Big Bux

Jim Chatterton covers all of Thursday's most interesting hitters.

“Quit playin’ games with my heart…” That song is stuck in my head when I see Byron Buxton (OF, Minnesota Twins) start it up again. One of the most dynamic players in the league seems to set the on fire every once in a while and we all point and shout. This is it, it’s finally happening. Buxton is finally the player we believed he could be. Then he disappears. Either behind poor performance again or another injury that sidelines him or hampers his ability to be the dynamic player he is supposed to be. And now we’re here again, the eleven hundredth time. Buxton has four home runs in his last three games and seven in his last nine. Last night he went 3-4, 2 HR, 2 R, 2 RBI. That nine game span has been a fantastic run, as he’s slashing .355/.355/1.097 (of course, no walks). These games have pushed him to 12 dingers on the year, two more in 50 less games than 2019. 

What is Buxton’s deal then? He shows he can be so good every so often. But he’ll get hurt and miss a ton of time. This season he went on the 10 day IL with a shoulder problem. Last year, he only played 87 games and went down with a shoulder injury as well. 2018 was hampered with a handful of issues including a toe injury and wrist strain which kept him sidelined for all but 28 games. 2017 was the only ‘full’ season that he had over 500 PAs. If he is back swinging like the last few weeks, this injured shoulder may be alright and he can focus on the future a bit more.

The future will always be bright for Buxton if he stays on the field. Last year and 2017, he showed flashes of power and speed where at least a 20/20 season can be in sight during a full year of play. This year, the power is his most prominent skill with a .622 slugging, by far a career high. His barrel rate is at 15.1%, much higher than his previous high of 8.3%. His hard hit rate is up over 10 percentage points from his career average as well. This has come with aggression He is swinging first pitch 50% of the time, up about 12% from last year. His zone swing rate is up a bit but his chase swing rate is up nearly 16 percentage points. That all has led to Buxton’s minuscule walk rate. Those plate discipline numbers show that this streak can be a bit like standing on some thin ice. However, the biggest concern for Buxton is always health. And hitting the ball this hard right now is certainly a plus.

Let’s go around the rest of the league and see how Thursday went:

Rafael Devers (3B, Boston Red Sox) – 2-4, HR, 2 R, 3 RBI. Devers has picked it up in September after a rough start in the first half of the year. In the last 30 days, he’s is slashing .376/.424/.725 with 19 extra base hits and 31 RBIs. There was some worry early on this year with a rising K rate and lower walk rate. Less plate discipline can certainly hurt, but after getting settled in Devers’ 2020 season stats are pretty much in line with 2019s. 

Wilmer Flores (1B, San Francisco Giants) – 2-4, 3B, 2 R, 2 RBI, BB. Flores has been putting together a solid season and one of the many reasons the Giants still seem to be around the playoff hunt. His 134 wRC+ is his best in his career and that is thanks to his new-found power. He has as many homers this season as last season in have as many games, and half his season best in homers when he played 110 games with the Mets. He is hitting less ground balls while also pulling the ball much more which can both lead to more power. His hard hit rate has risen a few percentage points as well, to 35.8%. With these changes and his incredible contact rate, Flores should at least keep hitting reasonably well.

Gregory Polanco (OF, Pittsburgh Pirates) – 2-4, 2B, HR, R, 3 RBI. The biggest surprise of the day so far is having a Pirate in the Batter’s Box, let alone Polanco. It’s been a while since I’ve seen his name because of the injuries he’s dealt with. But he has played 41 games this year and they have been torturous. His K rate is at a career high 40.1% to go with a 37 wRC+ and .146 batting average. His OBP is even under the Mendoza line. Now for a bright spot: the home run he hit was a 109 MPH laser to right center. But that’s all I have.

Bryce Harper (OF, Philadelphia Phillies) – 2-3, 2 HR, 2 R, 2 RBI. Harper annihilated two pitches off of Seth Lugo for monstrous home runs over 430 feet each. He’s continuing his hitting success from last year, barreling the ball around 14% with a consistent hard hit rate of 45.5%. He’s drastically cut his strikeout rate by nine percentage points down to 17.5%. He is whiffing much less at breaking pitches (20 percentage point drop from last season). Harper is always dangerous but if he cuts back on the strikeouts and whiffs of breaking stuff, he can go to another level.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (OF, Toronto Blue Jays) – 4-4, 2B, 2 HR, 3 R, 2 RBI. Gurriel was hot last night, getting four hits and two home runs against the Yanks. He has continued on his injury-shortened season in 2019 by making some important improvements. Notably, his strikeout rate is down seven percentage points to 17.8% and his line drive rate is up to 27.5% (up 10 percentage points). He has been whiffing less both in and out of the zone while also taking more pitches out of the zone. His excellent hard hit rate has stayed around 45% from last year as well. He’s shown he can be a solid fantasy asset.

Giancarlo Stanton (OF, New York Yankees) – 4-5, 2B, HR, R, 2 RBI. Stanton has been an injured mess this year, but when he is on the field, he is a dangerous offensive weapon. Just like the rest of the Yankee offense, he hit a 418 foot bomb off Chase Anderson. This was just his fourth of the year but only in 16 games. He also added a few more hits, two others also over 108 MPH. Even though it is 16 games, Stanton is striking out only 21.9% of the time which has always been an issue for him, especially on the Yankees. That will be interesting to watch if he can stay on the field. 

Gary Sánchez (C, New York Yankees) – 2-4, 2B, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI. Sanchez joined the home run parade for the Yankees with his own home run, but also had a 117.5 MPH double in Anderson’s rough 4th inning. He’s having another season like 2018 where he’s hitting below .200 with a BABIP below .200 as well. He’s still hitting a decent amount of home runs and is barreling the ball with the best of them. But this time, he’s striking out 36.7% of the time. So he’s either hitting a home run, striking out, or getting far too under the ball and it falls into a players mitt.

José Ramírez (3B, Cleveland Indians) – 4-5, 2B, 2 HR, 3 R, 4 RBI.  The first half of his 2019 had everyone worried. But he fixed himself and look where we are now. A solid first round pick is back to solid first round pick production. He has 13 homers with 10 steals and a 140 wRC+, just like in 2017 and 2018. A couple things to note about Ramírez’s 2020 though. First, he has elite contact skills but his K rate has jumped to 18.3% due to what looks like a decreased zone contact rate. Second, JoRam is getting under the ball more and hitting more fly balls. Not much concern in either department yet, but things to note moving forward. 

Brandon Nimmo (OF, New York Mets) – 3-4, 3B, HR, R, 3 RBI, BB. I believed Nimmo’s 2019 was a fluke mostly due to him playing with a season ending neck injury for a month. He’s come back in 2020 like his dominant 2018 self, posting a 153 wRC+ so far this year with a career best batting average and slugging. In 46 games he’s already met last year’s home run total (and three behind in runs) despite playing 23 more in 2019. He’s also picked it up quite a bit recently with nine hits in four games. But Nimmo’s biggest change for 2020? He’s cut back on strikeouts. His swinging strike is down from 10.1% to 8.3% and his O-Contact is up 52.1% to 66.1%, resulting in his K rate going from 28% to 18.9%. He’s once again a must play outfielder.

Corey Seager (SS, Los Angeles Dodgers) – 3-5, 2B, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI. One of the biggest stories to start the 2020 season was Seager’s blazing hot start. He surprised many of us by being the front of the pack in barrels, and he kept staying there. I haven’t heard much of Seager since so I am a bit surprised to see that his September so far is just a continuation of his incredible bounceback year. In September, he is slashing .306/.362/.613 with a 157 wRC+. He’s still at the top or near it for hard hit rate and barrels. 


(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire)

Jim Chatterton

Jim has written for Razzball and now is a part of the Pitcher List staff. He is a Villanova alum and an eternally optimistic Mets fan. He once struck out Rick Porcello in Little League.

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