[Open for all] Byron Buxton's return & the 30/30 club

Is this the year Buxton joins exclusive club of speedy sluggers?

Positive notes coming out of the Twins’ camp last night, which is a relief to hear after a brief pause to their season because of COVID. As Minnesota returns to the field to play a doubleheader with Oakland, many eyes will be on Byron Buxton’s pending return to the lineup.

*As I do every Monday, I sent my 5 Thoughts column to subscribers yesterday morning, with everything we know about the Twins’ COVID situation, the possible impacts, plus a new club record, and Willians Astudillo.

*I’ll have more at a later date on Rocco’s runners and why, though I’m writing about it today and in theory he seems perfectly capable, it would be quite a feat if Buxton actually earns his members-only card into baseball’s 30/30 club.

*If you’d like to support my work I’ll ask you to please consider a membership to this newsletter. It costs less than a dollar per week, and every member gets immediate access to the full 5 Thoughts column, plus comments, archives, and the ongoing invitation to email me back just to chat. (Three members wrote me this week to check in and ask me a quick question — which is cool!)

*This week’s radio show featured LaTroy Hawkins, Michael Rand, Rhett Bollinger, and Tim Grubbs from the new Twins’ Double-A affiliate, the Wichita Wind Surge. Catch the show on WCCO radio every Sunday from 10am-noon, and please feel free to call in during our 11:30 block!

Byron Buxton and…

If ever there was a baseball player who looks like he could waltz to a full season with at least 30 home runs and 30 steals, Byron Buxton seems up to the task. I don’t believe that I’ve ever seen a faster baseball player in person, and his power surge dating back to last season looks very real to me.

I wrote a lot about Buxton for last week’s member newsletter, and I wanted to share some notes with the whole group here, as he nears his official return to the Twins’ lineup.

Let’s start with apologies to the crowd that hates the “on pace” stats this early in the season. Hey, me too. And yet, I’m feeling obligated to point out that Buxton’s career-high for homers came in 511 plate appearances, also a career best for Buxton. As you’ll know, he’s succeeded as a hitter in the big leagues and practically never let that ability play out for long uninterrupted stretches because of injury or other maladies.

Here’s what his homer numbers would look like if you could just get him 600 plate appearances a year at his given rate of home run hitting.

Detractors will point out that Buxton has never taken 600 plate appearances, and fair enough. I still think it’s worth drawing attention to that bottom right corner, the one that shows that through 135 trips to the plate last season Buxton was on a 57-homer pace!

He’ll slow down this year (probably?) and yet I’ll point out that 5 blasts in 31 plate appearances happens to be a 96-homer pace. There you go, On Pace crowd!

Buxton is playing out of his mind right now, including another 3 hits and 4 RBIs [last] Sunday in a losing effort. Right now the fastest outfielder in Twins history is batting .481/.548/1.185.

This is not normal.

He’s also fourth in on-base percentage – despite a modest 6.5% walk rate that is nowhere near his peers in the getting-on-base department. But, interestingly, it is near some of his peers in the slugging department: J.D. Martinez, Ronald Acuña Jr., and Nelson Cruz. Hey, it’s hard to walk when you’re too busy crushing baseballs all over — and out of — the park. Buxton’s 5 homers are tied for first in the big leagues

He is, of course, looking great compared to the league as a whole; and just as notably he’s even looking great by his own high standard. His 16.1% strikeout rate is a career-best by a wide margin; he’s already added the hardest-hit fair ball of his career; and he remains at the top of the speed charts, despite younger fast guys entering the league every single season.

“I feel confident enough now where it doesn’t really matter what you throw to me,” Buxton told reporters last week. “I’ll sit on breaking pitches. I’m starting to realize how quick my hands are to react to those fastballs. Once you get to that point, it’s pretty scary.”

Scary for pitchers, yes. Yikes.

I particularly enjoyed his ability to simplify a complex topic, combined with the self-assuredness that he seems to have in spades right now.

Buxton’s previous career-high for home runs is 16, and yes, he’s on pace to smash that this year. When a player gets out to a hot start of the season, three things happen. First, some people get giddy and excited and/or mockingly point out the pace over a full season as if it will surely sustain (example: on pace for 162 home runs! after one game.) Secondly, the other half of the crowd becomes aggravated and annoyed at this harmless exercise. Third, and maybe most importantly, when his name and numbers look great on May 1, I suspect that it helps an MVP candidacy – in some small way – because the player is top of mind for the people who debate and ultimately decide those things. (Maybe those Target Field M-V-P chants aren’t so far-fetched after all?)

…the 30/30 club

There are 42 members of baseball’s 30/30 club — 30 steals & 30 homers in the same season — according to Baseball Almanac. Could Buxton reach that threshold?

I posted this fun trivia question to my group on Facebook: Without looking it up, can you name all four members of MLB’s 40/40 club? Hint: One of them is in the late stages of acquiring the Timberwolves!

Honestly, 30/30 appears within reach for Buxton and if everything went perfectly for him and for the Twins, he has the skills at least to threaten 40/40. But of course, that’s an absurdly high bar, as evidenced by the fact that only A-Rod and three other guys have ever done it in the big leagues.

I’m not sure how much running that Buxton will have a chance to do this year. In his only season to clear 500 plate appearances, Buxton stole 29 bases in 2017. And of course he has the speed and now the reads to get more than that in a full year. But Rocco Baldelli’s Twins basically never run, which might be philosophical or might be a function of how many good hitters they’ve had going since Rocco took over.