Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Buxton Tweaks Making The Difference

The date is April 20, 2017, and Byron Buxton has just played in his 15th game for the Minnesota Twins this season. To show for his efforts, he's compiled a .082/.135/.122 slash line across 49 at bats, and nothing looks to be going right for the one-time uber-prospect. If there was a rock bottom for the Georgia native in the early going this season, that was most definitely it. Since however, the Twins centerfielder has turned a corner, and the results are worth taking note of.

Over the course of the 2017 slate to date, it's been noted that Buxton would remain an asset given his exceptional centerfield defense. He covers ground at an elite level, and is among the best in the game at taking away would be run producing plays. What was always the question, is how long the Twins would have to punt on him in the lineup, solely to keep his glove in the outfield. Although just a small sample size, the time he's spent on the field from April 21 onwards suggests we may be seeing him turn a corner.

As of May 10, Buxton has played 12 games for the Twins since April 21. He owns a .333/.442/.500 slash line, while contributing a double, triple, and home run. After fanning 24 times and drawing just two walks in his first 15 games, he's compiled a very solid 9/7 K/BB ratio since. Buxton has halved his K% (46.2% down to 20.9% split between both samples), and he's multiplied a 4.3 LD% ten-fold (41.7 LD% since 4/21). There's virtually no numerical value that doesn't suggest a massive turnaround for the Twins young outfielder. Maybe most promising of all, the process at the plate appears to be driving the results.

Early on, Buxton was swinging through pitches all over the zone, but he was chasing outside of it an incredible amount as well. Per Baseball Savant, Buxton swung through 22 (of 204 pitches seen) balls outside of the zone prior to April 21. Fast forwarding through his most recent 12 games, he's swung and missed at just eight (of 179 pitches seen) balls out of the zone. He's holding back on inside pitches, and darting out at breaking balls away much less.

Also, when making contact, we can visibly see just how much better the bat is meeting the ball. Buxton is swinging through the centerpoint of the ball more often, allowing a higher percentage of strong contact.

It's also important to note that most of what Buxton has changed has been a result of his own doing. Opposing pitchers haven't attacked him too incredibly different of late either. The book on him has been to bust him in, as well as getting him to flail away. Having seen a high portion of balls down and away, Buxton is seeing less pitches over the middle of the plate. Generally a pull hitter, pitchers have tried to neutralize his tendency by forcing him to deal with the outside pitch.

Looking at swings roughly a month a part, there's some slight tweaks happening there as well. Facing the White Sox on April 7. Stepping into the box, it appears that Buxton has more of a straight forward plan lef. There's a slight openness to it, but his stance is squared off by definition. The bat is cocked back with his hands flexed. Looking at his process on May 9, the stance has an open plant leg, with hands resting a bit more upright and the bat head remaining high.

Buxton's first movement is to drop his hands and create somewhat of an upward lean with his torso. In the image from May 9, his hands stay cocked, while the upper body hovers still in an upright position.

While pitch locations differ, the follow through follows a drastically different path as well. In the first image, Buxton's ankle rollover is drastic, his head has pulled off the pitch, and his high finish has him looking anywhere but at the ball. When making contact on May 9, Buxton stares down at his swing path, has his head at the point of contact, and keeps a strong plant leg without any real significant rollover.

Sure, it's fair to suggest that putting any instances in a vacuum will result in a desirable outcome. What seems to be at play here, as a whole, is a guy that's made some minor tweaks and is seeing some major results. I still don't think that Byron Buxton is a .300 hitter at the big league level, but expecting him to push for .280 with power is a pretty safe bet in my eyes. This is a young hitter still trying to find his way, but if these changes continue to hold up, it won't take until September 2017 for them to be on full display.