You may know that the Twins center fielder was the fastest player in baseball by Statcast speed metric in 2017.
Perhaps more impressive: 30 times were taken off to the bases by Buxton and was caught stealing only once. A more in-depth look at his season will tell you that his 29 steals are the third most by a runner that was captured only once, behind Carlos Beltran in 2001 and Brady Anderson in 1994 (31 each). Chase Utley’s 23 steals in 2009 would be without being captured at all the most.
However, you’ll have to go to the movie to realize that on the 1 event Buxton was thrown out, he made it to base his record blemished because his hand slipped off the bottom.
He’s not fast. He is fast in a way that tears at the seams of the match.
Buxton always gets from his standstill lead into the base in 3.5-4 seconds. How are defenses supposed to fit the pitcher’s delivery the catcher’s throw and the tag in there, while understanding what they’re up against? The average Major League catcher’s pop time on a steal of second in 2017 — by the ball hitting his mitt to hitting the center of the bag — was 2.01 seconds, leaving less than two seconds for the pitcher’s delivery, the pitch and the tag at second.
Using the attempts let us try to figure out what, if anything, catchers and opposing pitchers can do to slow Buxton down.
Speed up. Slow down.
Slowing once he is removed, Buxton down is an impossibility. So instead, pitchers and catchers must try to delay his break, or accelerate their usual routine. This is not a novel idea, it’s the basic assumption of controlling the game. The issue is, the version doesn’t really work against Buxton.
He had to cope with Buxton on base in August. He kept his eyes focused on and started his delivery that it mimics what a pickoff move would look like.
It works. Buxton’s 19.8-foot secondary guide — measured at the moment the pitcher releases the ball — is one of the shortest of last year. It didn’t pan out in this case as Buxton got to second in time to pop up when an errant throw bounded to the 34, and run to third party.
Pitchers have a much harder task. In May, Orioles starter Chris Tillman dealt with Buxton by using an abbreviated leg kick that led to the speedster’s shortest secondary lead on any attempt that drew a throw — 18.9 feet, well below the MLB average for attempted steals of second (21.2 ft) and Buxton’s 2017 average (21.9 ft). Had catcher Caleb Joseph’s true throw been fielded the O’s might have caught him again.
One thing that ends your chances of grabbing Buxton is a ball in the dirt. But are pitchers willing to modify their strategy to the hitter at the plate for an chance?
The way to prevent the dirt is to throw fastballs. Statcast™ indicates that MLB pitchers threw fastballs 62 percent of their time with a runner on first and second base open — a little uptick from the overall fastball rate. Runners have some incentive to go on offspeed pitches which are slower, and more difficult to handle.
Only 14 of the 30 attempts of Buxton came in 2017 on fastballs. Both nearest calls of the season came on elevated four-seamers that allowed for blistering 1.91-second pop times. The Indians’ battery of Mike Clevinger and Yan Gomes appeared to have nabbed him only to have their work.
Keeping the pitches increased, and straight, provides catchers with an improved chance of creating an accurate throw and popping out of their crouch. There could be a major problem with that approach.
Face better Twins hitters.
Throwing more fastballs to dangerous hitters is not likely to help anything. According to Baseball-Reference, Buxton took the base than any other runner who played a 2017 season. To put it differently, he was the baserunner to score from second on one, or from first on a double.
Why is that important? Five times a double was hit on first with Buxton. He scored all five occasions. Out of the 16 times one was struck on second, he scored on 13 of them.
Why steal second with no outs and Brian Dozier? Perhaps although speedy Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton was caught at four times — Buxton didn’t try to steal third at all last year.
Unfortunately for the American League, from running the game’s object isn’t to keep Buxton. If the 24-year-old continues to blossom in the plate, the Twins could put him in front of better hitters with a better prospect of dropping a hit in, creating fewer occasions to take the risk of stealing, but even more opportunities to score.
Pray for rain.
When all else fails, look to the skies, right? Buxton stole second. Catcher Welington Castillo, who got credit the next night for Buxton’s one caught stealing, unleashes a powerful throw — 83.2 miles — that would have made for a rather close play if handled cleanly.
While it was nothing to remark upon in the moment, Buxton’s 28.7 feet/second sprint speed was his slowest top speed of the year on efforts involving throws. Being we’re in the business of searching for things that slowed Buxton down, this is well worth investigating.
Buxton’s lead is also shorter than average, but there’s no hesitation. Instead is the dirt. The dirt is an especially dark shade of brown — bringing to mind the gamesmanship of old-time groundskeepers who would tailor the grass and dirt into their team’s advantage. This was nothing of that sort that is deliberate. It was only the rain.