Byron Buxton, baseball phenomenon [5 Thoughts]
Byron Buxton is special.
If you tuned out of sports in Minnesota this weekend, you didn’t miss much.
The Wolves evened a playoff series with Memphis, Kirill Kaprizov became the first 100-point scorer in Wild history, and Byron Buxton returned to the lineup with an exclamation point of a series to sweep the White Sox and vault the Twins from last place in the A.L. Central into first.
This column presents 5 Thoughts on the Twins after 16 games.
#1. Byron Buxton is special.
Buxton homered in the 7th inning Sunday – going the opposite way to clear the limestone overhang – to tie the game at 3-3. Then, after the White Sox plated the Zombie Runner in the 10th inning to retake the lead, Buxton came to the plate with the game hanging in the balance. He destroyed a baseball thrown by All-Star closer Liam Hendriks into the third deck in left field, a 469-foot walk-off blast that is the longest-ever walk-off recorded by Statcast, according to the Twins.
Two stars dueled in the late innings Sunday and Buxton – and, by extension, the Twins – won with aplomb.
After getting on base 8 times in 11 trips to the plate this weekend – including bruising 3 homers and scoring 5 runs in the process – Buxton is now off to a healthy .351/.415/.946 start to the season. Last April he won the A.L. Player of the Month before injuries robbed most of the rest of his season.
Remember in our preseason 20 Questions post, when we talked about how Buxton is the best player in baseball not named Mike Trout?
Rocco Baldelli is taking that a step further.
“Right now, there’s no better player in the world than him,” Baldelli said, referring to his centerfielder. “I think he’s absolutely the best player in the world when he’s out there running around doing his thing. You’re talking about a guy that’s just demolishing the baseball every day, and is absolutely one of the top handful of defenders in the world as well.”
“He can do anything.”
From 2019-21, Trout is the only Major Leaguer who averaged more Wins Above Replacement per 600 plate appearances than Buxton’s 7.1. Of course, the reason Buxton is not a household name in the top echelon of MLB superstars is that 1) he hasn’t been doing it as long; and 2) he’s only cleared 500 plate appearances once in his career (7 seasons).
For those curious Buxton has sprinted out in front of the pack in WAR per plate appearance, which isn’t perfect as a statistical measure, I get it. For one thing it doesn’t count pitchers this year, and for another, we’re so incredibly early that there’s going to be some tremendous volatility in this top-10 group. But at this moment would anybody doubt that Buxton will be in this mix all season long?
Other notable names appearing further down this list: Manny Machado (the early WAR leader, currently 14th here), Wander Franco (16th), Seiya Suzuki (24th), and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (48th).
In a stat in which the league MVP typically accrues about 7-10 Wins in a season, Buxton is currently on pace for 19.0 WAR per 600 plate appearances. Which, you’d have to say, would be pretty fun.