Representing a hot button topic, labeling a former top prospect as a breakout seems superfluous. However, due to a litany of injuries, frustrating results despite dripping with skills, it's been a long road for the Byron Buxton truthers, right Colby Conway? This left many speculating, what could Buxton do over the course of a full season, 20 home runs along with 20 stolen bases? Perhaps, but how much he runs hitting cleanup remains to be seen.
Currently riding an eight-game hit streak, with multiple hit games in each of his last three, Buxton's on fire. He's 13-for-his-last-27 (.481) with nine extra-base hits tying the franchise mark set by Cristian Guzman in 2001 during the first ten games for Minnesota. Over 31 plate appearances he's hitting .481/.548/.1.185 and the expected numbers on Statcast suggest it's not a fluke:
- Expected batting average (xBA) - .446 (second in the majors)
- Expected slugging percentage (xSLG) - 1.112 (second in the majors)
- Expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) - .611 (second in the majors)
Within his rolling chart of xwOBA, note the spike this year along with the upward trends planted prior:
Discerning if this ends up as a hot streak versus a breakout remains the reason why some remain skeptical of the early returns. It's understandable. However, the gains in plate discipline take center stage in this debate.
For starters, Buxton's reduced his swing percentage this season from 64.1 percent in 2020 to 56.3 percent so far. Not bad. When viewing his whiff rate, it's declined by over six percent sitting at a career low 22.2 percent during this small sample size. His concentrated aggressiveness manifests itself in a strikeout percentage of 16.1 percent, over ten percentage points below 2020 along with a return of drawing walks to past levels displayed in 2019. With two walks already, he's matched his total from last season. Swinging less, swinging and missing with less frequency along with remaining in attack mode in the strike zone may fuel the year many pined for in the past.
Looking at his in-zone rates only, Buxton owns a .556 xBA and 1.476 xSLG so far on pitches in the strike zone. He also carries a robust 72.7 percent hard hit rate (events with an exit velocity of 95 MPH or higher) a solid plus barrel percentage over 40 and a .734 expected weighted batting average on contact (xwOBAcon) which places him in the top one percent among his peers.
Coming this far into his results without speaking about his speed seems silly. So:
Players who are currently 95th percentile or better in both hard-hit rate and Sprint Speed:— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) April 12, 2021
Byron Buxton : 99th pctile HH%, 99th pctile Sprint Speed
Mike Trout : 97th pctile HH%, 95th pctile Sprint Speed
Ronald Acuña Jr.: 95th pctile HH%, 98th pctile Sprint Speed
Seems like pretty good company to be in any tweet right now with Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani (the hitter). Through 27 batted ball events in 2021, Buxton's average exit velocity of 98.2 MPH represents video game status, it's mind blowing. Noting average exit velocities remain up across the board in the MLB, his 114.1 mph maximum exit velocity aligns with his number from 2019, so this does not come across as a new skill.
Understanding all the arguments about his checkered injury past do not outweigh the tremendous gains displayed so far. If Buxton breaks out, truly breaks out, it happens if the strikeout rate remains at 20 percent or below and he hits 30-plus home runs with 18-to-20 stolen bases. It's within the realm of outcomes. No one can truly assess Buxton to this point but if the career year finally happens, at least something terrific came out of the pandemic. Focus on the discipline metrics and if someone's looking to sell high, then you should buy.