The Runner Sports

Different Starts For Miguel Sanó And Byron Buxton

It’s no secret that Miguel Sanó and Byron Buxton are two of the most promising young players in baseball. It’s also no secret that both have had struggles in their careers so far. Heading into the 2017 season, both were expected to fill major roles for the Minnesota Twins, and so far one has impressed while the other has not.

In 2016, both players struggled. Of all major league hitters with at least 300 plate appearances, no one struck out more often than those two. Using FanGraph’s plate discipline data, Sanó struck out 36% of the time, and Buxton struck out 35.6% percent of the time. Both hit for power, but neither was especially adept at getting on base regularly, especially Buxton, whose on-base percentage was .284.

It was essential that both players turn it around in 2017 to show that they could live up to the hype they had shown in the minors and for brief periods of their careers. Through Sunday, Sanó has struck out just under 30% of the time, while Buxton has struck out in a miraculous 51.9% of his plate appearances. Neither rate is great, but Buxton’s is objectively terrible.

Buxton has been so overmatched this season that he has actually swung at 60.8% of the pitches he has seen and made contact on just over half of those. This is made worse by the fact that he has swung at nearly half of the pitches he has seen outside of the strike zone. All told, he has had a swinging strike on 26.2% of the pitches he has seen. By far the worst on the team, and one of the worst rates in the majors.

This stat is evident when you watch Buxton’s at-bats. He swings freely when he is at the plate, and by the time he has two strikes you expect him to strike out. In his first at-bat in Sunday’s game, he managed to foul off one two-strike pitch and take another for a ball, but he still whiffed on an inside fastball to end the inning. The swing looked desperate, and he never looked comfortable in the batter’s box. There have been good hitters who lack conventional composure at the plate, but Buxton hasn’t shown that his energy will benefit his approach.

I went back to watch a few home runs from Buxton’s good months of August and September last season. You see a calmer version of him before the pitcher delivers. In this one, his bat stays steady the entire time until the pitcher begins his windup. But in his strikeout on Sunday, his bat was waving from the time he stepped into the batter’s box to when the pitch was delivered. This is a small detail, but it could very well be indicative of nerves. This is not a new realization, but it’s further evidence that if Buxton can calm down at the end of his at-bats he may have a better chance of avoiding strikeouts and improving his on-base percentage.

The same can not be said for Sanó, because he’s already shown he can have good, mature at-bats. Sanó has only had swinging strikes on 14% of the pitches he has seen because he makes contact with close to 75% of the pitches he swings at. These numbers are better because Sanó has a better sense of the strike zone. He has only swung at a quarter of the pitches outside the strike zone that he’s seen. Sanó has always had a good eye at the plate, but hasn’t always taken good swings to back it up. That’s been different this year, as Sanó is making contact on more pitches in the strike zone.

Just as Buxton’s failures are visible, Sanó’s successes can be seen in his trips to the plate. In the second inning of Sunday’s game, Sanó managed a ten-pitch at-bat that included four foul balls with two strikes, and ended with a double to the left-center field gap. This isn’t the only at-bat that Sanó has had like this so far this season. He has matured into a hitter who not only knows when he should take a pitch outside of the strike zone, but also knows how not to get fooled on pitches in the zone.

So now that we know how these two young players are doing and a little bit more about why, the question is what to do with that knowledge going forward. If Buxton just can’t calm down at the plate and still strikes out twice per game, his defensive abilities won’t be enough to keep him around. They’ve hit him all around the batting order, they’ve sent him down to the minors, and no solution has stuck. They can keep waiting right now because the rest of the team is hitting so well, but if he doesn’t come around and everyone else slows down, there could be an issue. Buxton may need to be benched and fill more of a pinch-runner/late-inning defensive replacement role.

I like to think it’s just first week jitters, and that these next few days will see him turn it around. Maybe all he needs is to have two consecutive good at-bats or hit a home run and things will fall into place. Maybe he needs to grow his hair out like Sanó did. Maybe he needs to serve my brother-in-law a hot dog again. One thing is for certain, seeing Sanó succeed and Buxton fail leaves us all wondering about how great it would be if both former top prospects reached their high ceiling. There is still a lot of time for this to happen, I just hope it happens soon so no one is tempted to lose Buxton before he finally takes off.

Charlie Gillmer

Charlie Gillmer

Charlie Gillmer is a lifelong Twins fan who spends most nights dreaming of learning a knuckleball and pitching them to a World Series victory.
Charlie Gillmer

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