Byron “Doubles” Buxton

Photo: BRACE HEMMELGARN/VIA GETTY IMAGES

Minnesota Twins uber athletic center-fielder Byron Buxton, a former 1st round pick (2nd overall in 2012) and top prospect (ranked #1 on MLB.com’s 2015 Top 100 Prospect Watch), has struggled to find consistency and stay healthy early on in his big league career. Still only twenty-five years old, Buxton continues to flash star-caliber potential. While it is only the beginning stages of the 2019 campaign, it seems as though Buxton has made some significant altercations to his approach at the plate, which has enabled him to improve his offensive game dramatically.

Buxton, who led the Twins in Wins Above Replacement and won the Platinum Gold Glove in 2017, … dealt with a variety of injuries … [last] season, including migraines, a fractured left big toe and a sprained left wrist.

Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com

2018 Stats (per FanGraphs)

  • PA: 94
  • AVG: .156
  • OBP: .183
  • HR: 0
  • 2B: 4
  • SB: 5

2019

  • PA: 72
  • AVG: .284
  • OBP: .333
  • HR: 0
  • 2B: 12
  • SB: 5

Remarkably, Buxton has eight more doubles this season than he did all of last year (in 22 fewer PA)! Coming into play on April 26th, Byron Buxton is tied for the league lead in doubles with Ryon Healy and David Peralta.

His plate discipline metrics have not changed all that much. Buxton is swinging more regularly at pitches in the zone (2018 Z-Swing% [per Pitch Info Plate Discipline]: 69.4; 2019: 77.7), but his overall swing% has remained constant (2018 Swing%: 53.2; 2019 Swing%: 53.2). He has always been an aggressive hitter; his swing% is the 34th highest among all hitters with at least 50 PAs in 2019.

What has made all the difference for Byron Buxton has been a change in swing path/batting stance, which has resulted in more FBs in place of GBs and harder contact…

2018 batted ball profile (per Baseball Savant)

  • Linedrives: 19.0
  • Groundballs: 49.2
  • Flyballs: 22.2
  • Popups: 9.5

2019

  • Linedrives: 37.3 (+18.3)
  • Groundballs: 23.5 (-25.7)
  • Flyballs: 25.5 (+3.3)
  • Popups: 13.7 (+4.2)

AND

2018 Statcast

  • Average Exit velocity: 85.7
  • Barrels: 1
  • Barrels%: 1.6

2019

  • Average Exit velocity: 92.9 (+7.2)
  • Barrels: 4 (+3)
  • Barrels%: 7.8 (+6.2)
Graph via Baseball Savant

The key to Buxton’s breakout is launch angle, which can explain the uptick in linedrives and doubles. His launch is up 10.2 degrees (from 12.7 to 22.9), a drastic change to say the least.

As a guideline, here are the Launch Angles for different types of contact:
Ground ball: Less than 10 degrees
Line drive: 10-25 degrees
Fly ball: 25-50 degrees
Pop up: Greater than 50 degrees

MLB.com

Here are two pictures (same AB) from the 2018 season:


Now here are two pictures from this year:

While I am no professional hitting coach, there are some things I notice right off the bat…

  1. Buxton is standing more upright and balanced in the batter’s box this season
  2. He has toned down on the leg kick (in 2019, he’s just been lifting his foot up ever so slightly, probably in his effort to better time the pitch/his swing)
  3. Buxton is holding the bat a lot higher up (above his shoulder), and he has raised the angle of his bat (this could theoretically explain why he’s been generating harder contact and a greater launch angle — easier for him to bring the bat up to the ball)

If Buxton can he keep it up, there’s absolutely no question in my mind that he will grow into a 3.5 – 4 win player on an annual basis, especially with his dynamite speed (2nd in the MLB [among players with at least 10 minimum opportunities] in 2019 with a 30.3 sprint speed [ft/sec]) and electric defense (career 33 DRS [as found on FanGraphs]).

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