Stud or Dud? The Dynasty Value of Byron Buxton
When it comes to prospects, especially top prospects, we usually tend to focus on the positives and the upside. This player could go 30/30, that player could hit 40 homers, or this is a future ace in the making! This is why the game of baseball is so great. It’s a challenge. Just look at a couple of former elite prospects in the Minnesota Twins system. Just a few short years ago, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano were universal top-5 prospects in baseball, seemingly destined for greatness. Now, they’ve fallen into the “Oh, he has some upside, I guess I’ll draft him to see what happens” category on draft day. That’s not exactly the best category to be in.
For dynasty, it’s gotten even more tricky. The upside each possesses is still tantalizing, but at this point, the risk has caught up with the potential reward. And that reward gets foggier and foggier with each passing season. Let’s dive into one half of this duo to see if we can wrap our brains around how to value him in dynasty moving forward, and furthermore if there’s any light at the end of the tunnel.
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Byron Buxton – Dynasty Value
Let’s talk about the former golden child. While Sano was a top-5 caliber prospect, Byron Buxton was THE prospect. The top dog. The Alpha prospect. Everyone drooled over his tools and upside at almost uncontrollable levels. If anyone denies being in that group, at least to some degree, they’re lying to you. In one of my home keeper leagues, a guy traded away Trout in a deal because he was getting the No. 1 overall pick in our draft (plus a lot more obviously) back in return, which he could use to draft Buxton. I was the “other offer” for Trout but lost out because I didn’t have the draft pick necessary to get Buxton. So yeah, the hype was out of control.
All Buxton has done since then is hit .230/.286/.389/.674 in his first 308 Major League games with a 31.6% strikeout rate and 6.5% walk rate. For comparison, Buxton has hit .299/.375/.499/.874 with a 21.7% strikeout rate and 9.9% walk rate in the minors. This is a prime example of how we cannot always take minor leagues numbers and induct a prospect into the hall of fame. Some make the jump seamlessly like my beloved Juan Soto. Others take several years to figure out Major League pitching. There are really good pitching prospects in the minors, but you don’t have to face Max Scherzer or Corey Kluber down there. The Major Leagues are a whole different animal, which Buxton quickly figured out and is still trying to figure out.
Now, there have been some positives so far for Mr. Buxton, mainly in the power and speed departments. To date, Buxton is averaging 17 homers and 28 steals per every 600 at-bats. Not too shabby, right? The problem, though, has been the inconsistent production when it comes to his power and speed. Take the end of 2017 for instance. Through the first four months of the season, Buxton had five home runs and 16 steals in 257 at-bats. Then in August and September, Buxton was a man on fire, hitting eight homers and stealing 13 bags in 205 at-bats. He even hit eight homers alone in August, meaning over a quarter of his career dongs have come in one single month.
You would take that power and speed if it came over a full season with a respectable batting average to go along with it. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. Buxton’s best single-season stat line came in 2016 when he hit .253 with 16 homers, 29 steals, 69 runs, and 51 RBI in a career-high 140 games. Outside of that, he hasn’t come close to sniffing any of those numbers, especially the games played total. Due to various injuries and poor performance, his next highest games played amount is 92. Poor/inconsistent performance plus sporadic MLB stints isn’t exactly a recipe for success.
This season, Buxton is again tempting us with a sexy .410/.455/.795/1.249 slash line, four homers, four steals, and only five strikeouts in Spring Training. Of course. You can’t just make this easy on us, can you Byron Buxton?
The main reason behind all the inconsistencies is Buxton’s contact. or lack thereof for that matter. Even during his best season in 2017, Buxton was a below-average contact hitter. Out of the 145 players that season that reached 500+ plate appearances, Buxton ranked 139th in O-Contact%, 120th in Z-Contact%, 130th in overall contact%, and had the 18th highest swinging strike rate at 13.7%. His career numbers are just as bad too.
Basically, ever since Buxton came into the league, he’s been one of the worst contact hitters in baseball. But when he does make contact, it’s usually hard contact right? Wrong. Since Buxton came into the league, his 27.7% hard contact rate ranks 248th out of the 286 batters with over 1,000 plate appearances. His 40% flyball rate and 46.4% pull rate have helped his power numbers, but with the type of hitter Buxton is, expecting more than 20 homers in a season right now isn’t advised.
Alright, enough negatives. Let’s talk about the one area Buxton has excelled in every season since coming into the league; speed. Buxton has been arguably the fastest player in the league since debuting back in 2015, leading the Majors in sprint speed in three of his four seasons, and finishing second in the other season. That speed is a big reason Buxton captured his first gold glove award in 2017. And on the bases, Buxton has converted on 46 of his 51 stolen base attempts for a 90.2% success rate, nearly 10% better than the great Rickey Henderson. If Buxton can get his OBP up to just the .320-.330 range, we could be looking at a 40-plus stolen base season.
What's a wall to Byron Buxton? pic.twitter.com/VKcW7jH7WW
— Cut4 (@Cut4) December 6, 2017
We need to stop comparing him to the Byron Buxton we thought he would be at this point of his career and start valuing him for what he is. He chases too many pitches, doesn’t make enough contact, swings and misses too much, strikes out too much, doesn’t walk enough, has some pop, and is fast as hell. That’s who Buxton is right now. He’s a .240-.250 type hitter with the potential for 15-20 homers and 30-40 steals over a full season. That offensive package still has plenty of value with that combination of power and speed.
Now, we can never rule out a player making mechanical adjustments, especially one as young as Buxton. Remember, he’s still only 25 years old for the entire 2019 season. He very well could make some adjustments to his approach and turn into a .270-.280 hitter. That’s very possible. But until he shows us that he’s making the necessary adjustments, we need to learn to accept Byron Buxton for what he currently is. I have Buxton ranked 130th in my dynasty top-300, good for 35th amongst outfielders. That might not be what we expected, but it’s what we got. With Buxton’s high baseball IQ, I’m still in the mindset that he figures it out to a degree and raises the batting average a little. Let’s cross our fingers and hope he does.
Photo/Video Credit: Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire, Cut4, Brooks Baseball.
Eric Cross is the lead MLB/Fantasy Baseball writer and MiLB prospect analyst for FantraxHQ and has been with the site since March 2017. In the past, he wrote for FantasyPros and FanSided. He is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) and a contributor in the best-selling Fantasy Baseball Black Book. For more from Eric, check out his author page and follow him on Twitter @EricCross04.
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