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Does Buxton have a future with the Twins?

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The injury-prone outfielder’s style of play is put under the microscope.

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In a season of good news - bomba records, break-out seasons, and (hopefully) playoffs - bad news has been rare for the Minnesota Twins. Players’ injuries have been on the back burner for most of the season thanks to a flexible and deep roster both on the position player and pitching side. However, one player’s injuries has been somewhat of a damper for Minnesota and its fans.

Byron Buxton has been a staple for the Twins in the outfield for most of the past four-plus years. His defensive prowess in center field can be considered second to none, and there are a few other fantastic center fielders in today’s game. A first-round pick in 2012, many fans waited to see the day that Buxton would patrol the pastures of Target Field. 2017 was his best season, winning a Gold Glove, Platinum Glove, and helping lead the way to a playoff spot for the Twins.

Until recently, Buck’s style of play and commitment to the game had rarely been called into question. Because of his defensive skills and determination to give it his all during each play, he had been seen as a wizard in the outfield. With the exception of 2017, the Twins had not been in a playoff race with Buxton on the roster, but now with 2019 playoffs looming ahead, his defensive abilities and clubhouse presence has been missed, leaving many fans to wonder if Buxton’s injuries are more of a hindrance to the team than his playing style is helpful.

Let’s take a look at some facts and numbers to come to terms with what Buxton’s future with Minnesota may entail.

Injuries

First and foremost, it’s important to look not only when Buxton has been on the Injured List, but what the injury was. Below are a list of injuries that sidelined the outfielder since making his major-league debut:

  • June 26, 2015: Buxton sprained his left thumb when attempting to steal a base during his eleventh major-league game. He hit the 15-day IL before being reinstated and optioned to AAA Rochester. He was recalled on August 20, missing 55 days.
  • July 15, 2017: Buxton lands on the 10-day IL with a left groin strain when running the bases. He was recalled on August 1 missing 17 days.
  • April 18, 2018: After being sidelined with migraines, Buxton is placed on the 10-day IL. In his one rehab game, he suffers a fractured toe. He is reinstated on May 10 after spending 22 days on the IL.
  • May 30, 2018: Buck is placed on the 10-day IL again, this time due to the fracture in his toe. He does not see any major-league action for the rest of the season.
  • June 18, 2019: After being hit by a pitch on his right wrist and missing two games, Buxton is placed on the 10-day IL with a right wrist contusion. He returns on June 29 after missing 13 days of action.
  • July 16, 2019: Buxton makes a diving catch, hitting his head on the ground, and is out the next day, then lands on the 7-day Concussion IL. He’s reinstated on July 25 after spending nine days on the IL.
  • August 3, 2019: Buxton collides with the outfield wall while attempting to catch a ball. Nine days after being reinstated, he lands on the 10-day IL with shoulder subluxation. He makes one lone rehab appearance, noticing some discomfort, returning to the team and being activated on September 1, missing 28 days.
  • September 10, 2019: Minnesota and Buxton decided that season-ending labrum surgery is the best option. Buck is placed on the 60-day IL and is expected to return in about five or six months.

Note that this list does not include minor-league injuries, including a scary outfield collision with a teammate in his first game with the Twins’ AA-level affiliate in 2014, nor does it include time when Buxton has been sidelined or considered day-to-day. Looking at the list, Byron is not to blame for most of injuries that required time on the IL. Two injuries came from the basepaths, one was due to a hit-by-pitch, another suffered in the batter’s box, and one was migraines. However, the most recent two injuries requiring rehab have been the most concerning.

The two injuries this season - the concussion and the shoulder subluxation - were caused by his approach in the field. Considering his brief history with migraines, a concussion injury is probably cause for concern with the possibility of returning migraines. The hit against the wall that caused the shoulder injury didn’t seem to be very hard but rather hitting the wall with the wrong part of his body. Although these injuries do happen, it’s concerning that Buxton is injured this often in only his age-25 season.

Stats

With the talk of the Twins’ record without Buxton playing in a game versus him sitting out, I thought it would be ideal to break it down year-by-year. Just for additional comparison, I added some general stats (HR, RBI, etc.) as well as UZR/150. Jonathan used UZR/150 in an article he wrote about Max Kepler and defined it as below:

Ultimate Zone Rating Per 150 Games (UZR/150)- Probably the most widely accepted advanced defensive metric, UZR/150 is similar to DRS [Defensive Runs Saved], but is formulated differently. This metric is scaled per 150 games, so that accumulations over larger sample sizes are corrected (unlike in DRS). Basically, UZR measures the average amount of damage a batted ball would do, how likely it is to be an out, and compares that to the position’s average. Small sample sizes, as with DRS, can cause some unreliability with this statistic.

Buxton stats by year

Season Wins w/Buxton Losses w/ Buxton Wins w/o Buxton Losses w/o Buxton Games BA OBP SLG HR RBI 2B 3B SB/CS UZR UZR/150 fWAR
Season Wins w/Buxton Losses w/ Buxton Wins w/o Buxton Losses w/o Buxton Games BA OBP SLG HR RBI 2B 3B SB/CS UZR UZR/150 fWAR
2015 29 17 54 62 46 .209 .255 .326 2 6 7 1 2/2 3.5 11.7 0.1
2016 35 57 24 46 92 .225 .284 .430 10 38 19 6 10/2 1.4 2.3 1.5
2017 77 63 8 20 140 .253 .314 .413 16 51 14 6 29/1 10.0 11.5 3.6
2018 14 14 64 70 28 .156 .183 .200 0 4 4 0 5/0 2.2 15.0 -0.3
2019 62 25 27 30 87 .262 .314 .513 10 46 30 4 14/3 8.8 15.7 2.7
All stats from Fangraphs

Each of the last five season were different, of course, but it’s not hard to miss that every year with the exception of one, the Twins were winners more or equal to being losers in games that Buxton played. Minnesota also lost more without Buxton in games every year, granted some seasons saw more losses than wins. Especially this season, this speaks volumes to Buxton’s presence in the dugout and clubhouse. Although still a young player and without the veteran experience of a Nelson Cruz or Joe Mauer, Buxton has matured and been a cornerstone of a young team.

Options

1. Buxton continues as the Twins’ starting center fielder of the future

Byron is under team control through 2022, netting $1.75 million this season in agreement with Minnesota. The Twins have seen him as part of the future of the outfield. Continuing to keep Buxton on the team could require having a strong fourth outfielder to make up for any future injuries that Buck could sustain. If he is injured for many portions of the season, could Minnesota ride with a standard fourth outfielder?

2. Minnesota reduces Buxton’s playing time and has a strong four-man outfield crew

This option would essentially have a fourth outfielder or utility man, similar to option one, but having the Twins do an outfield rotation, intentionally reducing Buxton’s playing time to avoid injury. Now the reduction in games would not be significant, possibly playing in 75% to 80% of games throughout the season. This option would allow LaMonte Wade Jr, Alex Kirilloff, Luke Raley, or other outfield prospects to be in the majors full-time.

3. Twins trade Buxton

The Twins would probably not get any trade partners with Buxton’s name involved this offseason. However, some teams could be interested if he puts up a good 2020 season. With a couple of accolades, his speed, and his clubhouse presence, some clubs could find Buxton a useful player for their roster, especially if he still has some years of team control left.

In conclusion...

There’s no doubt that Buxton loves the game and plays it with passion. However, where does one draw the line between putting their whole heart into the game versus putting everything on the line and getting injured, possibly put the team’s fate on thin ice? Changing the way he plays would be a huge order to fill if he wants to give it his all. However, the injuries could pile up and become a danger to the length and stability of his career. The Minnesota Twins will eventually come to the crossroads of determining whether it is worth keeping Byron Buxton on their team or cutting ties with a defensive juggernaut in the outfield. Unfortunately, the injuries will play a big part in making that decision, and Buxton has to make a decision on aligning his recent style of play with the future he wants to have.

Poll

If you were the Twins, which option would you choose?

This poll is closed

  • 64%
    Continue to start Buxton in CF full time
    (781 votes)
  • 17%
    Reduces Buxton’s playing time
    (209 votes)
  • 17%
    Trade Buxton
    (215 votes)
1205 votes total Vote Now