Denying the latent talent of Byron Buxton is like denying the sun or the rain, but in his first mostly injury free season (knock on wood for his knee), the Minnesota Twins’ “Hundred Million Dollar Man” has exhibited some worrying signs, despite being named an All-Star.
One of the joys of baseball fandom is following a team day-in and day-out. You really get to know the players, their affectations, and mannerisms. I know the cadence of a Luis Arráez at-bat. Lots of head shaking, short walks away from the plate, and a plethora of foul balls. He is a good watch.
Ending in hits at a league leading rate. Arráez understands himself and has an approach he stays within. Even if his approach is reliant on otherworldly bat to ball skill. Watching Buck in 2022 is an exercise in exasperation.
Despite his otherworldly talent, the relationship between Byron Buxton and Minnesota Twins fans can be turbulent.
Gone is the calm, steady, gap to gap approach of his truncated 2021 season, during which he had a .306/.358/.647 slash line, albeit in a small sample of 254 plate appearances. Buxton was laying off bad pitches and driving ones in the zone, allowing his nasty power to work naturally.
Buxton was fun to watch. Each at-bat was an event and an opening act, as the show wasn’t over when Byron got on base. His speed caused real dismay to pitchers. Buxton on first was tantamount to having a runner on second. It felt like he could swipe second at will. I often lamented his limited attempts.
This year, His demeanor and approach are different. More power oriented. He is clearly trying to lift the ball more, more fly balls and pop ups. Byron Buxton has a .216/.291/.535 slash line in 313 plate appearances.
He currently sixth in Major League Baseball with twenty-five home runs, but no other player in the top ten has an on-base percentage under .300. When league average is .312 and you have prodigious power, pitchers should be handling him with kid gloves, leading to walks.
But Buxton walks around a league average rate and is in the eleventh percentile for strikeouts. Predictable for a player with a weak average and poor on base percentage. Watching Buck with runners can be demoralizing.
It sucks to watch him swing at terrible pitches. Not like a Josh Donaldson, bases loaded, pop-up painful, but still, pretty bad. A tiny amount of my life force is drained away each time he has an unproductive out. With runners on he is hitting a respectable .240. But get runners in scoring position, Buxton struggles, hitting a robust .186.
Now you might bring up that Buck has some walk off shots this year. Cool beans. Those are memorable and isolated incidents. The guys he strands in the third inning, matter. In a tense situation, I fear an unproductive and damaging out, more than I believe he will come through. His numbers support this.
Fifteen of his twenty-five dingers have come with the bases empty. Though I’m more than willing (some would say eager) to blame Rocco Baldelli, Buxton has led-off much of the year. That makes sense if he’s getting on base, and if, he was utilizing his speed. Neither of which has happened in 2022. Maybe Rocco has been too busy micro-dosing and thinking about Phish.
Buxton’s weak OBP, beside making him a poor selection to hit leadoff, diminishes another facet of his game; his speed. When Byron Buxton gets on base, he generates runs. He scores easily from first on most doubles, and from second on almost any single. He may be the fastest man in the MLB.
He has eleven doubles on the year and quite a few are singles for the other ninety-eight percent of Major League Baseball players. Buck’s blazing speed, as mentioned before, truly bothers pitchers. But you have to be on-base to utilize it. In the rare times he is on, Byron has stopped trying to steal bases.
He has been on first 54 times and has 2 attempts. I’m only speculating, but this must be part of “Bubble Wrapping Byron.” With a chronic knee problem, the Minnesota Twins are protecting their hefty investment. Understandable, as the man has the durability of fine china.
Fragile: Handle with Care, may well be the headline of any career retrospective. After he got dinged up early in the year on a slide in Boston, I think the team put the kibosh on steals. They clearly told him to go easier in the outfield.
To stop crashing into walls (This rule may be a good one). Buxton has one season with 500 plus plate appearances in an eight-year career. The Twins helicopter parenting has Buck on track for another. It’s a loss for fans and for the team though.
Buxton’s value is highest when he is athletically unrestrained. Still, even a careful Byron Buxton is unequivocal one of the best defensive center fielders in the game. He turned the FIRST, 8-5 double play in MLB’s 146-year history against the White Sox by making an immensely difficult catch look routine, before launching a perfect throw to Gio Urshela.
The Sox made a cornucopia of base running errors, helping the DP along, but it started with the White Sox players convinced a deep fly ball was a sure-fire hit. That’s the type of impressive play he can make.
In another move to protect his knee, Buxton has been the designated hitter roughly a third of the time. The Minnesota Twins’ pitching staff is more of a mash unit then staff and Byron Buxton patrolling center aids a wobbly staff.
If you look at the lineups, Gilbert Celestino and Nick Gordon have been standing in deep center more than the pitching staff would like. Both are fine, but Gordon has a noodle arm and Celestino is instinctually challenged. They are like Honda Civics; dependable performance you can count on. Not spectacular.
Buck is a Ferrari. He’s capable of extreme, top of the line performance, but performance that comes with a cost. An ungodly amount of maintenance and unavailable for long stretches of time. A Ferrari isn’t a daily driver, and Buxton isn’t an everyday player, no matter how good they look and how fast they go.
It’s frustrating because Byron Buxton may be the most physically gifted player in the MLB, a true five tool player. The idea of Byron Buxton has been tantalizing baseball fans for years. We all saw what it could look like for 245 PA’s 2021: a glimpse of greatness.
In 2022, the MInnesota Twins’ Ferrari’s check engine light is on. Reduced plate discipline, a poor OBP, below average production with RISP and mandated safety measures for a balky knee, are serious concerns. Byron’s elite power/defense still make him a very valuable player. He made the All- Star game. It may not be enough.
The Twins will need his full power, to be unleashed come playoff time. The Minnesota Twins have lost 18 playoff games in a row, an impossible number and it’ll be more with this version of Buxton. Against the best teams, the Twins are 29-31.
Preying on the worst division in baseball, I expect an early exit for the Minnesota Twins. They just aren’t good enough without Byron Buxton going Super Saiyan. If it sounds like I’m being harsh. I am. But it isn’t because I dislike Buck, it’s because I love him. And it’s the ones you love who hurt you the most.