It’s been no secret. Byron Buxton has not been good at the plate so far this season. He’s struck out 50% of the time he has come to the plate, which is one of the worst statistics a batter has ever produced in recorded history. You can try to look at it through the scope of small sample sizes remember, perhaps, that the last month of action from Buxton saw a dynamic player, breaking out in the month of September, but that doesn’t really mollify the unease of watching the once top prospect struggling in the month of April, just like he did last year.
It doesn’t really overwhelm what we have seen from him through his time in the Majors, though. Byron Buxton is a terrible hitter. It’s tough to get past that, until he starts hitting. Normally, this would be an easy call, to send him back down to Rochester for some seasoning. The Twins can call up someone like Daniel Palka, ByungHo Park or Kennys Vargas, if they feel the need to get an extra bat in the lineup. They can let Robbie Grossman play left field and shift Eddie Rosario over to center. Easy!
There is one problem with this idea. Byron Buxton leads the league in putouts among centerfielders. There are two things to interpret from this stat. First, the Twins pitching staff gives up a lot of fly balls. Second, Buxton gets to all of them. Consider his 40 putouts is 6 higher than Ender Inciarte, the next player on the list. Inciarte has played 88 innings, like Buxton. The next 10 spots in putout leaderboard all had more time in the field than Buxton.
In short, run prevention, one way or another, hinges on an excellent outfield. Nobody has been leaned upon in the centerfield more heavily than Buxton this season. I’ve already suggested that he was of crucial importance to the pitching staff’s success this season, but the more pertinent question is “How do you replace him if you send him to Rochester?” You can’t. If the Twins send Buxton down, they have to accept a regression in their pitching staff.
I think, more likely, the Twins front office is looking at the early season as a time for other players, namely veteran pitchers, to boost their trade value. Someone like Hector Santiago, in particular, is only going to see his value go down, and it will go down precipitously without Buxton behind him. I think, as a result, the Twins’ young hope for the future will get a long leash during the early part of this season. The current team will be hurt in his absence, and the long term prospects of the team will be hampered if the front office can extract maximum value from their trade candidates. Hopefully in the mean time, Buxton can sort out his issus at the plate.