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Don’t give up on Byron Buxton

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If you think the Twins’ young center fielder is going to be all glove and no bat forever, you may want to think again.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The current version of Byron Buxton is what we Twins fans hoped for, wanted, and expected to begin the season. Between June 14 and August 14, Buxton has hit .276/.348/.374 with three home runs, and three doubles. While his power could stand to develop a bit more, those numbers coupled with his massive defensive value makes him a solid MLB contributor, and I believe he will continue to grow as a hitter.

If Buxton had hit all season like he has for the last couple months, he would be around the 12th best batting average of all center fielders with at least 300 plate appearances. As it stands, he is currently number 23 on that list. Compare Buxton to a couple of his contemporaries:

  • Manuel Margot: .274/.310/.443, 12 HR, 19.8 K%, 1.4 fWAR (.9 off and 1.7 def)
  • Guillermo Heredia: .279/.341/.384, 6HR, 13.2 K%, 1.4 fWAR (-1.3 off and 4.5 def)
  • Billy Hamilton: .246/.297/.330 3HR, 21.6 K%, 1.4 fWAR (-15.1 off and 12.6 def)
  • Byron Buxton: .232/.303/.326, 6HR, 29.6 K%, 1.4 fWAR (-6.1 off and 8.5 def)

What does this tell us about Buxton? Well, for one, he is about as valuable as a couple of other young center fielders, but his defense is off the charts in comparison. In fact, Buxton is the 5th most valuable defensive center fielder in the league (again, 300 PA minimum). Hamilton is the most valuable in that category. Most of the best defensive center fielders cost their team on offense.

The other thing those numbers tell us is that cutting down the strikeouts will be huge for Buxton.

Fortunately, he has already been doing so. As I mentioned above, over the previous two months, Buxton has proven to be a significantly better hitter. The most noticeable change? Fewer strikeouts and more walks. While still not ideal, since mid-June, Buxton has struck out 24.1 percent of the time, while walking 9.9 percent. This is in contrast to his season numbers of 29.6 K% and 9.0 BB%.

He has also been hitting the ball harder: for the season Buxton’s contact rated as soft/medium/hard is 19.8%/53.7%/26.5%, but since June 14 it’s 14.0%/54.8%/32.2%. To go along with hitting the ball harder, it has been hit on the ground more often. For the season, Buck has a .97 GB/FD ration, but during his hot stretch, it is 1.3, which is significant given his speed. Across 2017, his infield fly percentage is 15.3, while he has brought it down to 7.4 for the period since mid-June.

The best reason for hope? Buxton is a 23-year-old with only 804 MLB plate appearances. Compare him to Aaron Hicks. In 2014, Hicks was a 24-year-old in his second season with the Twins. He hit .215/.341/.274 and struck out 24.9% of the time. He only hit a single home run that season. With the Yankees this year, he is hitting .280/.387/.505 with 11 home runs and a 17.6 strikeout rate. I know there are some out there who will say the Twins don’t develop hitters, or that the Yankees “fixed” Hicks, but I believe his turnaround is the product of maturity and experience.

In 2009, Carlos Gomez was a 23-year-old going into his third MLB season. He hit .232/.287/.337 that season, and only launched three dongs, while striking out 20.6 percent of the time. This season, he is a .251/.339/.455 hitter, with 15 homers and a massive 30.2 K%. Did someone fix him? Break him? I’m not even sure which to call it? Or again, did he just mature into a productive MLB hitter?

Byron Buxton has already started to turn around his offensive offense for this season, and has a very good chance to become an incredibly valuable player, with even average offensive production. He is already an elite defender.

Let’s have some patience here.