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How Byron Buxton Shed a Crippling Slump To Help Push the Twins Toward the Playoffs

cheap mlb jerseys australia time The numbers were nothing pretty; Byron Buxton Jerseys knew that much. It was the last week of June, the Twins had just finished a series against the Red Sox and Minnesota’s 23-year-old centerfielder had come up empty over and over again. In 11 at-bats in Boston, Buxton managed only one hit—an RBI single dunked into leftfield—and struck out four times, all swinging. The sorry showing dumped his season batting average below .200; the four whiffs brought him up to 80 in just 248 trips to the plate on the year. It seemed like the same sad story from last season: The former No. 1 prospect again looked overwhelmed by a game that he was supposed to be dominating.

 

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Since making his major league debut two years earlier, Buxton had known nothing but struggle and failure, and as the pressure to perform built, his urge to tinker would increase. A change in his swing, a tweak to his mechanics, the addition and subtraction and then re-addition of a leg kick … Buxton cycled through potential solutions, picking up and discarding adjustments like a college freshman shopping classes. Yet nothing seemed to work. As a high school phenom, the sport had come easy. Now, he struggled to make sense of it. “You feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, especially when it happens day after day after day,” he says. “It’s very hard to try to find something good out of that.”

 

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After a horrible first month of the season, Buxton and new Twins hitting coach James Rowson had started working on a series of changes to his stance and swing. As the weeks went by and the strikeouts piled up, it would have been easy to understand if Buxton had ditched the new mechanics and started from scratch once more. But as he talked things over with Rowson after that awful series at Fenway Park, there was no sense of panic or frustration. Those 11 at-bats may have resulted in just one measly single, but to Buxton, they were the beginning of something promising.

 

all jersey baseball and softball images “I was like, J-Ro, something feels different,” he says. “I’m starting to feel what my legs are actually supposed to do and what the pitcher’s trying to do to me. The game just got so much slower for me. I started understanding what people were telling me about my swing. That’s when I really took off.” “Took off” is an understatement. Since the beginning of July, Buxton is hitting a scalding .315/.365/.571 with 12 home runs in 225 plate appearances. His .939 OPS since the All-Star break, meanwhile, tops big-name sluggers like Kris Bryant Jerseys, Eric Hosmer Jerseys, Nelson Cruz Jerseys and Gary Sanchez Jerseys. And his huge second half is one of the top reasons why the Twins, coming off a 103-loss 2016 season and left for dead at the trade deadline, have surged into postseason contention as the second wild card.

 

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“When I get in the batter’s box, I have amazing amounts of comfort and confidence,” Buxton says. “Anything close to the plate, I feel like I can get a hit.” From the day he was drafted as the No. 2 pick in 2012 out of a small Georgia high school as a five-tool superstar, the Twins and baseball fans have been waiting for this moment: the breakout of Byron Buxton Jerseys. The kid who hit .513 and stole 38 bases in 39 games as a senior, who in 2013 was the consensus top prospect in all of baseball at the age of 19, who reached the big leagues at 21 with so much hype piled on him that it was a wonder he could stand up straight … MLB had seen only flashes of that player. The Gold Glove-caliber defense has been there; so has the game-changing speed. But both have been buried beneath countless miserable at-bats full of confused, lost swings.

 

cheap mlb jerseys australia time The transition to the majors for any player is tough enough, but most of them don’t carry the weight of a franchise on their shoulders. So it was for Buxton, tasked with bringing back to relevance a Twins team that hadn’t made the playoffs since 2009, hadn’t advanced past the first round since ’02, and hadn’t won a World Series since 1991, two years before Buxton was born. Buxton was part of a youth movement that was supposed to form the core of the next Minnesota contender sooner rather than later, and the pressure for him to contribute right from day one was significant.

 

“Even though I would tell myself that the pressure doesn’t bother me, it’s still in the back of your head,” he says. “It spiraled downhill.” Translating everything that had made him so good in high school and in the minors to the majors felt impossible. Buxton’s 2016 season lasted all of 17 games and 49 plate appearances in which he hit .156 and struck out 24 times before he was sent back down to Triple A in late April. When he was recalled at the end of May, he hit .204 over the next two months before being demoted again. Even when things were going well, he knew it wouldn’t last. Last September, he climbed out of his season-long slump by hitting .287/.357/.653 and homering nine times in 29 games. But his success was built on a hot streak that he couldn’t control or fully understand.

 

“Even though it was good, I still wouldn’t have been able to tell you what I was doing,” Buxton says. “I was hitting the ball and seeing the ball, but I wouldn’t have been able to tell you if I were using my legs or if my hands were in a certain spot.” As expected, the strong September finish didn’t carry over into April, but it wasn’t just that the results weren’t there. Watch any of his early-season at-bats, and you’ll see a player struggling with every aspect of hitting. “He was spinning off the ball so badly, his recognition phase was almost nil, and the bat was in and out of the zone so quickly that he didn’t have a chance to hit anything that was away from him, especially if it was breaking away,” says manager Paul Molitor. Things got so bad in those first two months that he and the Twins’ front office discussed sending Buxton down to Triple A yet again.

 

“Part of the conversation I remember having with [general manager] Thad [Levine] and [chief baseball officer] Derek [Falvey] is how much can we beat this kid up here?” Molitor says. “He was still helping us win games—it was incredible the way he was able to separate the offense and defense. But as strong as he is mentally, eventually you’re going to reach a breaking point.”

 

As the team tried to figure out what to do with Buxton, he and Rowson worked on a fix. The first thing to go was his leg kick, which he had been using on and off since 2015: Rowson ditched it, hoping to create increased stability in Buxton’s lower half to allow him to drive the ball to all fields. He also had Buxton close his stance slightly, choke up more on the bat, and change his setup so his bat was down on his shoulders instead of pointing straight up, putting his hands more in sync with his hips and legs. “It allows him to put short, more accurate swings on the baseball,” Rowson says of the changes.

 

The numbers weren’t immediately there, but Molitor could tell something was different. “You could see that he’s not chasing that slider nearly as much, that he’s taking that fastball and hitting it to the right-center gap,” he says. “Just baby steps at first.” For Buxton, the changes helped slow the game down; for the first time in his major league career, he felt in charge of his at-bats. “I’ve got a feeling of what it’s supposed to be like and how it’s supposed to feel,” he says. “I can tell you with one pitch whether I was out front or was on my backside too long or didn’t get my hips through.”

 

Buxton has never struggled with any other aspect of his game. There are few if any players who can touch him with the glove: With every new Statcast number that charts outfield defense comes a leaderboard that always seems to have his name at the top. Likewise with his legs: He owns MLB’s top Sprint Speed at 30.2 feet per second, as well as the game’s fastest time from first to third on a triple—a blazing 10.52 seconds. Those skills have helped him stay moderately productive even despite his putrid offense. What’s truly scary to think about it is how good he can be if his breakout is for real. “He’d be a dangerous guy to put a ceiling on, because if you do, he’s probably going to go through it,” Rowson says.

 

There are many factors in the Twins’ sudden success: The development of hulking slugger Miguel Sano Jerseys; the emergence of power-hitting outfielder Eddie Rosario Jerseys; the maturation of hard-throwing righty Jose Berrios. But Minnesota’s success is always going to hinge most on Buxton, because his upside is so much higher than virtually everyone else in the game. He’s the nearly finished Death Star in Return of the Jedi, and he’s tantalizingly close to being fully armed and operational.

 

There will still likely be hiccups as Buxton develops: He entered Thursday’s action hitless in his last 10 at-bats with seven strikeouts as the Yankees unceremoniously swept the Twins in the Bronx. He’s likely to get a second chance at doing better in the House that Ruth Built if Minnesota can hold off the Angels for the second wild card and return to face New York in the wild-card game. But playoffs or not, there is hope that the real Byron Buxton Jerseys has finally shown up—and now, he finally has the numbers on his side.

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The Astros’ Justin Verlander Trade Violated Their Philosophy … And May Win Them the Pennant

cheap mlb jerseys outlet reviews Among the least consequential effects of Hurricane Harvey, which tore through Texas in the last week of August, was that it nearly scuppered the biggest trade of this baseball season—the type of deal the analytically driven Astros weren’t supposed to make.

 

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On Aug.?25, Jeff?Luhnow, the Astros’ 51-year-old general manager, left Houston with his wife, Gina, and their three-year-old son, Henry, to accompany the club on a three-game road trip to Anaheim. He had moved his furniture to the second story of their house near Rice. They stayed with Gina’s parents, in west Los?Angeles, but he intended to return to Houston and hunker down with his front office before the waiver-trade deadline, midnight EDT on Aug.?31. It was, in some ways, the most important deadline of his six years as a GM.

 

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The Astros lost 100?games in each of?Luhnow’s?first two seasons, as he initiated a rebuilding effort remarkable for its depth and controversy. Just four years later, as the Angels series began, Houston had the AL’s best record, at 77–50. Still,?Luhnow?needed reinforcements, particularly on the mound. While he had come close to acquiring at least two star relievers at the non-waiver trade deadline a month before, he had emerged with only a middling one, Francisco?Liriano. Rival GMs and baseball analysts assailed him for being too attached to his prospects, and players expressed frustration at his inaction. As No.?1 starter Dallas?Keuchel?put it, “Disappointment is a little bit of an understatement.”

 

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But?Luhnow?wasn’t through. As he watched topflight pitchers debut with their new, contending teams—Yu?Darvish?with the Dodgers, Sonny Gray Jerseys with the Yankees,?José?Quintana?with the Cubs—he kept his eye on the most significant?midseason?prize of all: Justin?Verlander, the Tigers’ 34-year-old ace. Luhnow?had first talked about?Verlander?with Al Avila, his counterpart in Detroit, in July, but they hadn’t come close to a trade. Then things started to change. After a rocky few months?Verlander, the AL’s Cy Young winner and MVP in 2011, had recaptured his old dominance for the rebuilding Tigers, going 4–1 with a 2.36?ERA in his last six games. That—along with a rash of Astros injuries—made?Luhnow?more willing to sacrifice top farmhands to get?Verlander?despite the two $28?million years left on his contract.

 

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The GMs discussed dozens of potential permutations. In?Luhnow’s?estimation, the chances of acquiring?Verlander?fluctuated from as high as 70% to as low as 5%. By the month’s final week he felt his odds were good if he made a final push with the help of his assistants, scouts, analysts and medical staff. As it did for so many?Houstonians, often in far more meaningful ways, Harvey altered his plans.

 

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While his house was undamaged,?Luhnow?couldn’t get home; the airports were closed. So, as his club flew to Tampa to play a relocated series against the Rangers, he stayed in L.A. to negotiate from one of the only spots in his in-laws’ house that receives strong cell service: the dining room table. As?Luhnow’s?son and two young relatives ran screaming circles around him, and he tried to clarify what was happening—“It took me a while to explain to my in-laws that there are kind of two trading deadlines,” he says—he did his best to keep in touch with Avila. By the morning of Aug.?31, though, he felt the probability of an agreement was so low that he scheduled other activities: an appearance at his 11-year-old nephew’s Little League practice, then a date with Gina.

 

The scene in Detroit was more standard. Avila had invited six members of his front office to his house to dine on seafood and yellow rice, his wife’s specialty. They discussed the circumstances under which they would still trade?Verlander, their ace for a dozen years. It would take as much in prospect value as?Luhnow?had ever relinquished. “We genuinely love Justin?Verlander,” Avila says. “Part of us wanted him to stay here and finish his career.”

 

At 5:30 p.m., 3?1?2?hours before the deadline,?Luhnow?arrived at his nephew’s ball field, the same one on which?The?Bad News Bears?was filmed. As he approached the diamond, his cellphone rang. It was Avila. The potential for a?Verlander?trade was not only back on; it was higher than it had been at any point in the last two months. Still,?Luhnow?had a promise to keep. As his mind raced, he addressed a dozen rapt middle schoolers and their coach about the importance of practice. When the event concluded, he sped back to his in-laws’ house.

 

He got there at 7:45—75?minutes before the deadline—and found it filled with people. He had forgotten that Gina’s parents were hosting a dinner party. After a quick explanation—two deadlines!—he rushed upstairs to take what he had intended to be the fastest shower of his life. With the water running, his phone, which unexpectedly had found a signal, rang again. Avila. “We agreed on the deal—the money, the players,”?Luhnow?says. Houston would part with a trio of minor leaguers: outfielder?Daz?Cameron, catcher Jake Rogers and pitcher Franklin Perez, a top Astros prospect who had been off the table in every other potential deal. Avila, reportedly, agreed to pay $8?million per year of the salary still owed?Verlander. “His owner approved it, my owner approved it,” recalls?Luhnow. “I was absolutely thrilled.”

 

There was just one problem. “Have you talked to Justin?”?Luhnow?asked Avila.?Verlander?had a full no-trade clause and had indicated that he wanted to go to the Cubs or the Dodgers. “I’m going to call him now,” Avila said, “and we’re going to send somebody over there.” In fact, Avila—who had mentioned Houston to?Verlander?but hadn’t received an answer on whether he would agree to relocate there—had already dispatched two staffers to sit parked outside the pitcher’s apartment. They had with them, just in case, the documents?Verlander?would need to sign to waive his no-trade clause.

 

After his shower,?Luhnow?went back downstairs to reclaim his cell-friendly spot at the dining table, which was now set for the dinner party, to ensure that everything from the Astros’ side—forms, medical approvals—was in place. Avila called 25 minutes before the deadline. “Justin has not approved the deal,” he said. “It’s not clear which direction that’s going to go.” The dinner guests were filling their plates with food from the kitchen buffet and settling in around Luhnow. “We’ve got four minutes left!” he shouted into his phone to his staff, drawing quizzical glances from the diners. “We’ve got to do this now!”

 

By 9 p.m. PDT—midnight EDT—Luhnow still didn’t know if Verlander had agreed to become an Astro. He did the only sensible thing: went on his date with Gina. Finally, at 9:14, as they sat down at a nearby restaurant, he got a call. It was an executive from the league’s office in New York City. “The deal’s been approved,” the executive said. “But, Jeff, don’t ever put me through that again. We received final verification from Verlander at 11:59 and 58 seconds.” In the morning, Luhnow would speak to his new starter. For now, though, Luhnow ordered a Tito’s vodka and soda, with lime. With two ticks of the clock to spare, and despite obstacles both contractual and natural, he had pulled off a trade that might propel his Astros to a long-awaited championship. But he’d also done something else.

 

Rivals around baseball have often accused?Luhnow, a former management consultant, of being too slavish to his sophisticated forecasting models, which place a premium on young, inexpensive talent. Prospects, in other words. “They don’t give up anything in deals,” an opposing GM complained of the Astros earlier this season. For?Verlander—an older pitcher making a lot of money—Luhnow?had sacrificed potentially 18 controllable seasons from future contributors. If it wasn’t the first move he had made contrary to his data, it was, without a doubt, the most prominent.

 

“The reality is that any economic modeling that includes projections is not going to like a deadline deal, where you’re trading what could be an enormous amount of future value for a decent amount of present value,” says Luhnow. “The math does not support these types of deals. It’s a matter of using your best judgment.” The past six years have confirmed for Luhnow and his staff that while their probabilistic models are useful, they are not infallible. “If anybody tells you they have an idea of what the future looks like, don’t believe them,” says Sig Mejdal, the former NASA engineer who has long been Luhnow’s chief data man. (His title is Special Assistant to the GM, Process Improvement.) “The future is a lot weirder than we can imagine.”

 

In June 2014, when the Astros were still viewed as a laughingstock run by know-it-all baseball outsiders,?Sports Illustrated?put the young outfielder George Springer Jerseys on its cover with a boldly predictive billing: YOUR 2017 WORLD SERIES CHAMPS.?The story described the club’s attempt—after shedding all their expensive assets and starting from scratch—to find success with a mix of traditional scouting and cutting-edge analysis. That Houston made the playoffs in 2015 and is currently a leading contender to win this year’s World Series suggests that everything has gone as planned. It has not.

 

In fact, in the months after that SI issue, nothing seemed to go right. The Astros’ top prospect, Carlos Correa Jerseys, spent the second half of the season on the bench with a broken leg. Springer landed on the DL. Their proprietary database, Ground Control, was revealed to have been hacked—by, it turned out, Chris Correa, a former coworker of Luhnow’s and of several other Houston executives when they were all with the Cardinals. Correa is now serving a 46-month prison sentence for unauthorized access of a protected computer. Luhnow failed to sign the No.?1 pick in the 2014 draft, lefthander Brady Aiken, after the club detected an issue with Aiken’s elbow and decreased its offer to him. One of their minor league stadiums flooded, and another caught on fire.

 

Their assessment of their own players has also been imperfect, as they freely admit. “When we arrived, Dallas Keuchel Jerseys was throwing 87 and walking more than he struck out,” says Mejdal of the 2015 Cy Young winner. “Who would have thought he would turn into this?”

 

Additionally, says Mejdal, “if we ever catch ourselves feeling smart, all we have to do is turn on?SportsCenter.” There, as often as not, they can catch Diamondbacks outfielder J.D.?Martinez hitting another home run—the same J.D.?Martinez whom Houston cut outright in March?2014. Since then he has an OPS (.930) higher than all but six other hitters in the majors. “He’d told us he’d made some changes to his swing that offseason,” says Luhnow, sheepishly. “We didn’t give him enough at bats in spring training to show us. Literally four days after we released him, he’s playing on a back field in Kissimmee against the Astros’ Triple?A team and he hits three home runs. It was like, What did we just do?”

 

Of course, many of their decisions have gone right. Such as drafting Correa—Carlos, not Chris—with the top pick in 2012, which not only gave them a star shortstop but also the financial room to choose starter Lance McCullers Jerseys, now an All?Star, 41st overall. And entrusting the team’s future to Springer and second baseman José Altuve, who is an MVP candidate. And declining to sign Aiken—who would indeed blow out his elbow nine months after the draft—and thus receiving a compensatory pick that they would use the next year on third baseman Alex Bregman, who now has a big?league career WAR of 5.2, nearly double that of any other player drafted in 2015.

 

So far, Verlander has been better than the Astros could have ever imagined. Through Sunday he had made three starts, in which he’s allowed a total of two runs while striking out 26. They were all wins—including Sunday’s, which clinched Houston’s first division title in 16?years. But even the Astros—who have endeavored to turn the art of decision-making into a science, and become winners in a time frame that few found realistic—have relatively little idea if he’ll hold up, even through his next start. Sometimes, you measure a dozen times, cut once, and still fail. Sometimes, you make a multimillion-dollar deal from your in-laws’ dining table, bucking your own data, and it works. “We felt he was going to get them to the World Series and win it—and then they’re going to have a really solid pitcher for two more years,” says Avila. That’s the Astros’ plan, best laid as it is.