In recent years, the Twins have tried to utilize a variety of strategies to keep Byron Buxton healthy. Unfortunately, those mitigation strategies didn't work last season as a hamstring and hip injury slowed down his torrid start to the season. Shortly after returning from those injuries, he was hit by a pitch and broke his hand.
Buxton's injury history is complex, and it's one of the reasons the Twins were able to sign him to an incentive-based contract. Now that Buxton is under contract, how can the Twins keep him on the field and off the injured list?
Tone It Down
Some of Buxton's previous injuries included smashing into the wall or making diving grabs. His all-or-nothing approach in the outfield is one of the reasons he is considered one of baseball's best defenders. Previously, he and the Twins have worked on him toning down his defensive style, but this isn't an easy feat. When Buxton hears the crack of the bat, his natural instincts are to go and track down the ball.
Taking a toned-down approach may help Buxton as he ages and starts to lose a step. For now, the Twins can try a few other methods to keep him on the field.
Jumping at the Wall
Another well-reported strategy was the Twins coaching staff working with Buxton on his jumping at the wall. Buxton's all-out approach usually saw him jumping off one leg and crashing violently into the wall. His new approach was to work on jumping off two legs, which puts him in more control of his body at the wall. In theory, this sounds great, but sometimes the results aren't perfect.
However, the two-legged approach also slows down his momentum, and this may cause him to miss catches he made in the past. This approach gives him more control at the wall, however, which can keep him healthy.
Buxton's positioning in the outfield is another area that has changed significantly throughout his big-league career. From 2016-2018, Buxton's average depth from home plate was 314 feet. He has moved further away from home plate in each of the last three seasons, including last season where his average depth was 331 feet. Being deeper means Buxton has less time to build up momentum as he heads toward the wall to make a catch. He also has the speed to come up and make catches in front of him.
Last season, Buxton's average outfield depth was the highest in baseball among outfielders with at least 2,000 defensive plate appearances in center field. Boston's Enrique Hernandez was the next closest center fielder, and he averaged three feet closer than Buxton.
Since taking over as manager, Rocco Baldelli has stressed the importance of rest and recovery for his players. He revamped the team's spring training regimen to give players the time they need to prepare. Heck, the Twins even built a nap room to keep Nelson Cruz prepared to mash baseballs. Giving Buxton more regular days off can be something the team considers, but none of his injuries seem tied to his body wearing down on him.
Baldelli saw his career shortened by injuries, and he empathized with Buxton after breaking his hand last season. He said, "I think the number of traumas, physically, that he's had to deal with, and because of that, emotionally, when you have to deal with that many types of things, difficult things, it's hard on you."
Maybe it's a lost cause, and injuries are always going to find a way to impact Buxton. However, utilizing various strategies may keep him in the line-up on a more regular basis or at least minimize his time on the injured list.
Which of these strategies is going to keep Buxton on the field? Any other ideas? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.
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