Twitter remains aflame with those stoking the opinion that Byron Buxton is clearly not cut out for a role in the major leagues. He strikes out too much, he doesn’t reach base as often as he should, and he doesn’t seem like he is getting any better. Trade him! Release him! Just get him off the roster! The other day, I was discussing this sentiment, and the name Torii Hunter was brought up. The general vibe around the statement was that “not everyone can be Torii Hunter” when stating that expectations for Buxton might be too high.
Actually, Torii Hunter might just be the perfect comparison. The reason he is a perfect comparison, frankly, is that it shows you how unreasonable expectations are for Buxton. This is Buxton’s age 23 season, and his 2nd full season in the major leagues. His greatest struggles lie with his inability to make contact, simple as that. He hits for a little bit of power, and he runs like hell, but he doesn’t get on base. Torii Hunter, originally known for his spectacular fielding, also stood out for being a good hitter.
It wasn’t always that way. 1999 was Hunter’s first year in the Major Leagues. He had a better average than Buxton does right now in his current age 23 season. He hit 9 home runs and struck out only 17% of the time, all numbers better than what Buxton has done so far this year. By every single WAR estimate, Byron Buxton at age 23 is better than Hunter was at age 23. Keeping in mind that WAR s a counting state, Buxton’s totals at half a season are .2 this year, a decidedly down year, which is twice as much as Torii Hunter. Through his age 24 season, Hunter had a total accumulated WAR of-.5. Buxton is currently at 1.9 for his career, at age 23.
So much of this success is attributable to Buxton’s defense, which, incredibly, is substantially better than Torii Hunter, even at his early peak. Buxton is faster than Hunter, so he gets to more balls than Hunter did. Hunter just managed to snare anything he got close to. As a result of Buxton’s speed, he also adds more value on the basepaths than Hunter did at the same age. Buxton strikes out way too much,but he also walks twice as much as Hunter did.
It’s important to note, again, that Hunter didn’t really figure it out until he turned 25. He had 3 years under his belt, and started clocking more home runs. He developed his man muscles, as the expression goes. That’s still two years away for Buxton, and he already has two years under his belt. There is still plenty of time for Buxton to grow and get better. By many metrics, he is already better than Torii Hunter was at the same age, and when all is said and done, Buxton has a very good chance to have a much better career.