Is Byron Buxton Breaking Out or Just a Second-Half Player?

Last Tuesday, Jeff Sullivan wrote this article on Byron Buxton’s transformation into the Twins’ most valuable player. If you haven’t read it and you’re interested enough about Buxton to read this fantasy slant, you should probably also read Jeff’s analysis on Buxton’s increasingly well-rounded real-life skill set.

Yesterday, Buxton unleashed the best game of his career to this point, singling and stealing a base in the 1st inning as a prelude to his homers in the 4th, 7th and 9th. As Jeff pointed out in his post last week, Buxton has dramatically simplified his mechanics at the plate, most noticeably ditching the inconsistent leg kick he used to constantly tinker with, and that was certainly in evidence on Sunday.

Basically everything about his swing looks better than it did earlier in the season. The toe tap he’s replaced the leg kick with is allowing him to consistently plant his front leg, which means he can better incorporate his lower body compared to the “100% arms” swing he was flailing about with at the beginning of the season.

Here’s Buxton in mid-April. This is what I mean when I say his swing was all arms. There’s so much herky-jerky motion here that he’s essentially just relying on his upper body to generate bat speed, because his core and legs seem to have an entirely different gameplan.

By early July, the adjustments were becoming clear. For a while, he did away with the leg kick entirely, keeping his left foot on the ground through his swing. He still wasn’t hitting for power, but the changes were enabling him to reach base with more efficiency.

It wasn’t until Buxton returned on August 1 from a minor-league rehab assignment following his July groin injury that the current iteration of his swing debuted, with his new toe tap incorporated. Here’s Buxton yesterday:

Before we move on, let’s take a look at a freeze-frame of Buxton from the moment he made contact with yesterday’s third homer. Check out how perfectly aligned his entire body is as he drives through the ball:

So, let’s get to the point: What does this mean for fantasy owners? How good is this new and improved Byron Buxton in fantasy, where his elite center-field defense doesn’t factor into the equation?

It’s an admittedly small sample, but in his 27 games since returning from the DL, he’s now hitting .330/.352/.649 with eight homers, eight steals, 22 runs and 21 RBI inĀ 108 PA. In most formats, that’s better than just about any outfielder not named Giancarlo Stanton.

You don’t need me to tell you that the speed is real, as Buxton is objectively one of the fastest players in the game, with the quickest home-to-home time recorded since Statcast debuted in 2015. He’s also been caught stealing just once in 25 attempts this year. As for the power, it’s likely legit as well. Buxton recorded a .205 ISO last year in his 92 major-league games, and also posted an ISO over .200 in both Double-A and Triple-A as well.

The question that still exists for me is how sustainable his on-base ability is, and even that is headed in the right direction. Buxton’s cut down on the strikeouts considerably since the beginning of July (when he got rid of the big leg kick), and while it would be nice to see that walk rate rise a bit, I’ll take whatever progress I can get:

  • Career prior to July 1 (725 PA)
    • 33.7% K, 7.2% BB
  • Since July 1 (143 PA):
    • 23.1% K, 6.3% BB

Honestly, the biggest caution flag to me is the fact that he also had a fantastic month late last year, September to be specific. And, wouldn’t ya know, that hot streak also came immediately after a trip to Triple-A — although in last year’s case, the demotion was performance-based rather than due to injury. Still, there’s a lot of similarities here:

  • 9/16 (113 PA): .287/.357/.653, .366 ISO, 8.8% BB, 33.6% K
  • 8/17 (108 PA): .330/.352/.649, .319 ISO, 4.6% BB, 23.1% K

Yeah, that walk rate is a problem, but again you’re seeing that sharp decline in strikeouts. That trade-off is probably worth it, especially in standard 5×5 fantasy leagues where strikeouts directly affect your AVG but walks only provide an extra run here and there.

The main thing that makes me think this might be Buxton’s true breakout, as opposed to just another hot-streak finish, is that there’s concrete scouting evidence to back up the improvements in the numbers. This is a supremely talented 23-year-old with rare upside, but of course there is that specter of last year’s hot September looming in the background.

Baseball is a constant battle of adjustments between pitchers and hitters, and Buxton is doing just about everything possible to demonstrate that he’s figured out the way he’s currently being attacked. This next month will probably tell us quite a bit about how we should value Buxton heading into the 2018 fantasy season.

If we’re placing bets though — and if I’m writing this column, I should really put my money on one side or the other — I’ll put my chips on this version of Buxton being legit.



Print This Post

Scott Strandberg started writing for Rotographs in 2013. He works in small business consultation, and he also writes A&E columns for The Norman Transcript newspaper. Scott lives in Seattle, WA.

newest oldest most voted
OTMHeartBBC
Member

SSS. call me when he can sustain this into the next season

redsoxu571
Member
redsoxu571

If you’re playing fantasy, you act on the information you have. If you have a SSS, you can’t use that as an excuse, otherwise you’ll be stuck in a quagmire of inaction. Instead, you have to try to overcome SSS in other ways.

Scouting is a terrific tool. Look for the WHY behind terrible slumps and hot streaks, and react accordingly. Buxton had a great hot streak to end the year, but I don’t recall anyone presenting a “why” behind it. So, if you were HOPING (because that is what it was) that the hot streak was a breakout and bought into Buxton this year, you were buying the talent more than observable growth.

This one looks like a different story. I worry about a young hitter losing an adjustment like this in the offseason; as long as he still seems to have it in spring training next year, I’d be ready to invest!

HunterPants
Member
HunterPants

And what will you say when he does this after he reaches 200AB by the end of Sept? SSS is not much of an argument when contrasted with concrete evidence of adjustments + production. I will gladly draft him next year while you wait – and I hope the fantasy community waits with you….

Chicago Mark
Member
Chicago Mark

I love the hate (negative hits) for OTM and the love (positive hits) for Hunter. Of the two possibilities, SSS is still the more likely conclusion. Leg kick and other evidence be damned. If he continues with this type of performance through the end of the year, we’ll all be looking to draft him next year. It’s just where/when or how much.
Negative this!!!