Byron Buxton has always had the raw talent. We’ve seen countless flashes in the pan from the oft-injured centerfielder. The highs have been high while the lows have been low. However, could the latest flash be here to stay?
So far in 2020, after a typically slow start, Buxton has been mashing. Five home runs in the past seven games, a .638 slugging percentage, an OPS+ of 155, and 1.1 bWAR are the (eye-popping) surface stats. But what’s behind those numbers?
Buxton’s surge has been driven by real improvement, not luck. His BABIP is sitting at .310, which is right around the average for his career. This is a good sign, and tells us that we should not expect luck-related regression.
His hard contact percentage is at a career-high (by almost 9%) 44.1%. This is another good indicator that his BABIP would actually be more likely to rise than fall, if anything. Furthermore, his barrel percentage is way up.
Statcast defines a “Barrel” as “a batted ball with comparable hit types (in terms of exit velocity and launch angle) have led to a minimum .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage". Buxton’s percentage of batted balls that fit this description is sitting at 14.7%, which is over twice his previous career high. Once Buxton gets enough batted balls to qualify, that would put him around 20th among all batters in the league.
Buxton’s recent surge has been driven by real, sustainable improvement at the plate. As long as he can remain healthy and on the field, we should expect Buxton’s recent performance to be the new normal for the Twins centerfielder (subscription required, but this piece on the Twins’ plan to keep him healthy is fascinating). His defense was already the best in the league, but once you add in this kind of performance at the plate, the Twins have an MVP candidate in center.