Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Buxton Bares All Early For Twins

With Opening Day now behind us, the Minnesota Twins have set out on the right foot. Winning their first Opening Day game since 2008, this club is already in a better position than many of those from seasons past. Although the seven run performance, highlighted by a Miguel Sano blast, was fun, it was Byron Buxton who should have had your full attention.

On offense, things weren't ideal for the Twins phenom. In five at bats, he struck out three times. He was dealt a heavy dose of fastballs, and the majority were over the middle of the plate. Among the 21 pitches he saw from Royals hurlers, the Twins centerfielder swung through eight of them. The roughly 30% strikeout rate isn't something I think Byron gets away from, but he can't miss pitches at nearly a 40% clip.

I have suggested a good amount this offseason, that I think Buxton comes into more power than we may have anticipated. Although I believe it comes as a detriment to his average and on-base percentage. Buxton could put 20 balls in the seats while batting .260 and the Twins should feel pretty good about it. His swing and miss tendencies are going to remain, but the offensive ability should rear it's head this season.

Even if (when) the breakout does happen offensively, it's going to be defense that carries most of the star centerfielder's value. During the game, I discussed the defensive value that Buxton had shown a year ago. With just 3 DRS to his credit across 773.2 innings a season ago, we can see some of the fickle nature that defensive analytics are subject to. Buxton was never consistently in centerfield for Minnesota last year, and he was pressing quite often. Despite being noted as a defensive stalwart, Buxton's DRS total lagged significantly behind the Rays Kevin Kiermaier's (25 DRS in 872.1 innings).

With the idea that Buxton has a full 2017 in centerfield for the Twins ahead of him, we should get a much more realistic sample size. Likely playing around 150 games in the outfield for the Twins, Buxton should log north of 1,000 innings. Allowing the one-time top prospect that type of run, we should have a very firm standing as to how fair his defensive measurements represent the output.
A season ago, Buxton logged six "5 star catches" per Statcast. Even with his choppy sample size, he checked in as among the most prolific outfielders in the game. On Opening Day this season, Buxton logged his first "5 Star Catch" as well as making a second diving grab. The snag on Alex Gordon's liner required him to cover 36 feet in roughly 2.9 seconds. His closing speed being impeccable as it is, made the out look much more routine that can even be stated.

On Opening Day, I think the reality is that Buxton has come full circle to show us both sides of his game. He's no longer timid in the box, and is swinging with authority. Likely more often than most would like, that will cause some issues. That being said, there's a level of restored confidence there, and that should contribute to bigger offensive production, and a real expectation for power numbers.

In being able to settle in at the dish a bit more, Buxton is going to be in center to stay. For that, Twins pitchers will find themselves thankful much more often than not. Even with some deficiencies offensively, the Twins centerfielder is a weapon in the outfield, and as he rounds out his game as a whole, the arrow only continues to point up.

This season, we should see Buxton develop much more significantly into the player he'll spend the next ten years or so being. Right now, he's far from a finish product, but in the span of one after, we were shown just about every aspect of his game that we can expect to play out.

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