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The Biggest Red Flag for Byron Buxton's Bat


Though he showed his full power potential in 2020, Byron Buxton used an approach that will not permit him to have lasting success at the plate. His walk and strikeout totals jump out, but there’s one stat he needs to improve even more urgently in 2021.Buxton, 27, is one of the best athletes in baseball, and it was fun to see him put his strength and size to their highest use in 2020. He clobbered the ball, when he squared pitches up, and if he could sustain the power pace he established in that season without other adjustments, he’d be one of the best players in baseball.

 

Alas, that success was thoroughly unsustainable. As Twins fans are well aware, he struck out 36 times and walked just twice all season, in 135 plate appearances. That imperils any offensive success, but Buxton also put up one other ugly number: a .241 BABIP. For a player who runs the way he does, and who hits the ball as hard as he does, that figure should never drop so low. The worst news, though, is that the number was not a fluke.

 

According to Statcast, Buxton hit 21 balls to the opposite field (right field, as a right-handed hitter) in 2020. Here is how they went:

  • Flyout
  • Flyout
  • Flyout
  • Flyout
  • Popout
  • Popout
  • Flyout
  • Popout
  • Popout
  • Groundout
  • Popout
  • Single (hey! Good news1)
  • Popout
  • Popout
  • Sacrifice fly
  • Popout
  • Popout
  • Popout
  • Flyout
  • Forceout
  • Lineout
Yikes. Sorry to put you through that. I think it’s the best way to illustrate the problem here. In fact, if you want to dig just a bit deeper into the pit of despair, go watch the one hit. It left Buxton’s bat at 70 miles per hour, with a launch angle of 41 degrees, and fell in front of Brewers right fielder Ben Gamel, who got a bad read before coming in on the lazy fly.

 

Obviously, being a pull hitter is not a bad thing. In fact, the Twins’ most profitable general change under the Falvey-Levine regime has been to successfully turn several hitters into guys who consistently lift the ball to their pull field, where power tends to be maximized. Last year, 299 players had at least 50 total batted balls to either center field or their pull field. The four who had the highest weighted on-base average (wOBA) on those batted balls were Mike Trout, Buxton, Nelson Cruz, and Miguel Sanó. It’s hard to better capture what the Twins want their hitters to do, or to feel better about Buxton’s ability to do it, than by considering that stat.

 

Here’s the problem: the rest of those guys also did other things well. Trout had a down year to the opposite field, with a .217 wOBA to right, but he drew 35 walks and struck out 56 times in almost 250 plate appearances. Cruz also drew his share of walks, and had a .460 wOBA to the opposite field—one of the highest in the game. Sanó struggled with strikeout issues, but had a .417 wOBA when he put the ball in play to right field, another excellent number. Buxton? No player who had at least 10 batted balls to their opposite field had a lower wOBA than his .041. The only others under .100 were the punchless Omar Narváez and Jarrod Dyson. That’s in addition to Buxton’s poor control of the strike zone.

 

Watch his swing, and it’s easy to see why Buxton is so vulnerable. Everything about his attack of the ball is focused on turning out with authority. There’s nothing wrong with that mentality, but it has to be balanced either with extremely exacting plate discipline, allowing one to get pitches suitable to that approach, or with a sufficiently level swing to keep the ball on a useful trajectory even when late or needing to make a last-second adjustment.

 

Buxton could still make those adjustments. If he does, and if he retains the power he showed to left and center field in 2020, he’ll help the Twins run away with the AL Central. He’ll get MVP votes, and not the down-ballot kind. If he doesn’t make these significant changes, though, he can expect to take a big statistical step backward in 2021, and the bottom of the Twins’ order might get awfully holey.

 

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[i wrote this for another Twins site in 2016--different hitting coach than who the Twins have now, but otherwise, I still think there is merit to it.]

"I start this by saying I know Tom Brunansky knows more about hitting in general than I do, and he knows more about the specifics of a given player than I ever will. There may be a good reason why what follows wouldn’t work for a particular Twins player.
 

Look at this line: .231/.274/.299. This player was when he was 26 years old. That year, he had 351 plate appearances, with a BAbip of .248, striking out 28 times. At the conclusion of that season, he had over 1000 career PA.
 

And then this one, the very next year by the same player: .342/.373/.421 with a new team. He had 578 PA. His BAbip was .368 with 44 strikeouts.
 

Who made this amazing jump 50 years ago? Matty Alou. Leaving the Giants in 1965 to go the Pirates, his approach to hitting was changed by Harry Walker. (I note the rate of strikeouts was a bit higher the second year--maybe as a result of pitchers being a bit more careful with him, more breaking balls, etc. I readily admit, I don't know if the strikeouts were early in the season when he was learning the new approach to hitting.)
 

I post this for thoughts from those of us that can remember Alou in his prime, and ask if Buxton might need to get a heavier bat and stop swinging so hard."

In 2021, I think I'd prefer to see Buxton reach first twice in a game instead of touching all four bases with one swing every few days.  
 

JcS

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I thought I heard last year that he stopped looking at video of him at the plate all together because it was messing with his approach. That, to me, is the biggest red flag of all. 

Buxton has always been someone that can be overcoached.  He listens to everything and keeps trying to make little changes that just messes with him.  He is one of the few I would say just go back to your basics that got you here.  

 

Personally, I wish he was a better oppo hitter.  One, he could get so many triples if he could because of his speed.  I wish he also understood him being on base is such a big thing.  Pitchers fear him, and defenses worry about his speed.  He is one the HR power pushes have hurt I believe. 

 

He will never grow to what we want on offense if he never learns to adjust to how he is being pitched.  He thinks every pitch is a fastball it seems and gets burned on sliders away all the time.  Even more so when runners are on base.  That is where taking a moment to think hey I get pitched sliders outside like 90 percent of time when runner in scoring position.  Maybe just take a pitch or two.  Sure they may burn a fastball out there, but it could still be a ball, and unless you are looking to drive the ball to right field, who cares you will just pop it up most likely anyways. That is the main adjustment he needs to make. 

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Buxton has always been someone that can be overcoached.  He listens to everything and keeps trying to make little changes that just messes with him.  He is one of the few I would say just go back to your basics that got you here.  

 

 

I want players to work on their game. But Buxton has been through a lot, both with injuries and adjustments. He's averaged 250 PA per year in the majors, yet he's hit for a ton of power the last two years.

 

Work on better pitch recognition but let the guy be comfortable and hope he stays healthy. 

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He has 1300 career AB. I think he's still adjusting his approach as pitchers adjust to his.

 

The pull rate is unsustainable, but I don't view it as permanent unless he has a Barry Bonds-type muscular change in the next few years.

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It seems to be all about approach. Instead of trying to be Mike Trout, he should have been trying to be more like Ricky Henderson. I hope I am wrong, but I don’t see him putting it all together.

That is a wonderful analogy.  

Except I don't want him thrown out on the bases at the % that Henderson was.  Still, speed with demonstrations of power often enough to make the outfield play back would be nice. 

JcS

JcS

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Yeah. So many red flags. The .577 SLG with the .267 OBP...enabled by a ridiculously high HR/FB ratio in a short sample. He’s done lots of nice things in short samples, but the career 91 OPS+ speaks for itself.

 

Hear he’s coming into camp with significantly more muscle. Interesting. If he loses even a step in range, the hitting deficiencies are magnified.

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