When he’s healthy, Byron Buxton is one of the best players in all of baseball. In an effort to keep him healthy, the Minnesota Twins traded for Michael A. Taylor this offseason and made Buxton the everyday designated hitter. While this has worked from a health standpoint (Byron is currently tied for the team lead in games played), the plan has been a net negative for the Twins.
The first reason why the Byron Buxton experiment at designated hitter needs to end is because Buxton’s bat just hasn’t been successful enough to be taking up the designated hitter spot every day. On the season, Buxton has a .771 OPS (113 OPS+), which would be his lowest number at the plate since 2017. The American League average OPS at the designated hitter position this season is .742. While Buxton has been better than the average designated hitter in the American League, there are still six teams that have gotten better production at the DH position than what Buxton has provided for the Twins this year.
Aside from poor overall performance, Byron Buxton has shown a propensity to fall into deep, deep slumps at plate. In April, Buxton went through a 15 game stretch where he hit .170 with 23 strikeouts and six walks, and he is currently going through a twenty game stretch in which he’s hit .162 with just four extra base hits. Slumps you simply cannot afford to have from your designated hitter.
A domino effect by Buxton playing the role of full-time DH is that Michael A. Taylor has become an everyday player at center field for the Twins. In fact, MAT is tied with Byron Buxton for the team lead in games played this season. While an excellent fielder, Taylor has been a below-average to bad hitter for his entire career. This season has been his worst. On the season, Michael A. Taylor has posted a .633 OPS with a miserable 53/7 K/BB ratio. What’s worse is that includes Taylor’s better-than-usual performance at the plate in April. Since the calendar turned to May, MAT owns a .498 OPS with 21 strikeouts compared to just three walks and just three extra base hits.
Michael A. Taylor as a fourth outfielder and backup center fielder is an excellent weapon. Michael A. Taylor as your everyday center fielder and leading your team in games played, while your offense sputters day after day is an absolute disaster, and it’s a direct result of Byron Buxton being locked into the designated hitter position.
Finally, Byron Buxton being locked in as the everyday designated hitter costs the Minnesota Twins a tremendous amount of lineup flexibility by not allowing other players to cycle through the position. With a locked-in designated hitter, the Twins are unable to give guys regular days off without sitting on the bench, they’re unable to keep guys like Matt Wallner up with the big league club, and they’re unable to stack an additional platoon hitter into the lineup. It’s also fair to wonder if injuries to players like Carlos Correa, Jorge Polanco and Joey Gallo could have been prevented if there was a designated hitter spot to give guys a break.
Taking Byron Buxton out of the full-time designated hitter spot and moving him back out to center field is undeniably a risk. If Byron Buxton were putting up Nelson Cruz-level production at the plate, the conversation would be different, but the reality is that the Twins are suffering at the plate night after night, with the designated hitter position being an easy way to generate more offense. The Twins could certainly still shuffle Buxton through the DH spot a couple of times a week, but we need to end the Byron Buxton experiment as a full-time designated hitter.
Do you think it's time to take Byron Buxton out of the designated hitter spot and move him into the outfield? Leave a comment below and start the conversation!