Byron Buxton’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

My two-year-old is in love with reading books right now, which is awesome. Our current favorite is The Day the Crayons Quit, which is affectionately known as “the crayon book” around here. Unfortunately, some books have made their way into our house which I don’t enjoy reading, with my least favorite being Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. I regularly move the book to random locations where it can’t accidentally be found, since I hope to never read it again.

That’s probably how Byron Buxton feels right now. Whenever his career is over, it’s now going to include a record of the start of his 2017 season, and I’d imagine he’d like to take the record of his first seven games and shove them in a corner where they will never be found.

The Twins lost yesterday 2-1 to the Tigers, but because they have a 2.07 ERA through their first seven games, Minnesota is still 5-2, a surprisingly strong start for a team not expected to contend this year. But despite making a few fantastic defensive plays, they’re winning in spite of Byron Buxton, not because of him.

Yesterday, Buxton came to bat three times. He struck out three times. They were his 15th, 16th, and 17th strikeouts of the season. He’s come to the plate 30 times. That’s a 56.7% strikeout rate, which, you know, isn’t great.

Buxton has two hits and a walk so far this year, so he’s batting a robust .069/.100/.103 on the year. That’s an .095 wOBA, and given the first week’s run environment, translates to a -59 wRC+. Yeah, negative 59.

Technically, because of the off days built into the start of the season, this isn’t a “week,” as Buxton’s first seven games were played over nine days. But I wanted to put some context into Buxton’s horrific seven games, so using our Splits Leaderboard, I pulled in every week where a player has accrued at least 30 plate appearances since 2002. Because this split just measures Monday-Sunday weeks, this won’t capture every seven-game stretch that a player has had, and shouldn’t be treated as a definitive look at the worst 30 PA stretches of the last 15 years. But it should give us a decent idea of how rare stretches this bad really are.

Overall, from 2002 through 2016, there were 10,809 weeks in which a player came to the plate at least 30 times. Only four of those 10,809 weeks resulted in a wRC+ worse than the one Buxton has right now. The good news? The four guys who did this poorly all had pretty decent careers.

The worst Monday-Sunday week since 2002? It actually belongs to Derek Jeter. From April 19th to 25th of 2004, Jeter hit .033/.094/.033, an .073 wOBA that translated to a -71 wRC+. Which is amazing, because Jeter’s season line in 2004 totaled a 117 wRC+ and +4.7 WAR. Jeter got to that mark after running a 29 wRC+ in April by putting up a 132 wRC+ from May 1st on. Jeter’s 2004 is a reminder that no matter how poorly you start, you can still salvage your season.

The other three guys who put up weeks with a wRC+ of -60 or worse? Royce Clayton (May 12-18, 2003; -70 wRC+), Dan Uggla (Sep 18-24, 2006; -67 wRC+), and Jeff Francoeur (April 3-9, 2006; -67 wRC+). The 2006 season was a rough one for NL East hitters apparently, and right now, Buxton probably has more in common with Francouer than Jeter. That was the first week of Francouer’s age-22 season, and he was coming off a strong rookie season after rising through the minors as a top prospect, but his career was undone by a lack of strike-zone discipline. Francouer is a reminder that Buxton will need some semblance of pitch recognition if he’s going to translate his physical gifts into sustainable production.

Interestingly, though, Francoeur didn’t really strike out that much in that lousy week in 2006, with just six strikeouts in 31 PAs. He was undone by an .083 BABIP and the lack of any extra-base hits — and, of course, no walks either.

But the standout thing about Buxton’s first week isn’t just the lack of production; it’s the lack of contact. Seventeen strikeouts in 30 plate appearances is pretty rough. But again, I have some good news: it’s not entirely unique.

From April 21st to 27th of 2008, Mark Reynolds struck out 18 times in 31 plate appearances, and 2008 was a year in which he was nearly a league-average hitter. If Buxton bounces back from his struggles to run a 97 wRC+ on the season, the Twins should be pretty happy indeed.

Seventeen strikeouts in 30 PAs actually happened last year, too, so it hasn’t been that long since a big leaguer pulled this off. Eugenio Suarez whiffed 17 times in 30 PAs from May 16th to 22nd, and he finished the year with a 93 wRC+.

Okay, so those are the only two Monday-Sunday weeks with a 50% or greater strikeout rate of the last 15 years. Buxton, because this was done over a Monday-to-following-Tuesday, won’t join them on this list. But at least he can find some solace in knowing that a couple of decent big-league hitters have lived through weeks where they swung and missed with this kind of regularity. And Derek Jeter, in the middle of the prime of his career, had a week with worse results than Buxton just had.

So, yeah, don’t give up on Byron Buxton just yet. It’s seven games. Good hitters have had terrible seven-game stretches before. Buxton is still young, and his defensive prowess will earn him a long leash, since he doesn’t have to hit a lot to be a good player.

But given Buxton’s prior struggles in the big leagues, this obviously isn’t great news, and at some point in the not too distant future, Buxton’s going to have to figure out how to get the bat on the ball.

We hoped you liked reading Byron Buxton’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week by Dave Cameron!

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