In my last article on Joc Pederson, I talked about one of the biggest difference between leagues that play daily lineups v. weekly lineups – the value of platoon players. In my discussion of today’s subject – Byron Buxton, I will touch on another large difference based on format except this time the difference is Head-to-Head against Roto.
In traditional Roto, it makes sense to swing for the fences with upside because you need to hit some major values in order to win. You cannot win the championship in Roto by finishing in third place. In Head-to-Head, where you have playoffs, finishing in first in the regular season comes with little to no reward as you are at the mercy of the randomness of the playoffs. You just need to get it in.
Traditional Roto players may be more likely, and more justified, in taking their shot on Byron Buxton. A player, who has annually been among the top prospects in the game, boasting Andrew McCutchen comps and 20 HR, 40 SB tools. When you watch Buxton, you can see where those comps and projections came from – he looks fluid, he is a natural athlete. He is the very definition of toolsy.
However, the results have simply not been there for Buxton. He had an excellent 2013 in the lower minors and was successful, if unspectacular, in 2015 and 2016 in the upper levels of the minors, where he was still young for the levels. As I will explain below, his limited MLB sample provides very little to get excited about.
Buxton is being drafted as the 36th outfielder off the board based primarily upon the opinions of scouts and crooked numbers in 2013 in the low minors. Believe it or not, last season has the early crowd more excited. That’s right. Last year, before Buxton triple-slashed .225/.284/.430 with a 35% K rate, Buxton was going as the 48th outfielder. That performance has apparently earned Buxton a boost of 12 spots to the 36th outfielder off the board. This move takes Buxton from bench fodder to borderline starter in 12 team mixers and solid #3 outfielder in deeper mixed leagues.
Allow me to dig a little deeper. The surface numbers are not pretty. Maybe there is something hidden behind them.
In terms of batted ball profile, Buxton makes a mediocre amount of hard contact – 27.1% and fails to take advantage of his speed by hitting the ball on the ground – his GB/FB is 0.81. If he managed to hit the ball on the ground more, he would be able to take further advantage of his Infield-Hit percentage, which stands at a robust 17% for his career. Last year, along with hitting the ball in the air at a high clip, Buxton also popped up a fair amount at 13.5%. In spite of his poor batted ball profile, Buxton posted a hearty .329 BABIP. It is clear that the athleticism and speed will provide Buxton with plus BABIPs, which if he alters his approach could keep him afloat offensively despite a poor stikeout rate. Simple enough.
Not so fast. Buxton’s strikeout rate is not poor. Buxton’s strikeout rate last year was abysmal at 35.6%. That gaudy figure is supported by his lack of contact. Buxton swung and miss 15% of the time, well above the league average, and his contact percentage was just 67%. Although Buxton’s results were better than his 2015 MLB sample in terms of category juice, Buxton’s underlying plate discipline and contact numbers were actually worse.
Okay so, you’re reading this article in December or January, you are obviously aware of the elephant in the room – Buxton’s run to close the season. In September, Buxton walked at a 8.8% clip, triple-slashed a robust .287/.357/.653 while swatting 9 homers with a steal. Those numbers look excellent and on their face, signal that a breakout is coming.
Let’s just put aside the prognostications that indicated Buxton would be an above average, but not elite power hitter. Let’s also put aside that these numbers were accumulated in September when rosters expanded and opposing pitching is much friendlier.
In September, Buxton still struck out at a 34.1% clip. He is not going to hit .287, if he is striking out 34% of the time. Not only was the strikeout rate still atrocious, but his .287 batting average was the product of three unsustainable factors: (1) a .370 BABIP; (2) a 36% HR/FB rate; and (3) a 25.8% IFH%. You cannot count on any of those things being repeatable over most significant samples.
As I said previously, Buxton is likely a plus BABIP player, but very few players can carry a .370 BABIP and it is almost impossible with 0.84 GB/FB ratio. Freddie Freeman was able to accomplish the feat, but he made hard contact at 43.5% clip. Buxton made hard contact at a 29.7% clip in September.
That hard contact rate also adds doubt to the theory of a legitimate power breakout. The 36% HR/FB rate is entirely unrealistic and unsustainable – the MLB leader was Ryan Braun at 28.8% supported by a 34.4% Hard% and a homer-happy home park. Buxton’s home park is much less friendly for power than Milwaukee.
Finally, the IFH% is similarly unsustainable. The league leader was Odubel Herrera at 14.6%.
Thus, it is quite clear that Buxton’s September results were somewhat fluky and mask the profile that he has sported throughout his brief MLB sample – a high strikeout player with a contact profile that does not suit his skills.
As you can probably tell, I am not high on Buxton. I think he is a more forgivable pick in Roto, where you need the upside, but you are betting on scouting reports only. Byron Buxton has given us nothing to believe in, but whispers and a 2013 breakout in the low minors.
This is not to say that a 469 PA sample is enough to write the book on Buxton, but he has so many different areas that need to be improved, I believe that it is extremely unlikely that everything clicks in 2017. He needs to show better discipline at the plate, make more contact, harder contact for power and hit the ball on the ground more to take advantage of his speed. That is a lot of adjustments to ask from a 23 year old, who has yet to show that he can make any adjustments at all at the MLB level.
My Projection: GP 131, R 64, 11 HR, 21 SB, 53 RBI, .238/.309/.395