It’s become part of the rhythm of a baseball season. Mike Trout will tweak something, or leave a game early, and every baseball fan will sigh, and wonder why they can’t have nice things. We all feel deprived of something when Trout misses a large chunk of time. This will also happen whenever Shohei Ohtani misses a start or leaves a game early. You heard a similar rumble of ennui when it was announced that Fernando Tatis Jr. was going to miss months, just as you did last year when his shoulder started getting spongy.
But when Byron Buxton gets hurt, nary a ripple. Because that’s expected. It would actually be a surprise if Buxton ever completes a full season’s workload, given that he’s only done it once in seven years.
And yet the size of the miss is the same. At least Buxton seems intent on proving that when he is on the field lately.
Last year, in just about a third of the season that he was healthy, Buxton was the best player in baseball. Even just playing 61 games, Buxton ranked in the top 35 in WAR, whether you go by FanGraphs or Baseball Reference. He was a dervish. FanGraphs had him saving the fourth-most defensive runs in that pittance of 61 games in center field. He was an orgy of power and defense.
But…61 games. That’s always the rub. He’s already missed some time this year, and had a scare on his knee last week. But then, there’s also this:
That’s 469 feet of walk-off homer, as Liam Hendriks grooved a fastball on 3-1 in the 10th. No matter what you have your volume at on your computer or phone, the crack of that contact comes through and punches you in the brain.
That wasn’t all Buxton did yesterday, as he’d homered earlier in the game to tie it at 3-3. On Saturday, he went 4-for-4 with a homer and a double and two RBI. Sure, it helps Buxton’s cause that the White Sox are currently under some sort of Anansi curse and are managed by a barely sentient collection of liver spots, who for some reason was more afraid of Luis Arraez than Buxton yesterday in that 10th inning. But luck can only get you the platform, you still have to use it.
Buxton has a 1.200 OPS at the moment and already has been worth 1.1 fWAR in just nine games, which would have him on pace for a 10-WAR season, a territory in which only the true gods walk. Also, no one’s hitting the ball harder than Buxton at the moment, averaging 96.6 MPH on his exit velocity. And according to StatCast, he’s already provided the Twins with two outs above average in the field.
But of course, no one’s counting on that. Buxton has never been able to stay on the field. He just provides glimpses. Except those glimpses are of the most exciting player in the game. People sometimes bemoan Trout’s lack of pizzazz, a lack of swagger. They wonder what more good he could do for the game if he just had a personality. Well, he’d be Byron Buxton. The comparisons to Eric Davis have faded, mostly due to how long ago Davis was on and off the field for the Reds. But it’s still the most fitting, especially with how rarely Buxton actually makes it to the post.
But there is a thrash to his game that is unmatched. It’s loud. Just give us one full season so we can know the noise, Byron and baseball gods.
Speaking of baseball gods, they truly are a devious cult, given that they keep giving us Angel Hernandez behind the plate. Here are some highlights:
Kyle Schwarber couldn’t take it anymore when he was rung up by Hernandez in the 9th of Philly’s 1-0 loss to the Brewers last night:
Hernandez’s inability to keep his strike zone from being amoeba-shaped is hardly a secret, and fans and players have been bemoaning it for years. So how does he keep ending up behind the plate? Who’s evaluating this? Do they have any teeth to do something about it? We all see it, everybody knows, and yet nothing changes.
Save us, robo umps. You’re our only hope.