Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Is there hope for Byron Buxton?


Byron Buxton is probably one of the most hyped prospects to come down the pike in quite a while. It was certainly a struggle for Buxton when he was (quite possibly prematurely) promoted to the major leagues to make his debut on June 14, 2015. Buxton pretty much struggled right off the bat, going 2 for his first 22 with 2 walks and 8 strikeouts. It really didn’t get any better in the rest of that season, finishing up the year with a line of .209/.250/.326. Buxton has been yo-yo’d back and forth between the majors and AAA, and given his performance, those demotions were probably justified, but honestly, it’s not like the Twins are in “win now” mode or anything, so you can make the case that they should have just let him be and let the chips fall wherever they may.
Things didn’t get much better for much of 2016, until his recent call up at the start of September. It’s quite possible that this could just be a weird September baseball mirage, but since his call up he’s put up a line of .385/.442/.872, and yes, it’s a small sample, but small samples notwithstanding, this is the best run he’s ever had in the big leagues. Starting pitchers that he’s faced during this run are Jose Quintana, Carlos Rodon, James Shields, Anthony Ranaudo, Ian Kennedy, Dillon Gee, Danny Duffy, Danny Salazar, Mike Clevinger, Corey Kluber, and Daniel Norris, so we’ve got a fairly reasonable split of good/middling/bad pitchers faced during the run, so I would carefully deduce that there’s nothing weird going on there.
Before the call up, Buxton’s career line was a .199/.248/.319, so a .567 OPS over 356 plate appearances. So, what we want to find out is, is there precedent for players to start out so badly over that number of plate appearances and later recover from it to become superstars? So, what’s the best way to find this out? Play Index!! I searched for players over their first two seasons with an OPS of .570 or less with at least 350 plate appearances since 1961 for brevity’s sake. This is not the full table, I have pruned the results to remove players that didn’t stick or replacement level type players.
Player
WAR/pos
OPS
PA
From
To
Age
HR
RBI
SB
CS
BA
OBP
SLG
Omar Vizquel
2.2
0.557
716
1989
1990
22-23
3
38
5
5
0.231
0.281
0.276
Dave Concepcion
1.3
0.562
650
1970
1971
22-23
2
39
19
5
0.23
0.282
0.28
Rey Ordonez
1.2
0.558
921
1996
1997
25-26
2
63
12
8
0.24
0.275
0.283
Jackie Bradley
0.4
0.548
530
2013
2014
23-24
4
40
10
0
0.196
0.268
0.28
Brandon Phillips
0
0.57
429
2002
2003
21-22
6
37
4
5
0.212
0.251
0.319
Tim Flannery
-0.1
0.535
388
1979
1980
21-22
0
29
2
2
0.224
0.272
0.263
Dick Schofield
-0.2
0.548
514
1983
1984
20-21
7
25
5
2
0.194
0.268
0.28
Brandon Inge
-0.4
0.545
553
2001
2002
24-25
7
39
2
7
0.194
0.247
0.298
Brett Butler
-0.4
0.569
413
1981
1982
24-25
0
11
30
9
0.23
0.312
0.257
Lenny Randle
-0.7
0.547
516
1971
1972
22-23
4
34
5
6
0.205
0.265
0.282
Frank White
-0.8
0.537
366
1973
1974
22-23
1
23
6
5
0.222
0.249
0.289
Jose Oquendo
-1.3
0.514
564
1983
1984
19-20
1
27
18
10
0.217
0.269
0.246
Cito Gaston
-1.5
0.569
446
1967
1969
23-25
2
29
5
4
0.224
0.266
0.303














Source: baseball-reference.com
No real superstars in that list, unless you are a Brett Butler guy, like me.  The jury is still out on Jackie Bradley, and if Buxton becomes 2015-16 Bradley the Twins would be very pleased. Omar Vizquel was a very good player but not offensively. Brandon Phillips has had a very nice career, even though Ryan Sullivan thinks he’s the most over-rated player in baseball. Cito Gaston was pretty much a one-year-wonder. Brandon Inge made one All-Star Game and arguably could have made two or three. Frank White was a really under-rated guy (hey, Time WARP article idea!)  Dave Concepcion was very good and played for a very long time, but I don’t really consider him a star, just a good average regular. And that’s about it.
Byron Buxton may indeed one day become what we all think he has the ability to, but at this point, after the start to his career, the odds are a little bit longer than they were. It was probably unfair to compare him to Willie Mays to begin with, but this is a book with a lot of pages still waiting to be turned.

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