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  • Breaking Byron Buxton


    Parker Hageman

    “The leg kick is me now. I’m going to stick with what I do.” Byron Buxton, March 2017.

    There is a stand-up bit Jerry Seinfeld had about pilots and their insistence on telling passengers just exactly what they are doing in-flight.

    I’m taking the plane up to whatever altitude. We’re going to head south around the Great Lakes. We’re descending to whatever feet. We’re passing over Las Vegas now.

    The paraphrased punchline was [seinfeld voice]: Yeah, that’s great. Just get us to where it says on the ticket. I don’t care what you are doing in the cockpit, land at the place we all agreed upon before boarding.

    In many respects, this is how a large number of Twins fans react to the offensive struggles of Byron Buxton. Toe tap? Leg kick? Focused on hitting ground balls? Who cares. Replace the strikeouts with hits. Just get him to where he needs to go. While that is fine, there are times when you have to talk about the methods behind the madness. If you are a person that cares about the process as well as results, this post is for you.

    Image courtesy of USA TODAY // Bruce Kluckhohn

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    Despite the emphatic statement he made in spring training, by the end of May Buxton did an about-face and decided that the leg kick wasn’t him anymore. The early season struggles and unsightly lack of contact sent him scrambling for an alternative.

    For a stretch, Buxton retained his open stance set-up (something he had in high school but the Twins eliminated in the minors) but refrained from lifting his front leg. Everything about that swing screamed out that it was an unnatural abomination. His body looked like it wanted to lift the front leg but the foot was cemented to its spot in the batters’ box.

    Not long after that, Buxton modified his set-up to close his front side, allowing him some ability to cover the entire zone, and made the swing look a tad more natural in the process but with the same glued front foot.

    What was surprising is that no one from the media nor the Twins seemed to address this. Perhaps it goes back to not caring what the pilot is doing. Either way, it took almost a month of watching on a daily basis before the Twins made a public acknowledgement of what was happening.

    The goal, as explained on the Fox Sports North broadcast, was to make more and better contact. By stripping away the excess movements, the Twins believed he could be a more productive hitter. And this isn’t the first time the organization attempted to do so.

    “I’m going to be honest with you,” Bert Blyleven said. “It’s the same thing Tom Brunansky tried to get Buxton to do but when Buxton was sent down he went back to the high leg kick and hit well.”

    Blyleven went on to suggest that Buxton should look to his manager, Paul Molitor, and his swing for inspiration. To Blyleven, Molitor’s minimalist, handsy swing should be the template for Buxton going forward.

    Here’s the thing: I thought I sort of, kind of get what the Twins are doing. They need Buxton’s defense in center. He’s a lifesaver for the pitching staff. You can’t replace one of the game’s best defenders that easily and you also can’t keep having an automatic out in the lineup either. You have to make concessions. They would temporarily reduce his movements in order to try to get something salvageable out of his bat and bridge him until the offseason where he can work on perfecting his swing. However, the more it is discussed, the more it sounds like the Twins’ long-term vision is to keep Buxton grounded.

    On Wednesday, 1500ESPN.com’s Jake Depue spoke to the center fielder who elaborated on what he was trying to accomplish with the swing:

    “[The goal is] putting the ball in play more,” Buxton said. “Putting it on the ground more to get it out of the air. With the leg kick I was more fly ball oriented. It didn’t give me a chance to get on base. Now putting it on the ground I at least have the chance of beating it out or them rushing the throw and making an error.”

    Muh gawd.

    As we have come to learn about baseball, extra base hits are in the air and ground balls are simply long bunts. That is reason enough to focus on elevating the ball but now data shows that MLB’s ball -- intentionally or not -- is juiced. Hitters should take advantage of the added distance the balls provides.

    What’s more, the fact that Buxton is in the batter’s box looking to make enough contact that an infielder makes an error is beyond the pale. For starters, the fielding percentage (a dubious stat in its own right but that’s for another time) is over 98%. While the odds may increase based on his speed, the notion that the upside of your plate appearance is maybe the shortstop will bobble this one is absurd. Second, there are five bodies in the infield looking to knock down any grounder that comes their way. Teams use computing power to set up shifts which increase their odds of stopping those worm-burners from scooting through the infield. Why in the name of all that is holy would you want to construct your game around ground balls?

    Before readers start getting upset and bringing their pitchforks out at the Twins’ staff, two things: First, Buxton has actually shown signs of improvements when it comes to contact rate and the type of contact. The ground ball rate, which spiked dramatically the first two weeks with the new swing, has started to drop as well.

    His numbers in this stretch certainly don’t reflect success -- he is still striking out a ton and not reaching base -- but he’s starting to see positives from this approach.

    Second, it should be known that the Twins’ coaches are not actively trying to change their hitters into ground ball machines wholesale. For example, earlier this month the Star Tribune’s Phil Miller detailed that the Twins coaching staff was encouraging utility infielder Ehire Adrianza to switch to a leg kick from a double-toe tap:

    “I’m seeing the ball better, I’m recognizing pitches better. I don’t have to rush my swing like I was before,” he said. “Rudy [Hernandez] and James [Rowson] said, ‘Don’t be afraid. You can be a better hitter. You can hit doubles and homers.’ ”

    So, no, the Minnesota Twins do not have an evil plan to convert every hitter into Ben Revere. That said, it is frustrating to see a hitter with promise who has had previous success with one type of swing to have it reduced to such a level where they are hoping to beat out infield hits or incite errors. Buxton was once a five-tool player and there is an on-going effort to strip him of one.

    Baseball swing mechanics are not like ballroom dancing where if you follow step-by-step instructions, you can master the practice. With a swing, there’s a mental side of the game, a level of comfort each hitter needs in order to execute. And when it came to the toe tap mechanics the Twins outfitted him with in the minor leagues, Buxton acknowledged he was never truly comfortable with the motions. When he reflected back this spring on his success at the end last year, Buxton said he drew upon his carefree high school playing days as a motivating factor:

    “In high school, you just go up there and say, ‘All right, I’m about to see how far I can hit it.’ I knew high school was where I had fun. That’s where most kids start to realize what they want to do. I just went back to the moment when I was in high school.”

    That is a far superior mindset to have compared to just looking to get on base. Step into the box trying to see how far or how hard you can hit it. It shouldn’t matter what timing mechanism Buxton ultimately uses. There are players who have success with a leg kick, toe tap, no stride, leg glide, etc, etc. The endgame for Buxton should be getting him comfortable again in his own body and that does not seem to be happening with the current version.

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    The ground ball approach worked well for Luis Castillo.

    At the Metrodome. Hitting it into the cement.

    A guy with Buxton's skills should be hitting line drives and long fly balls. Get him comfortable. Anyone who can hit with the BA & OBP he produced in AA and AAA should be able to hit at least average in MLB.

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    Mr. Mauer needs to send him a Quick Swing and shorten up that swing. All Star break should be dedicated to him deciding what his swing will look like for the rest of the year and working on it day in and day out. Shortening swing and recognizing breaking pitches. All he should be working on from now until opening day next year.

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    There should be a happy medium in there somewhere.   I would personally be happy if all he did was hit ground balls because contact with him is way better than no contact.   He doesn't need fielders to rush throws even though he certainly does.   Soft ground balls become hits, ground balls to the back hand become hits and sharp ground balls between fielders become hits.    I just want him to hit the ball.   He hit well in ST but maybe putting him in the 4 spot was the wrong thing because he really started swinging to hard and looked like he was trying to pull everything.   Then he started the shortened swing thing going the other way but that didn't look natural either even though he got the average over .200.    There should be a happy medium in there somewhere.   He should be able to swing freer without over swinging and stepping in the bucket and he should be able to go with the pitch while still taking a decent swing.  

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    At some point, we've got to stop blaming the Twins (front office, hitting coach, manager, teammates) and start putting this on Buxton.  He's the guy who has to go out there and DO THE THING.  Aside from a meaningless, pressure-free September in 2016 he simply hasn't hit.  He's the same age or older than lots of guys who are All-Stars: Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, Addison Russel, Corey Seager just to name a few.  But even if you put Buxton next to an average 23 year-old MLB player his numbers look awful.  Not just below average.  Plain stinkin' bad. 

     

    You can be the most talented actor in the world, but if you can't perform on stage it doesn't really matter.  Buxton needs to figure this out on his own because it doesn't look like anyone else can do it for him.

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    In their defense, according to one FG writer, the Twins lead the league in launch angle, so this isn't a Twins' thing......

     

    As for Buxton, they (and/or he) don't seem to know what to do at this point. That's what I gather anyway. Nothing about this article inspires a ton of confidence, but I'm not sure what would at this point. Other than patience, and experimentation, it doesn't seem like there is much other choice.

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    so, change his swing after it starts "working"?

    Lots of hitters change their swing during their careers. In retrospect, it is obvious that the previous regime was focused more on getting Buxton to the bigs to justify trading away his predecessor in CF. it doesn't seem like they cared if he was actually ready to succeed at the MLB level.

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    Usually off balance and lunging at the ball.  Torso leaning way forward. Rarely lets the ball get deep enough.

     

    Even when he makes good contact, the approach looks bad.  At 0:09 of the video where they are talking about his non-kick he hits a line drive to left... on a pitch six inches outside.  Then at 0:23, again lunging and pulling a pitch on the outside black to left.  So: set up far away from the plate, lunge toward the plate (kick or no kick), and then pull outside pitches. Oooof.  

     

    I guess this is supposed to be like Molitor, who had hardly any stride and who started far from the plate.  But Molitor lets the ball get to him; Buxton does not.

     

     

     

    Hopefully this gets fixed somehow.

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    so, change his swing after it starts "working"?

    That's actually a little unfair. I think he means that as he gets better at a more refined swing he will begin to stroke the ball with more confidence and authority.
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    Hmm, not sure what to say here.  The real data in this post is the contact/hard hit chart, which shows progress in *both* for the last 20 games.  It may be a small sample, but it doesn't scream a failing approach.

     

    Maybe the rest is all a mind game.  Change the timing mechanism and Buxton's focus to contact, just to get him to slow down.  If the swing still produces power, does it matter what Buxton thinks he is trying to do?

     

    I'd be curious to see a similar chart of LD% or launch angle before panicking.

     

    As for trying to "strip" Buxton of one of his 5 tools, if he doesn't have contact, that power tool doesn't matter.

     

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    His high school swing was awful. Look at the videos, if you can find them, of when he came to sign his contract and took a few swings. Then, he got the injuries and the Terry Ryan yo-yo development plan. Now, the past is the past and they have a major league center fielder who basically can't hit, regardless of his prospect ranking in 2013. Management is paid to make the tough decisions. Whether to change his swing again and how to change it is a big buck decision that will likely be second guessed no matter what. You figure that an athlete like Buxton will learn to hit in the long run, if he doesn't get too frustrated, but who knows how long that will take, so there may be a little of trading the long-term for immediate needs. Good luck to Mr. Rowson.

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    Leg lift, no leg lift, toe tap, no toe tap, I agree for that part of the swing just find something that feels comfortable, which can sometimes change over time as well. His bigger problem in my mind is his swing is just too damn long, his separation when he loads back pulls his hands way to far behind him and his movement back to the ball is too deep, down and around. His pitch recognition also sucks.

     

    If he wants to learn something from Mollie, you'd think it would be how to be short and quick to the ball. Molitor was so minimal in his movements, he just kept his hands and elbows relaxed and inside the ball and went straight back and through, always kept his hands over his feet.

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    Usually off balance and lunging at the ball.  Torso leaning way forward. Rarely lets the ball get deep enough.

     

    Even when he makes good contact, the approach looks bad.  At 0:09 of the video where they are talking about his non-kick he hits a line drive to left... on a pitch six inches outside.  Then at 0:23, again lunging and pulling a pitch on the outside black to left.  So: set up far away from the plate, lunge toward the plate (kick or no kick), and then pull outside pitches. Oooof.  

     

    I guess this is supposed to be like Molitor, who had hardly any stride and who started far from the plate.  But Molitor lets the ball get to him; Buxton does not.

     

     

     

    Hopefully this gets fixed somehow.

    Gold jacket/green jacket who gives a s^^t...great swing to emulate.  Somehow someway figure it out Byron we believe in ya kid.

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    The only thing we know for sure is that the Twins do not know what to do with their star talent, they bragged about his five tool skills and somehow caused him to be so messed up in the batters box that we are now down to  fielding and baserunning.  Who is at fault?  So hard to tell, but such a shame. 

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    The thing that is so frustrating is everyone knows there is a swing that works for him somewhere.  He has too much talent to be a .200 hitter.  Hopefully, a coach will be able to crack the code to get his head and body in sync to let him be comfortable yet mechanically sound.

     

     

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    To me, it kind of sounds like the Twins are trying stop-gap measures to make him as serviceable as possible this summer.

     

    Perhaps there are plans for wholesale swing changes in the offseason. I can understand how they'd maybe change his feet now hoping at the very least it improves contact and cuts back some on the strikeouts but they may not want to go into any kind of large overhaul in-season.

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    Leg kick's got nothing to do with Buxton's problem. The problem is that his coaches are over-stressing the whole "keep your weight back" nonsense, which is screwing up Buxton's leg drive. Some guys simply can't sit back and generate power; they have to stride forward into the pitch like the old timers. You think Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron sat back on their rear foot? Heck no, those guys drove hard off the rear foot, strode onto the front foot and clubbed baseballs really hard. 

     

    What we're seeing right now from Buxton is confused hip action resulting from trying too hard to keep his weight back. He needs to stride forward into the pitch, then let his rear hip rotate forward, so he finishes his follow through straddling home plate, with the rear knee knocking against the inside of his front knee, and the bat wrapped around his neck. Like Adrian Gonzalez. 

     

    Or pay Chili Davis a million dollars for one week of personal lessons. That would do it, too. 

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    Leg kick's got nothing to do with Buxton's problem. The problem is that his coaches are over-stressing the whole "keep your weight back" nonsense, which is screwing up Buxton's leg drive. Some guys simply can't sit back and generate power; they have to stride forward into the pitch like the old timers. You think Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron sat back on their rear foot? Heck no, those guys drove hard off the rear foot, strode onto the front foot and clubbed baseballs really hard.

     

    What we're seeing right now from Buxton is confused hip action resulting from trying too hard to keep his weight back. He needs to stride forward into the pitch, then let his rear hip rotate forward, so he finishes his follow through straddling home plate, with the rear knee knocking against the inside of his front knee, and the bat wrapped around his neck. Like Adrian Gonzalez.

     

    Or pay Chili Davis a million dollars for one week of personal lessons. That would do it, too.

    Is Ron Coomer still on the payroll? The guy used to own a hitting academy.

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    At some point, we've got to stop blaming the Twins (front office, hitting coach, manager, teammates) and start putting this on Buxton.  He's the guy who has to go out there and DO THE THING.  Aside from a meaningless, pressure-free September in 2016 he simply hasn't hit.  He's the same age or older than lots of guys who are All-Stars: Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, Addison Russel, Corey Seager just to name a few.  But even if you put Buxton next to an average 23 year-old MLB player his numbers look awful.  Not just below average.  Plain stinkin' bad. 

     

    You can be the most talented actor in the world, but if you can't perform on stage it doesn't really matter.  Buxton needs to figure this out on his own because it doesn't look like anyone else can do it for him.

    This.  So this.

     

    He is a liability as far as I am concerned.  Yeah, yeah....I know he is fast and I know he is a good center fielder, but as much as people keep saying his defense makes him worth it that simply is not the case.  No way is he saving as many runs as his bat subtracts.  He has a WAR (according to fangraphs) of 0.2 and that is terrible.  We are almost in Nick Punto 2007 territory where you have people looking at the sizzle (those diving catches) without even looking for the steak.

     

    And you are right.  This is in no way on any coach.  At some point, this comes down to the player and that point is now.  He's gotten a free pass to be a terrible hitter and people are providing reinforcement for him not to fret much about it.  This notion that so long as he is fast and covers a lot of ground in the field and "the hitting will come" really is beginning to become a problem.

     

    People I know and respect think he needs to spend the rest of the year up here even if he doesn't get another hit. I'm so against that school of thought it isn't even funny.
    If we are trying to build a culture that applies accountability and gives players their place based on merit, you can't do that. No way, no how. It costs the team games and it costs the player mentally. It holds back players who are deserving. It isn't fair and it isn't necessarily the right way to develop THIS PLAYER. Buxton simply is not mentally ready to step into a major league batters box. Still! We are supposed to overlook that?  I understand his talents and athleticism allows him more of a leash, but this is starting to become absurd.

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    Buxton needs to figure this out on his own because it doesn't look like anyone else can do it for him.

     I agree he shares a good part of the blame for the lack of hitting thus far, but if Buxton needs to figure this out himself isn't the fact the Twins won't leave his swing alone part of the problem then? 

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    At some point, we've got to stop blaming the Twins (front office, hitting coach, manager, teammates) and start putting this on Buxton.  He's the guy who has to go out there and DO THE THING.  Aside from a meaningless, pressure-free September in 2016 he simply hasn't hit.  He's the same age or older than lots of guys who are All-Stars: Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, Addison Russel, Corey Seager just to name a few.  But even if you put Buxton next to an average 23 year-old MLB player his numbers look awful.  Not just below average.  Plain stinkin' bad. 

     

    You can be the most talented actor in the world, but if you can't perform on stage it doesn't really matter.  Buxton needs to figure this out on his own because it doesn't look like anyone else can do it for him.

    Good post, pretty much my thoughts exactly. I've been doing some digging comparing him to other OFers of comparable age throughout MLB history, and it's not looking good.

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    I think it was good to ditch the kick. He has to make better contact or he will never succeed. Kirby came up as a contact hitter with a compact swing. Once he was an accomplished big league hitter he added the leg kick. Buck also has a huge pitch recognition challenge as well.

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