order but honestly... I don't care that much. 

 

However... I don't believe there is any benefit to a static batting order... I only see detriment. 

 

I honestly can't imagine a logical argument that makes sense to keep a static batting order and I've been forced to endure it for way too long. Dozier bats leadoff every single game... No Matter if it's the multiple month long slumpy Dozier who produces out after out or the Power Hitting Monster Dozier who hits a ball out of the park every 3 AB's. Neither Dozier is an ideal leadoff hitter but that's where he hits every single game. Mauer hits third every single time and it took dynamite to move him to the #2 slot. What is the benefit of locking players into a batting order and leaving them there through good times and bad. 

 

Why does Marwin hit 6th? I'm happy he is here...  I believe he will get it going... I wanted the Twins to increase flexibility and I wanted them to sign Marwin and I'm still happy we signed him but he is now 54 AB's into the season and he's slugging .278!!! I believe Marwin will find it but why can't he hit 9th until he finds it and then move him into the 6th spot. 

 

Do we ruin Buxton if we move him from 9th to 1st and have to move him back to 9th in case he is just fooling us right now? Personally... I don't think so... if players are so mentally fragile that they can't move to different spots in the batting order... then how will they get through the playoffs when mental toughness is flat out required in almost all circumstances. 

 

In my opinion... I'd like to see Polanco, Buxton, Cruz and Rosario getting the most AB's at this moment. I reserve the right to change my mind later based on who is putting the barrel of the bat on the ball.  

 

However... I'll state again... I honestly don't care that much about batting order... other than... when I see a locked in batting order... I start to believe the manager is on auto-pilot. 

 

Think about this... When Adrianza plays... he hits in front of Buxton because Buxton is locked into the 9th spot. This can't be justified other than, you'd like to have a good hitter to roll over into the top of the order but there we are with Kepler at the top of the order. So you rolling into a struggling leadoff hitter who is locked into the leadoff spot even if he isn't really producing like a leadoff hitter at the moment.  

 

None of this can be justified. But as long as the team wins... it won't matter and I really don't care about batting order.  :)

 

Brian, I agree with you in theory, but not absolutely. Good or bad, right or wrong, some guys just feel more comfortable in certain spots/situations. I think it comes from experience and mental acceptance.

 

As an example, I offer up Manny Ramirez. For a time, he resisted being put in the clean-up spot. For whatever reason, and I'm sure it was mental, he truly accepted his role and became one of the most dangerous and prolific #4 hitters of his era.

 

Confidence, experience, there is no easy answer.

 

I prefer Kepler, and his LH bat and potential, hitting lower. But I totally get Rocco's idea of him leadoff. Barely a month in, I'm patient. Polanco could be effective, IMO, in ANY of the top 3 spots. And while Rocco was been fairly static with his lineup, he has also been clearly flexible as well.

 

Buxton has so much potential it's scary! We all knkw this. Right now, we are just starting to see the potential of this talented, healthy and determined young man. I am NOT saying Buxton is fragile in any way or form, but he's dealt with a lot from expectation to injury. In a deep and talented lineup, he is excelling as the "bottom" hitter setting the table for the top of the order while driving in runs. He has also "re-invented" himself, finally, as a hitter where he seems to make contact and let his natural gifts make things happen.

 

Ultimately, he could hit in various spots and be a stud. And while I get hitting 9 robs him of some plate appearances, I am more focused on development and confidence and approach before I move him up.

 

What's working is working. And working well!

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We've played 20 games. That's a miniscule sample, so why change it? Here are some reasons not to as it presently stands:

 

1) Buxton's has only walked four times.

2) Despite Buxtons' blistering start, his OBP is lower than Kepler's.

3) The idea is to get on base, so that Cruz/Cron can knock you in. If Buxton were more willing to bunt, I'd say go for it because even a mediocre bunt, he could beat out. However, Buxton really never bunts.

4) Why not wait until he gets a few more ABs as he seems to be doing fine? There is plenty of time.

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No way bro.  Too soon, too risky.  I would leave him at 9 all season.  Even if he starts taking more walks.  He still has too many AB's waiving at breaking pitches out of the strike zone. It's like he cannot read the breaking ball a lot of the time.  Kit gloves.  

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A couple general thoughts. First of which is Buxton is not your typical 9 hole hitter. He is there, and rightfully so to correct the mistakes made when he came out of ST and was stuck in the 3 hole. To say he didn't respond well is an understatement. I won't argue with the "lineup order means nothing crowd", but I will argue that the number on the spot that a batter hits in, matters to that player. It causes expectations. For example, we didn't sign Cruz to hit leadoff or 9. Why? Becasue middle of the order hitters are "expected" to provide power and production. Cruz knows this, Buxton would assume this, and Dozier would have struggled to attain this. I likely wouldn't have agreed with Molitor on what day of the week Easter Sunday was on, but I did agree with his sticking with Dozier leading off. BD was an ambush fastball hitter. You don't see many of those in high leverage situations, you see double play low breaking stuff often, nothing to lift. As for Buxton, leave him be. Let his confidence and pitch selection mature. There is lots of time to move him. This lineup will have plenty dry days to do that. One last thought. IMHO, trying to move hot and cold guys around in an order in a long season is sort of like buying stocks when they are high, and selling them when they are going down. Your always chasing your tail. If a player has a history of producing, and there is no external rationale, then to quote an old saw, "dance with the one who brung you"!

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Let him be. If by June he's earned it, reconsider.

The last thing the team needs is to move him up, he goes onto a funk, and here we go again.

This. Buxton is a head case and can't handle the pressure of leading off.  That and his 'I am superman' style of play that leads to time on the disabled list doesn't lead to any consistent playing time, time to learn how to be a consistent major league player.  Let him gain confidence at 9, keep stroking his ego 'I like you as a second lead off hitter', see if he's still on the field and playing at a high level in August, then think about moving him.

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If the Twins keep playing well, and Buxton continues to hit .275 in the 9 hole, I see no reason to move him. I like what others have said: don't rush this guy. Don't put the spotlight on him. Let him hang out at the bottom of the lineup, see pitches, just let 'em be.

 

As others have also said, I agree that maybe batting him ahead of Castro would be the only flip I'd make. So maybe up him to the 8 spot or something by July. But in the meantime just leave the kid alone.

 

Now...if the Twins take a huge nosedive in the standings, Kepler goes down with an injury, now you start thinking about putting Buxton there out of necessity. But unless a need presents itself, don't touch Buxton right now. Just my opinion.

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It might not seem like it because of early results, but to me Buxton struggles from pitch to pitch. He swings and misses too often on outside and low pitches. Yes most batters that swing at that pitch, miss regularly. Others have learned to lay off it, but Buxton hasn't yet. He still flails wildly at too many pitches. For all his doubles, which is pretty much any hit to the outfield, how many have gone to right center? He could set an MLB record if pitchers keep giving him pitches on the inside half of the plate.

 

His best hit I think this past weekend was a two strike single in which he shortened his swing and hit it to right field knocking in a run. Teams have been giving him the right side of the infield to hit through, but he hasn't been able to make them pay. I can't recall him bunting a ball past the pitcher towards second yet.

He is very talented, probably the most talented on the team, but he relies too much on his natural talent and needs to develop fully his bat control skills as a professional hitter. Let him bat ninth and keep on developing, so he can focus more on his personal skill development and does not feel the need to try and do too much.

 

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I'd leave him in the 9th spot for the time being. Small sample, but he is doing well in the 9th spot that some managers consider the 2nd leadoff spot. As others have said, his OBP is still lower than Kepler's, although probably splitting hairs at .338 vs .333, but I digress. If Buxton can get his OBP up, maybe you consider moving him up around the All Star Break. 

 

I'd just let him thrive in the 9 spot for the time being. Bigger question maybe is where does Sano hit when he returns? 5th or 6th?

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Twins Daily Contributor

 

Ted, do you have access to transcripts of radio interviews?

I ask because I thought I heard Rocco say he’s in no hurry to move Buxton out of the ninth spot. Same as the above poster I wouldn’t second guess if he did, but I don’t feel any urgency for that to happen either. I might want him to bat ahead of Castro when Castro’s in the lineup, otherwise I’m happy to let it ride for a bit with Buck batting ninth and creating havoc from there.

Anyway just a question for you.

Sorry I'm just getting back to this, bad with following up on comments sometimes. I don't have access to transcripts but do remember something to that tune. I wouldn't be in a hurry to move Buxton either if it's me personally, and I'd prefer he not go above 6th if he does.

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The last time Buxton was moved up he imploded.

 

I will say now what I said back then. Keep him at the bottom of the order, let him taste success for a while before moving him up. Yes he is the ideal leadoff guy but he has to be eased into it.

 

2018 Buxton wasn't a surprise. It's been obvious all along he needs to be eased into things. The Twins shouldn't fight this, they should embrace it. Put him where he can perform and make the change later.

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I agree with many other posters above about generally trusting Rocco, and probably leaving Byron alone for now in the 9th spot.

 

One bit of information I'll add, that has not been mentioned, is that due to the current lineup construction, and the fact that Byron is a right-handed hitter, the Twins cannot simply move him up to any spot. To preserve the R-L-R alternating in the batting order (a batting order that I would NOT be messing with right now), Buxton would have to move up to 7th (for Schoop) or 5th (for Cron). Buxton should probably not be hitting ahead of Schoop or Cron.

 

I think an injury to one of our starters is the only way Buxton gets moved up in the order.

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Surprised how much opposition there is to moving Buxton around in the batting order. If his early season success is so sensitive that batting anywhere but 9th will ruin it, then it won't be around long, either way.

 

Ted's proposal of 6th makes a lot of sense to me. Make him a "second table-setter" for some of the guys lower in the order with less power, so Buxton's speed proves to more of an asset. I understand why we wouldn't want to drop him back into the 3rd spot after just a few weeks of strong performance, but you can also reward a guy for hitting well by moving him up a few notches.

 

I also agree with Riverbrian that I wish Baldelli was doing more day-to-day lineup tinkering overall. If that were the case, it would be easier to try Buxton in the 6th spot without it feeling like it had to be a permanent move, and without a move back into the 9th spot then feeling like a demotion.

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Repeating myself I know but... . I (for the most part) don't care about batting order. It is the manager's job to construct it and whatever he goes with is fine with me but I would like to know that the manager is constructing it daily based upon real time data and not constructing a lineup based upon a template created prior to game one. 

 

The question I ask for all TwinsDaily-ites is this: 

 

What damage is done to the performance of the club/player if you bat a player 1st on Monday, 4th on Tuesday, 7th on Wednesday and 1st again on Friday or any combination of batting order slots.   

 

The reason to move players around could be based upon matchups with the starting pitcher that day, Hot/Cold streaks each player is currently exhibiting or Right Handed/Left Handed lineup balance and separation?

 

Why is the consistency of a player hitting in the same spot every game necessary?

 

Why does the consistency of Kepler (for example) batting lead-off every single game trump Kepler striking out 4 out of 6 career AB's in his history against the pitcher he is scheduled to face? 

 

Why does the consistency of Marwin (For example) batting 6th in the order every game trump a month long slump. 

 

Teams are mining data to search for tiny grains of advantage, yet absolutely willing to ignore any advantages discovered in day to day lineup construction for simple consistency and I don't understand why the consistency trumps any such information.  

 

What happens if Buxton bats 9th, is moved to 1st and back to 9th. Is that it for him now... Did we just ruin him forever?

 

I personally believe that players can move around the batting order free and easy without any mental, physical or plain ole' performance repercussions.  

 

It's your turn to bat... go bat. Each AB comes with a unique circumstance that can't be controlled based upon where you hit in the order. 

 

I don't understand why static batting orders are necessary at all. Get your best hitters to the top of the lineup... they will get an extra AB that way.

 

If the Twins feel that Max Kepler is one of our best 4 hitters, fine but we are still talking future (I do believe in Max Kepler) because at no point in his current career with the Twins has he been one of our top 4 hitters. Why can't Kepler hit 7th, 8th or 9th until he starts hitting like we hope he does? 

 

(Disclaimer: I'm not picking on any of the exampled players... I believe in all of them). 

 

 

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