The Twins Need More Than Just Health From Byron Buxton

Byron Buxton is finally healthy, and the Twins need their star to step up and spark this struggling offense.

Byron Buxton #25 of the Minnesota Twins bats against the Kansas City Royals on April 2, 2023 at Kauffman Stadium.
KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 02: Byron Buxton #25 of the Minnesota Twins bats against the Kansas City Royals on April 2, 2023 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)

The Minnesota Twins have gotten off to a rather disappointing start this season. That is thanks in large part to the sheer number of injuries the team has suffered to key players. However, the players who are healthy have also not been performing to the level that they need to for this team to be successful. That includes star Byron Buxton.

Looking at the Twins offense as a whole, it has been abysmal. Their sheer inability to produce runs has relegated the Twins to a class no one expected them to be in. They currently rank 28th in runs on the season, while scoring roughly three and a half runs per game. They also rank 25th or lower in batting average, strikeout rate, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and wRC+.

That is how the Twins are performing as a unit. As stated, several key hitters have missed time due to injuries, including Royce Lewis, Carlos Correa, and Max Kepler. One person who has not missed time, however, is Byron Buxton.

The Twins Need More Offense from Byron Buxton

While staying on the field has always been the main priority for Byron Buxton, the Twins need a lot more from their star right now. This team has been terrible offensively, and Buxton hasn’t been much help.

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First things first, it cannot be overstated how nice it has been to see a fully healthy Buxton. The Twins have played 22 games so far, and Buxton has played in 21 of those contests, including 15 starts in center field. If things keep up, this will be just his second season playing over 100 games. The last time he played that many games was in 2017.

Secondly, before getting into his bat, his defense merits mention. After not playing a single inning in the field last year, Buxton already has 135 innings in center field this season.

Currently, Baseball Savant has him with a fielding run value of +3 in center. That is tied for first with Julio Rodríguez, Cedric Mullins, Kevin Kiermaier, and Johan Rojas. He is currently playing Gold Glove-caliber defense in center field.

Finally, despite his good health and strong defense, Buxton has one big question to answer: What is wrong with the bat?! It is early in the season, but Buxton thus far has been bad – really bad.

He is hitting .247/.273/.411, which is good for a .684 OPS. His wRC+ of 96 is tied for 115th of 184 qualified hitters. What’s more, those numbers all got a big boost thanks to his three-for-four performance on April 23. That performance included a double and his first home run of the season. Before that game, Buxton had an OPS below .600 and a wRC+ of 66.

This is nowhere near what we have come to expect from Byron Buxton at the plate. While he has never been someone to hit for a high average, he usually hits the cover off the ball to make up for it, but that is not happening this year.

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What Is Going Wrong at the Plate?

The first and easiest thing to notice is Buxton’s overall lack of power. In 21 games so far this season, he has just one home run. Over his four previous seasons, Buxton produced his best career power numbers. From 2020-23, he had a home run to fly ball ratio of 22.8%. That number has fallen to 5.3% this season.

I know what you are thinking: He must be hitting the ball on the ground a lot. But no, he isn’t. Buxton is hitting the ball on the ground 36.7% of the time this year, which is above his career average by only one percent. His fly ball percentage of 38.8% this season is six points below his career average.

He is hitting fly balls slightly less often, but not enough to sap all of his power. Maybe he just isn’t hitting the ball as hard anymore? Now we might be getting somewhere! Over his last four seasons, he had a 49.4% hard hit rate which has fallen to 40.8% this season.

His barrel rate has also fallen from 15.9% over the last four seasons to just 6.1% this season. The quality of contact has not been there for Buxton. He is just not barreling up baseballs the way that he needs to, which is slightly alarming.

The other aspect of Buxton’s offensive game that is alarming is his swing decisions. Buxton has always been a player who strikes out a lot, but this year it has been particularly bad.

Instead of the last four seasons, let’s just look at his last two this time around. Over the last two seasons, Buxton struck out 30.9% of the time, which is not ideal. However, he coupled it with a 9.5% walk rate. That makes the strikeouts a lot easier to swallow, especially when the power is there as well.

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This season, Buxton has 77 plate appearances. In those plate appearances, he has accumulated 25 strikeouts (32.5% strikeout rate) and just one walk (1.3% walk rate). It only gets worse the more you dig. He is currently posting a career-high whiff rate of 37.3%. His chase rate (35.2%) is over three points higher than his career average. Lastly, he is posting a career-low in-zone contact rate of just 74.8%.

Buxton’s offensive performance is worrisome. The Twins need him to step up in the worst way. He is a bat that they were counting on entering the season, and so far, he has been underwhelming and then some.

His lack of power is not as concerning as his swing decisions. The power will come around with more plate appearances. The plate discipline, on the other hand, is incredibly concerning. It is going to be very hard for Buxton to be productive if he continues to make the lives of pitchers this easy.

The Twins are in the midst of a four-game series against the White Sox. In the second game of the series, Buxton went three-for-four with a double and a game-tying home run. A turnaround could be on the horizon, as the Twins will follow up the series against Chicago with three games against the Angels and then another three against the White Sox.

If there was a time for Byron Buxton to get going, it is right now over the course of those next ten games. The Twins need him now more than ever.