Monday, February 20, 2017

Elite Is Something Buxton Has Covered

For a couple of seasons, Byron Buxton was the top prospect in all of Major League Baseball. The Twins second overall pick in the 2012 draft was making scouts drool with a shed full of tools just begging to be put on display at the big league level. Fast forward to 2017, and we haven't seen it all come together yet, but the Minnesota centerfielder is an eyelash away from already becoming elite.

Offensively, Buxton has excelled at every stop he's made on his way to the big leagues. Batting average, on base percentage, and even some power, the speedy kid from Georgia has done it all. While the big leagues have presented more of a challenge, his .287/.357/.653 slash line in 29 games from September 1 through the end of 2016 should present plenty of reason for optimism. When trying to quantify Buxton's value though, you're backwards if you're starting with a bat in his hand.

In 2016, Buxton played just 92 games for the Minnesota Twins. He made 88 starts in centerfield, or roughly just over a third of the season. In that time frame, he posted a +3 DRS, and a 3.9 UZR. Although extrapolating those numbers to 162 games doesn't immediately put him in the elite territory of Kevin Pillar or Kevin Kiermaier defensively, the secondary information tells us to expect that as reality.

Per Daren Willman of MLB.com, just four center fielders made at least 10 catches in which they had to travel 100 feet. Buxton was among them, and only Leonys Martin had 11 of the group. Of the other three players (Martin, Jake Marisnick, and Adam Eaton), none played in less than 118 games for their big league club, affording them at least 26 more games of opportunity than the Twins speedy outfielder.

Looking at Fangraphs, and using Inside Edge technology, Byron Buxton had 10 opportunities to make plays with a "remote" chance of success last season. The definition given is that success falls within a 1-10% chance. Of those ten plays, Buxton made one. However, among players with at least ten opportunities (13 total), only Billy Hamilton (53.3%) made catches more often. The trend becoming apparent here is that Buxton's speed absolutely will play.

Broken down by this graph on BaseballSavant.com, Buxton also made 27 catches that were deemed "tough" or "highlight" worthy. Putting him up against the rest of the big leagues, that number stands out even despite his limited exposure.


The absolute hope for 2017 would be that James Rowson can help to unlock Buxton's big league bat in a way that Tom Brunansky couldn't. It's a pretty decent bet that the scenario plays out, but for the 23 year old, even if it doesn't things will be fine. On a bad day, Buxton is probably a .240 hitter that steals bases and stretches singles. Given the reality that his center field defense will put him in the discussion as being the best in the game, Minnesota has cemented a great player for quite some time.

If things break right offensively even a little bit, Buxton is going to vault himself into conversation as one of the most complete players in all of baseball. Elite defensively already, the Twins are just looking for that final piece of the puzzle.

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