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How Did Byron Buxton Get This Damn Good?


Are we witnessing greatness?Way back in 2016, Byron Buxton was a 22-year-old and had 46 games of major league experience. Baseball America, MLB.com, and Baseball Prospectus all considered him the game’s number two prospect overall. Expectations were sky high.

 

Impressively, Buxton finished that year with 35 extra base hits, including 10 home runs, in 92 games. The 118 strikeouts, meanwhile, drew concern. While he slugged a respectable .430, he chased that with a paltry .225 batting average -- an improvement over his .205 mark in 2015, to be sure, but a concern nonetheless.

 

This sent the young center fielder into a dizzying array of mechanical changes which included big leg kicks, no leg kicks, toe-taps, and small strides. Coaches were in his head about what type of hitter he was. They wanted him to focus on hitting ground balls. Coaches were in his face about bunting for hits. Of all the five tools he possessed, he was asked to utilize his speed above all.

 

Over the next three seasons, he posted a .245/.300/.423 slash line in 255 games. His 723 OPS was 263rd among qualified MLB hitters, trailing players like Niko Goodrum and Danny Valencia in a similar amount of games played.

 

In 2019, Buxton started to simplify his mechanics. There was a return to his original swing -- one he grew comfortable with as an amateur in Georgia -- and he stopped listening to input from others, instead doing what he felt best with and seeking out trusted sources. While limited by injuries, there was a noticeable difference in the collision between the bat and ball. In 2020, his exit velocity and launch angle both jumped. His fly balls now traveled an average of 344 feet.

 

Which brings us to today and Byron Buxton’s unrelenting start to the 2021 season.

 

The contrast between the swing of the number two overall prospect in 2016 and the one from baseball’s current OPS leader is pretty stark. If you happened to tune out between those eras and just see these two products, you would hardly recognize the player. First because of his sheer volume of muscle but also because of the swing movements.

 

The two swings are very different in a lot of ways but here are two aspects that should be highlighted that help explain how he got here:

 

The hands at his forward move.

 

 

Download attachment: Buxton Hands.png

If you look at Buxton’s hands on the left, they still need to move back into the launch position (the point where a hitter moves his hands forward at the ball). Now his hands begin at the launch position. They don’t have to travel backward before going forward. It is closer to where Nelson Cruz and his minimal movement are at.

 

When Buxton’s hands had to travel back, it would cause him to rush through his swing. He is now in go-mode meaning he can react or shut the swing down much easier. It helps his overall timing.

 

The swing path.

 

If you watch enough clips of his swing between then and now, one thing that jumps out is his swing plane. Just by looking at where he finishes with the bat you can see how different the route he took to get there is.

 

Download attachment: Buxton Follow-Through.png

In 2016 his swing plane followed a much more merry-go-round path. It was level, likely something that was designed to make contact and hit balls on the ground. Now the swing has become more of a Ferris wheel than a merry-go-round, a motion similar to a hockey slapshot.

 

This might be the point where someone mumbles something about a launch angle swing (which doesn’t exist). He may be trying to hit the ball in the air more now, but he actually has hit ground balls at a higher rate this year than he did in 2016. The difference is that when he hit the ball in the air in 2016, he was often clipping the bottom of the ball instead of driving through it.

 

With the Ferris wheel action, Buxton has increased the vertical angle of the bat, meaning he is going to hit it square instead of hitting part of the bottom. In all of 2016, he hit 10 fly balls/line drives at 105 miles per hour or higher. So far this year he’s already hit 13 of those. In addition to selecting the right pitch and being on time, the square, optimal contact comes from having the right bat approach.

 

What is interesting is that Buxton’s overall approach has not changed that much over the years:

  • He still swings through a high amount of pitches.
  • He still chases a lot of pitches out of the zone.
What has changed for Buxton is the contact:
  • Over 66% of his balls in play are hit 95+. Only Giancarlo Stanton has done better.
  • Buxton still pulls the ball but at a much lower rate, choosing to use the middle of the field more (this may be an indication of more optimal backspin and not side or topspin).
  • He has fouled off just 29% of balls on swings this year (one of the lowest in the league and well below his 35% career rate).
Another data point that is emerging is how teams are choosing to tangle with this monster:
  • He’s seeing far fewer fastballs this year (42% fastballs, Aaron Judge slugger territory).
  • Just 77% of pitches thrown to him have been considered “competitive” (i.e. within 18 inches of the center of the zone which leads to a decent chance of a swing).
What it means is that teams are starting to be afraid of the damage he can do.

 

This version of Byron Buxton is quite different from the one that arrived in Minnesota. It has been a long road but this version has eliminated weaknesses and has become one of the game’s elite hitters.

 

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I read in a different article on here that his chase rate and whiff rate are very low, which matches what my eyes are seeing, but this says he still is chasing and whiffing at high rate, I am confused. 

 

One thing that I always felt about Buck is he was so open to coaching that it led to over coaching.  I have been an advocate for a long time that certain players will just do well doing it their way, and not the ideal way.  I feel some teams expect flaws at high levels so try to coach them out before they are there, but when a hitter has done something the same way for thousands and thousands of times it is harder to take that away.  

 

When you add in the fact that some hitters are just so good they have adapted to their style.  Just because it will not work for the average joe does not mean it does not work for the super talent.  When you mess with the super talent it can lead to flaws they never had to deal with before. 

 

How many HOF or perennial all stars had odd hitting stances, or approaches?  Coaches and scouts would say no way will they be successful like that because it is not the way it should be done.  However, some coaches will say well let them do it until they fail.  I am a fan of the let them do it until they fail approach when they are a super talent.  

 

Buck going back to his basics may have helped him a ton and just pushing out the dozens of voices saying tweak this and tweak that.  Some times you just have to let the talent do what they do.  

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I read in a different article on here that his chase rate and whiff rate are very low, which matches what my eyes are seeing, but this says he still is chasing and whiffing at high rate, I am confused.

 

 

I don't know the source or the context of where the other stats came from but, he is still chasing (35% chase% in 2021 compared to 34% career average) and swinging through a high amount of pitches (31.2% miss% vs 31% career average).

 

Overall, he's striking out a lot less (20% compared to 28% career average). That might be where the confusion comes from.

 

Again, it goes back to the point about his contact. When he makes contact, it goes hard. It's not a foul ball strike like in previous season. 

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I’m really happen for Buck. He works so hard and is so humble I’m glad he is seeing success. In addition to the technical changes he has some experience under his belt. It seems like he is recognizing pitches better and understands how pitchers are trying to get him out. I also think it is really a good sign that he is using the middle of the field more.

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Once he got the coaches out of his head....... success. 

Listen to yourself. Perhaps more should.

That is why folks saying that the hitting happening right now is because of a coach seems far fetched. 

I doubt it.

Coaches can be a valuable asset. But they can also be washed up dreamers that just want to be a part of the game that they were never good enough to excel at, and want to hang around. "I could never do it, but let me tell you how....."

 

 

 

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I am not sure that Buxton wasn’t always that good. Maybe he did listen to too many helpful voices. And maybe he wasn’t as strong then as he is now. But maybe what really held him back was his inability to stay on the field for extended periods of time. While he has already missed a few games this year due to minor maladies, none of them have been extended. He’s always been good, and right now he is more than good. It’s just possible we never had a chance to see it until this year. Hopefully he can stay on the field, and we can finally enjoy his enormous  talents in all phases of the game. For an entire season. 

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Fantastic read. Thanks Parker!

 

As I've said on other threads....He has clearly worked hard on his craft in addition to his tremendous innate skills and showing tremendous patience through the process.

 

He is a great example to all and I will root for him the rest of his career no matter where it takes him!

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So ... has he been seeing Rowson on the side? For all the (perhaps justified) complaining about the team's current hitting coaches, somehow the current crew have Buxton doing things that he rarely did before. Credit where credit is due?

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I am not sure that Buxton wasn’t always that good.

 

 

I don't think there was ever a question that he could be this good. I still remember Jason Parks' at Baseball Prospectus deeming him "super magic unicorn good" after watching him in the lower minors. 

 

Buxton has shown plenty of flashes of this. Injuries have derailed some of that progress. Listening to what others think he should be was another issue. 

 

Now that he's one of the most dangerous hitters, it will be interesting to see how he responds to teams adjusting. Teams have started throwing him fewer strikes (and no where near the zone) so it will be up to him to keep adjusting. 

 

Credit where credit is due?

 

 

I cannot speak to what happens in season or who Buxton is or is not currently listening to. Either way, hard to question his process right now.

 

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