By every objective measure, Twins outfielder Byron Buxton had a miserable first 15 games of the 2017 season at the plate. He went 4 for 49 in that opening stretch, walking just twice and striking out a ghastly 24 times. It added justifiable fuel to everyone who wondered if his strong September in 2016 was for real or if it was just a function of beating up on minor league call-ups and checked out teams.
But while those first 15 games still count — sorry, Byron, they can’t be erased — the great news for Buxton and everyone connected to the Twins’ organization is that his last 10 games have been remarkably better. One might even say Buxton has been beyond functional and is, in fact, hot at the plate.
Since his tutorial with Torii Hunter, Buxton is 10 for his last 30 (.333) and has a .459 on-base percentage. Included in that stretch is a double, triple and home run — as well as seven walks to go with just six strikeouts. He’s scored nine runs in that span, getting a chance (finally) to show off his game-changing speed on a more consistent basis.
He’s been spraying the ball to all fields while also hitting with authority, with Tuesday’s 7-2 victory over Chicago providing a good example. Buxton had three hits — a well-struck double down the left field line, a looping line drive to left-center that drove in a run and a sharp single to right on a tough pitch.
So which one is the real Buxton — the guy who had a pitiful .257 OPS through 15 games or the one who has a .993 OPS in his last 10 games and looks completely different at the plate?
He’s still just 23, so it’s hard to draw hard conclusions — particularly since we’ve seen hot and cold stretches from Buxton in the past.
What I think we could attempt to conclude at this point is that batting Buxton high in the order to start the season — he was the No. 3 hitter in his first four games, going a combined 1 for 18 with 11 strikeouts — threw him off his approach a little. He was trying to pull everything early on, perhaps feeling the burden of being in that run-producing slot in the order.
If we think of that as a natural tendency and evolution for a young player instead of a sign that Buxton has some sort or deficiency when handling pressure, there’s no reason to think he couldn’t move up in the order if he keeps hitting well.
That said, he’s done all of his recent damage from the No. 8 or 9 spot, and it seems to suit him and the Twins’ lineup just fine. For now, there’s no reason to mess with a good thing — especially when that good thing was a mess just a couple weeks ago.
Buxton’s overall average is still just .188, and even with his speed his .391 batting average on balls in play during this recent 10-game surge is bound to level off. Just as the Twins didn’t panic after his awful start, they shouldn’t relax and assume everything is fixed now.
But should everyone be encouraged? Absolutely.