Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Buxton Resurgence

    When Byron Buxton made his Major League debut in 2015 I was maybe more nervous than I've ever been before a June game in all of my fandom. In a way, it was more fun with Buxton as a mythical figure in the minor leagues. Before he played a game for the Twins, he had no faults, he was the perfect ballplayer. Now that he was on the big league club, stats would be counted and we would see if he was really worth the hype. Things hit a snag at the beginning when he struck out in his first at-bat. They continued to snag when he hit .209 his rookie year. And then .225 in 2016. Or when he started his junior campaign by going 4-for-49. Gradually, things turned around. The turning around became less gradual in July and August. Here's a look at why.
     Early in the season, Buxton's name was synonymous with strikeouts. In April he struck out in over a third of his at-bats, at a 37% clip. Compare that to now, he struck out 22.9% of the time in July and is on a similar pace at 23.3%. A lot of this credit goes to hitting coach James Rowson. Rowson's helped Buxton simplify his approach at the plate and he looks much more comfortable as a result. Check out his swing in his first career AB in 2015 and compare it to how it looked in June of 2016 and his RBI single yesterday. His swing's gotten shorter and quicker in the last two seasons. The changes have paid off. Buxton's barreling up the ball with much more regularity, increasing his line drive percentage from 16 in April to almost 30 this month. 
     No matter how much his hitting improves, Buxton's biggest asset always has and always will be his speed, which is why it was frustrating to see him wasting much of it in 2015 and 2016. In those two years. He hit fly balls roughly 43 percent of the time. On top of that, he struck out at a rate between 30 and 35 percent. So that's over 70 percent of the time he wasn't able to utilize the most dangerous aspect of his game. There's quite a difference this season. He's fly balls 35 percent of the time total, and in August that number drops to 30.
     By putting the ball on the ground more often, Buxton's helping the team in ways he doesn't get credit with in the box score. For example: with Buxton running, any bobble on a grounder means he gets on base. Sometimes a fielder will try to move too quickly and make an error just because of Buxton's speed.
     It's been tough to watch Buxton play the last two years, but it looks like he's finally putting it all together. He might not be Mike Trout, he's not winning any MVPs at age 23, but he's getting there. At the very least, he's Jason Heyward, a great fielder who can't quite hit well enough. But if these last two months are any indication, he's turned a corner and the sky's the limit.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Breaking Down the Trade Deadline

The trade deadline wasn't quite as hectic as it's been in previous years, but that's no reason not to take a look at the deals. We'll begin with the two Twins trades.
Twins-Yankees
Twins get: Dietrich Enns, Zack Littell
Yankees get: Jaime Garcia
Garcia's illustrious Twins career came to a close Sunday with this move to the east coast. It's a solid trade for the Yankees; Garcia's by no means a star or even the pitcher he used to be, but he's a reliable back of the rotation starter for the stretch run. On the Twins' end this is looking pretty good. Enns in a long shot, 26 years old and has yet to make it to the majors. Littell on the other hand, is an interesting situation. In 115 innings between Single and Double-A, the 21-year-old has a 1.87 ERA. While his fastball only tops out in the low 90s, his command and curveball project him to be at least a big league reliever. How he progresses from there depends on the development of his changeup.
Twins-Nationals
Twins get: Tyler Watson
Nationals get: Brandon Kintzler
I like this deal for the Twins. If you're out of the race it's always a good idea to flip your relievers for anything you can get. There's always a market there; contenders are always looking to boost their bullpens for the stretch run, especially since the 2015 Royals showed how valuable an impenetrable, deep bullpen can be. The other reason is that any reliever having a good year can be a closer. Exhibit A? Brandon Kintzler himself. Anyway, the Nats were in desperate need to relief to compete with the Astros and Dodgers for best teams in baseball and Kintzler can provide some of that, even though he doesn't strike guys out like a typical reliever.  For the Twins, Watson is an intriguing young lefty. He only turned 20 last May and has a ton of upside at 6' 5". Like Littell, he throws in the low 90s with an above-average curve.
Rangers-Dodgers
Rangers get: Willie Calhoun, A.J. Alexy, Brendon Davis
Dodgers get: Yu Darvish
This is a tough one to analyze. Darvish is in the midst of his worst career, sporting a 4.01 ERA this season, and an abominable 7.20 in the month of July. Things will only get tougher for him moving into Dodger Stadium, a hitters' park. Until he actually suits up for LA, it's impossible to know whether he just went through a rough month or if this is who he is now. No matter what the answer is to that, he's definitely no longer an ace, but the Dodgers don't need that, they just need a solid back end starter. Yeah, they made the Rangers a deal like he's still an ace, but if they win the World Series, a scenario that's looking more likely every day, it won't matter. Coming to Texas are a pair of high-upside infielders in Calhoun and Davis. Alexy is a young starting pitcher who's been solid in low-A ball this season, but he's a ways away from the majors.
A's-Yankees
A's get: James Kaprielian, Jorge Mateo, Dustin Fowler
Yankees get: Sonny Gray
The Yankees ended up with the most coveted arm available at the deadline because of course they did. Gray's 27, has a 3.34 ERA, and won't be a free agent until 2020 at the earliest. The Yankees even managed to do it without giving up any of their top prospects. It's hard to believe this is the best deal the A's could get for Gray. Kaprielian had to have Tommy John surgery in the spring, so he's done for this season and possibly more. Meanwhile Fowler brings solid defense in the outfield and speed to the table but isn't expected to be a star by any means. Mateo is the most interesting of this trio. He's a notoriously streaky hitter but has shown some power this year, and his athleticism gives him the opportunity to be the rare shortstop who makes a difference with his glove and hits homers.
Before we go, let's do a quick run-through of some earlier deals.
Jose Quintana to the Cubs
I though this deal was overrated when it first happened. Quintana hadn't been particularly effective this year, sporting a 4.49 ERA on the south side of Chicago. The White Sox atrocious fielding had something to do with that, but he still had a FIP above 4. Naturally he's only given up five runs in 19 innings with the Cubs, who are back in first place.
Eduardo Nunez to the Red Sox
Nunez has gotten off to a hot start in Boston, hitting two homers in his debut and going 8-for-17 out of the gate. At the very least he's an improvement over the Sox third basemen this year, Pablo Sandoval and Devin Marrero both hitting .212 during their time at the hot corner. Even if he wasn't, it's always fun to have Eduardo Nunez around anyway,