Byron Buxton and a Standings Glance amid Twins current turbulence [5 Thoughts]
Emilio Pagan served up the decisive home run Thursday in Detroit and the Twins lost a game that it looked like they could have won. Now, they board a flight to Toronto, having lost 4 of 5 to the Tigers, and will play this series without their full cast. Their reaction may prove to be important, considering their present form, their ambitions, and their current perch atop the A.L. Central standings.
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1) Byron Buxton, under the Twins’ microscope.
Let’s examine Byron Buxton on this day. There’s some good and bad to get to here, and we’ll just start by saying that Buxton is under a long-term and super affordable contract with the Twins, so any fretting should be tempered where possible.
Last year, he was the A.L. Player of the Month in April before getting hurt in early May and missing a lot of time between various injuries. This year, he was again sensational in April and has since sat out occasional games while taking a big step back in his offensive numbers in May.
This April, Buxton hit .271/.340/.729, which is good for an OPS of 1.069. Though I’m not particularly fond of the stat myself, I do find it’s a clean way to point out that, hey, any combination of OBP and Slugging that gets you over 1,000 is really very good.
So in May, when Minnesota’s superstar saw his numbers tumble to .169/.250/.360 (.610 OPS) while taking prescribed rest from Rocco Baldelli about once per series, it would only be natural to wonder what effect his various dings and dents have had on his offensive performance.
Thad Levine, for one, is not worried. The Twins’ GM was on the Inside Twins radio show over the weekend, and he gave us a glimpse into the way he – and the club – views Buxton’s relative slump at the plate.
“It’s hard to draw a direct correlation,” to his injuries, Levine told Twins Radio. “And I’m not here to make excuses. One thing I will tell the fans – and we know that he went through a little bit of a lull there – but wRC+ is a number that fans are starting to become a little bit more attuned with, and it’s effectively measuring how much above or below the average at your position are you performing at the Major League level.”
I will interject here to say that I do look at Weighted Runs Created. I also think he misspoke when he said that it adjusts to your position. What it does calibrate for is your ballpark and your peers across the whole league.
Here is the glossary entry on MLB dot com for the stat:
“wRC+ takes the statistic Runs Created and adjusts that number to account for important external factors -- like ballpark or era. It's adjusted, so a wRC+ of 100 is league average and 150 would be 50 percent above league average. For example, a player who plays his home games at hitter-friendly Coors Field will have a lower wRC+ than a player who posts identical stats at pitcher-friendly Oakland Coliseum.”
So we’ll point out here that Buxton ran an incredible 204 wRC+ in April. He was, by that measure, more than twice as productive as the average Major League hitter – a sample, remember, that includes the best in the world at this uniquely impossible skill. In May, his numbers have come back down to Earth and damaged the crust a little in the process, with Buxton posting a 77 wRC+ in May.
Watching the Twins, I’m guessing you’ve sensed that. That while it’s maddening he’s not always able to play – and that the Twins are choosing not to use him about twice a week – he’s not struck fear into the heart of the opposing pitcher in quite the same way lately. Still good, still scary, and still a gold glover. But not up to the sky-high bar he set for himself previously; and in May, a below-average hitter.
Back to Thad, who at the time of this interruption had just intimated that we are not to overly rely on a stat like wRC+ for the purposes of evaluating Buck.
“We also have a number that we use internally,” Levine said, “and that’s a little bit more driven – less on the actual outcome of an at bat but rather on the quality of the at-bat, and by that I mean the quality of contact. What is the exit velocity? What are the angles like? What do those usually produce?
“During the time in which, on the surface, Byron’s been struggling a little bit, we actually think behind the scenes he’s been performing just fine. He’s had a number of at-bats that should have resulted in 40-65 percent hits that have not resulted in hits. And so we’re a little bit more attentive to looking at those numbers. The underlying numbers suggest that it’s a little bit of a step down from where he’d been because he’s been in an otherworldly status. But the step down isn’t as dramatic as the superficial numbers would indicate,” Levine said.
I intend to make it my mission to figure that one out. I believe what he’s saying. And I know he has to stick up for Buxton in that setting regardless. It’s just that I’m fascinated to learn more about how the Twins view evaluating players in the big leagues if it’s not based on the production that we can see.
2) Happy Check the Standings Day to all who observe!
For new readers, welcome to our strange holiday. To longtime readers (and listeners), thank you for holding out with me until the day when it’s officially permissible to check the standings.