It’s so easy to fall in love with a player oozing with raw talent. Especially when they have all five tools (hit, power, run, field, throw) and are compared to THE Michael Trout. We want to give them all kinds of opportunities to succeed. We make excuses for their struggles, saying “he’s still so young, he has plenty of time to figure it out”, or, “the talent will win out in the end, he’s just too great a player to struggle for long.” We also latch onto any strings of success they have as signs of them fulfilling their talent once and for all. Alas, sometimes it just isn’t in the cards.
And so we turn to today’s subject, Byron Buxton. After injuries and the Twins organization screwed up his development in AA and AAA by limiting his playing time and then calling him up way too soon to the majors in 2015, he didn’t look good. He had a career triple slash of 0.199/0.248/0.319 going into September of 2016, despite a 0.305/0.359/0.568 slash line in AAA in 2016. He had shown that he could handle AAA, but not the big leagues.
Then the magical September of 2016 happened and he put up this slash line: 0.287/0.357/0.653, with nine home runs. I even wrote about the adjustments he seemed to have made to get him there. Unfortunately, if you look closer, you would see he still had a 33.6% K% during that month and relied on a 0.370 BABIP and 36% HR/FB ratio, neither of which is sustainable. So, some positive signs, but also lots of bad stuff still.
Then came spring training. He hit 0.283/0.365/0.543 in the spring, causing his manager to move him into the coveted #3 spot in the lineup for the opening week of 2017. It looked like his days of struggling were behind him and he was ready to reach his potential. And then the season started.
0.069/0.100/0.103 (through 4/12)
Zap! Bort! Zow! Thwack! Ok, I’m ending this old school Batman reference now.
He’s put up a 56.7% K% !!! And a 24.4% SwStr%. He’s swinging and missing on a full quarter of all the pitches thrown his way! For reference, here are the hitters in 2016 with a similar SwStr% that had at least 30 PA: Drew Pomeranz, Gio Gonzalez, Jeff Samardzija, Matt Garza, and Peter O’Brien (finally someone that’s not a pitcher!). That’s...not a very good group.
If this were just an example of small sample size weirdness, we could easily write it off. Sure, it’s very early and pitchers often have the advantage early in the season as hitters find their timing. Or something like that. However, we have Buxton’s entire body of work from 2015 and 2016 (including a 30% K% in AAA) to point to and say, this guy’s got some major issues making contact.
His out-of-zone swing% this season sits at 41.4%, way above his already-high marks of about 33% in 2015 and 2016. He’s chasing and missing. And looking. And whiffing. He’s lost out there. After swinging at 47% of pitches last year, he’s offering at a whopping 57% this year. That’s not good for someone that can’t recognize pitches right now.
Take a look at where he’s swinging this season in this heat map.
He’s offering at pitches high and away. And at pitches below the bottom of the zone. He’s all over the place here.
Pitchers have taken notice that he can’t identify off speed or breaking pitches and have upped their % of both to Buxton this year. Pitchers have thrown him 11% fewer fastballs this year. They are going to keep doing that as long as he lets them.
Looking at all this, I’m sorry to say it’s time to worry that he might never be what we want him to be. Not only will he never be Trout, he might not even be Mike Cameron or Carlos Gomez, two comps people started making after his great September. Even in September (and really his whole MLB career so far), he hasn’t racked up steals like he was supposed to. I know he’s had trouble getting on base, but his speed has been compared to Billy Hamilton, so he should be able to get some steals even with a bad batting average.
Maybe I’m overreacting here, but I’m going out on a limb and saying it’s time to move on from him in dynasty leagues and certainly in single season leagues. Unless you are rebuilding and have time to be patient, I think it’s time to cut him loose.
Like you, I realllllly want him to do well and prove me wrong, but the issues he is dealing with right now are ones that usually end careers or move you to the 9th spot in the batting order. Buxton might end up like Kevin Pillar: a great defender and poor hitter. His defense and pedigree will give him lots of chances, even now, but he’s in uncharted waters right now. Plate discipline is one of those skills that’s just really hard to develop on the fly. Sorry for the downer post today. Oh, and for last week’s downer post about Matt Strahm. It’s been a rough two weeks for popular young players. Tschus!