Byron Buxton’s bat may be struggling, but the Minnesota Twins need his defense in the outfield. Stats back up the staff’s need for his glove.
Byron Buxton seems to clearly be the most polarizing and wrote about player on the Minnesota Twins roster this season. After a hot September to end the 2016 campaign, Buxton’s bat has gone cold. My toddler’s swing at this point seems to make better contact than Buxton’s. For now.
If you are interested in breaking down Buxton’s bat, check out what my friend Jordan Ison wrote about a week ago here. What is worrisome is the possibility that the team might not let him Buxton figure out his bat in the majors.
Without Buxton, the expectation would have to be that the whole defensive scheme would be radically changed. And as a result, a currently improved area, the pitching, has the potential to suffer mightily. The Twins lack of high end arms makes their defense of utmost importance.
The starting staff that the Minnesota Twins currently roll out is full of guys who primarily see more Fly Balls than Grounders. The eye test says this and so do stats like Ground Ball to Fly Ball Ratio and Ground Outs to Air Outs. This shows that Every member of the starting staff produces more fly balls than ground balls. And most of them appear to be getting their outs via fly balls as well.
Also, none of them are known as Strikeout heavy pitchers. Currently Kyle Gibson leads the rotation with SO/9 of 6.6, closely followed by Ervin Santana at 6.4. So the ball is going to make it to the outfield, a lot.
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While Kepler and Rosario are serviceable in CF, neither of them bring the high level defense that Buxton does in that spot. Especially because with Buxton out, the current roster puts Danny Santana or Robbie Grossman in the field on a regular basis.
While Santana may keep the defensive level the highest, his bat hasn’t provided much more than Buxton’s has. Grossman is much closer to Miguel Sano than Byron Buxton in his outfield play. And no matter what would happen with Granite or Palka, they are just as unproven as Buxton.
It seems the best move for the Twins is to let Buxton play CF and bat 9th and trust that he will improve. Paul Swydan at FanGraphs gives some examples of other teams who have been in a similar position as the Twins with Buxton and how it worked out for them.
The 2017 pitching staff needs Byron Buxton. The Minnesota Twins franchise needs Byron Buxton for the the next several years. How does the team help him succeed? At this point, put him in the lineup and let him see MLB pitchers. While he figures it out, he is Phil Hughes best friend according to the stats.