<
>

Karablog: The paradox of Byron Buxton

Byron Buxton is great with his glove, but his success at the plate is up and down. How patient should you be with him in fantasy? Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire

Perhaps it is understandable why fantasy managers do not intend to be patient with Minnesota Twins outfielder Byron Buxton, but try it anyway. Buxton returned from the disabled list for Thursday's loss to the Los Angeles Angels and struck out in each of his official at-bats as the No. 9 hitter. He also drew a walk. Buxton is hitting .186 with a .472 OPS through 12 games and 46 plate appearances, which really does not tell us much. After all, when May 2017 began, Buxton was hitting .147 with a .433 OPS. Did you send him to free agency at that point, and then did you watch another fantasy manager enjoy the exciting second half?

Expectations on Buxton are rather high because it is clear the tools are there for success. The speedy Buxton is tall, thin and possessing top-notch defensive skills and instincts, but unfortunately, he remains a work in progress at the plate. After the All-Star break last season Buxton hit .300 with 11 of his 16 home runs and was a perfect 13-for-13 in stolen bases, so if you are wondering why he was a sixth-round selection in ESPN ADP, that is why. He is 24, and most of us think he can still improve. Buxton is frustrating and suddenly available in more than a third of ESPN standard leagues, but he is quite the paradox.

Watching Buxton struggle to recognize what Angels right-hander Garrett Richards was throwing his way on Thursday is something we have learned to deal with. Buxton took a called third strike in his first at-bat, then he swung wildly at an 0-2 slider in the sixth inning. Richards fanned him that time on three pitches, all sliders. Richards is good, but still, Buxton was overmatched.

The third at-bat was against right-hander Keynan Middleton, himself in his first game back from a DL stint, and Buxton was better recognizing four-seam fastballs. He drew a 3-1 count against a wild pitcher, fouled off a pitch and ultimately walked. Buxton can do this. He can also hit for modest power, and there is little question he can run. Perhaps fantasy managers simply want consistency, and I get that. It might never come.

However, as I peer at the list of top-100 selections in ADP who are available in more than a third of leagues, his name sticks out. What has really changed from 2017? ESPN Fantasy projected 20 home runs, 30 steals and a .256 batting average. Those numbers are aggressive across the board in comparison to other sites, but mainly for volume of playing time. Buxton has not been the most durable fellow, and he has shown that already in 2017. Still, he has also shown some of his immense offensive upside, as he altered his stance last summer and it worked.

Sure, it would be nice if Buxton can keep the strikeouts in check, and that might result in a better lineup spot as well. We would also like to see better plate discipline, which would in theory result in more chances for stolen bases, and as for the health, that is problematic. I cannot tell you if Buxton will surpass 500 plate appearances. I think he can, since he did so last season; if so, the numbers of a top-25 outfielder could result. Buxton finished last season as the No. 37 outfielder on the Player Rater. He is 24 years old. He can do better. As bench stashes go, Buxton seems like one of the best around.

Just to be thorough, by my count there are four other players who were top 100 in ADP and are available in at least 33 percent of ESPN standard leagues. The obvious choice is Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager. His season is over. Then there is Buxton, Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig at No. 89, and then it is Texas Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor and Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Domingo Santana. I simply cannot justify these other players being so available. Each has proved to be an offensive asset.

I blogged about Puig Thursday. He is healthy. Odor could come off the DL Friday, and while he might never win a batting title with that miserable plate discipline, the lure of many home runs combined with steals is legit. Santana is off to a terrible start, but I think now is the perfect time to invest. He had 30 home runs and 15 steals! It was not a fluke! Pardon the exclamation points, if you will, but we all had ample reason to regard Buxton, Puig, Odor and Santana as top-100 fantasy options.

We have not even hit Mother's Day yet. Be patient.

Oh, and call your mother on Sunday.

Thursday recap

Box scores

Highlights:

Kyle Seager, 3B, Seattle Mariners: 2-for-5, 2 HR, 5 RBI

Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta Braves: 5-for-5, HR, 2 RBI

Trey Mancini, 1B/OF, Baltimore Orioles: 3-for-5, HR, 3 R

Vince Velasquez, SP, Philadelphia Phillies: 6 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 12 K, win

Miles Mikolas, SP, St. Louis Cardinals: 6 2/3 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, win

Lowlights:

Matt Carpenter, 1B/3B, St. Louis Cardinals: 0-for-4, 3 K

Adam Duvall, OF, Cincinnati Reds: 0-for-4, 3 K

Ian Kennedy, SP, Kansas City Royals: 4 IP, 8 H, 9 ER, 2 BB, 4 K

J.A. Happ, SP, Toronto Blue Jays: 3 1/3 IP, 10 H, 7 ER, 2 BB, 3 K

Jose Berrios, SP, Minnesota Twins: 5 1/3 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 2 K

Thursday takeaways:

• Phillies outfielder Odubel Herrera continues to hit -- and reach base -- and has moved into the top 50 on the ESPN Player Rater. One might think Herrera should rank better than No. 27 among the hitters, but his main statistical asset so far has been batting average. Five home runs is nice, but I doubt he reaches 20 blasts. His career best is 15. Herrera has been successful on half of his four stolen base attempts, so he is nothing special there and not looking like the eager runner from 2016 who stole 25. This is about batting average and contact rate, and Herrera has, of course, been fortunate to enjoy a .396 BABIP, but he has also had stretches of excellence before. It might seem obvious to some to sell on a versatile, but perhaps overrated statistical provider who cannot hit .353 for long, and I would not argue that. But I do think Herrera can hit .300 from here on out -- his career mark is .293 -- and flirt with 20 home runs and 15 steals. That would work.

• The Orioles offer a decent lineup with Jonathan Schoop and Mark Trumbo off the DL, and it is about time those fellows and others produce. Fantasy managers are moving on from Schoop, the safe second baseman who hit 32 home runs last season, which is ridiculous. He bats cleanup for a big league team with power. All the talk emanating from this club might be about when shortstop Manny Machado gets dealt, and this offense cannot fix the underwhelming pitching staff, but I do expect Orioles hitters to gain in value. I like Mancini leading off, although I do not see other options. Trumbo and Chris Davis are shells of what they used to be, but 70 home runs between them would not shock. Kennedy is in shock after his ERA ballooned to 4.61. Remember when it was 2.92 a day ago? Good times.

• Cardinals right-hander Mikolas continues to impress and joined Rick Porcello as the lone pitchers with five wins and nary a defeat. That means little, but it is a fact. Mikolas is hardly an overpowering sort, but as with Porcello, if you can strike hitters out and make them earn trips to the bases, it means everything. Mikolas has walked three hitters in 46 2/3 innings, with 35 strikeouts. It is not an impressive K rate, but a 0.96 WHIP is awesome. Mikolas might be able to sustain the walk rate to some degree, but he is hittable and has been a bit fortunate so far. This is not someone likely to finish with an ERA of 2.51. His FIP is a run higher, and while that does not mean Mikolas should finish with a mark like that, and thus be considerably worse from here on out, I expect a mid-3s option. The wins make Mikolas perhaps greater trade bait than he should be.

Injuries of note:

Washington Nationals outfielder Adam Eaton had ankle surgery, and it could be months before we see him back on the field. How frustrating for him and others who have been patient. Eaton can clearly be a fantasy factor, but the Nationals do not know if he will play again this season. No worries. They have Matt Adams! OK, so we jest, but the Nationals do have a path for Adams to keep on playing. Victor Robles is hurt. Soto is too young. Eaton should be one of the most dropped players this weekend, and I cannot argue it. As for 2019, Eaton will have barely played the previous two seasons but could easily resume top-20 outfielder status, although he surely will not be drafted that way, if drafted at all.

• Cardinals right-hander Carlos Martinez, the No. 17 starting pitcher on the Player Rater, is on the DL with a lat strain, and while this injury tends to keep pitchers sidelined more than a week, the Cardinals claim this injury is no big deal. Obviously, keep Martinez rostered. He might even start next week. I have to assume this clears a path for talented right-hander Jack Flaherty, but the Cardinals could be coy about this.

Closing time:

• As noted earlier, the Angels got Middleton back into the bullpen but right-hander Jim Johnson was summoned for the save. He has experience in the role and has pitched capably this season. I expect Middleton to get the next save chance, but it is telling that Johnson is likely next in line and not Cam Bedrosian or forgotten Blake Parker. Meanwhile, Milwaukee turned to right-hander Jeremy Jeffress, giving Corey Knebel and Josh Hader the day off, and it went fine. I think Knebel is back closing this weekend, but Jeffress has pitched well and remains in the picture, with Hader likely staying in a multi-inning role. None of his five saves has been standard one-inning variety. And finally, the Cardinals have Greg Holland setting up a healthy Bud Norris. It was not supposed to be that way, but I think it remains this way until Norris struggles or gets hurt again, and that, of course, could happen any day.

W2W4:

• Such interesting starting pitchers this weekend: We start with Friday, when the Reds unveil recent acquisition Matt Harvey at Dodger Stadium against Kenta Maeda. What could go wrong? Harvey's problem this season was not the team he competed for, but rather it is his arm. Ignore it in fantasy. I also cannot make any case for Blue Jays right-hander Aaron Sanchez against the Red Sox, and I am confused as to why Sanchez is walking everyone and not missing enough bats. This is not the 2016 version. He should be a fantasy free agent at this point.

• Saturday's slate is highlighted Red Sox lefty David Price, free of video games we presume, facing the Blue Jays. Hey, I could not find many reasons to invest in Price this season. He was hurt last season, and his prized left arm still isn't right. This entire saga seems ridiculous. Go with Braves rookie Michael Soroka at Miami instead.

• Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN features, yet again, Washington right-hander Jeremy Hellickson. Just what mothers want on their big day! We jest about Hellickson, but he did bring a perfect game into the seventh inning of his most recent outing, but since it happened in San Diego, it did not mean as much as it would anywhere else. Look, this 2.28 ERA is going to double. Soon. Do not invest. Watch the game anyway because Bryce Harper might not be long for the leadoff role (.184 batting average there, only two walks in 40 PA), Zack Godley needs to stop walking people and the Diamondbacks can hit. They will hit. Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there!