Buxton is red-hot ... but is he the best player in MLB?

April 28th, 2022

Twins center fielder  is off to a red-hot start, destroying nearly every pitch coming his way (mostly fastballs), while compiling a 1.232 OPS in 11 games. He also launched a walk-off moonshot that left us all wondering -- is this finally going to be his year?

Maybe it will be, but we’re more focused on what’s in front of us, today. MLB.com gathered a group of analysts to debate: Is Buxton the best player in the game right now?

Alyson Footer, moderator/editor: Let’s lead off with this fun stat from our Twins beat reporter, Do-Hyoung Park: When Buxton has been on the field for the Twins since the start of the 2019 season, his club owns a 125-73 record, which roughly translates to a 103-win pace over a 162-game campaign.

When he hasn’t been on the field in that time? The Twins are 94-109, good for a 75-win pace.

That seems to be a good place to start the debate: Is Buxton the best player in the world RIGHT NOW?

Mark Feinsand, executive reporter: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Until Buxton shows he can stay on the field for 150 games in a season on a regular basis, I just can’t bring myself to go there.

Also, team success is not always indicative of how good a player is. See: Trout, Mike.

Mike Petriello, analyst: No, because Juan Soto is.

Sarah Langs, reporter/editor: What Mike said!

Anthony Castrovince, reporter/columnist: Buxton might be the most valuable player RIGHT NOW. Beyond what you just shared, I saw this note from MLB Network: Buxton had a 296 wRC+ in his first 41 plate appearances. The rest of the Twins had an 85 wRC+ in 543 plate appearances.

But Mark's right. Let's not do this to ourselves.

Petriello: Mark's 100% right about Buxton's health being a primary concern. Now, to look at Trout's recent IL log ...

Feinsand: I wasn’t arguing that Trout has been able to stay healthy of late. But during his first 10 years, his performance has not been in line with that of the Angels.

Footer: So the sentiment is yes, Buxton is great, but he can't be the greatest because of his injury proneness?

Langs: I think this comes down to the word "best" vs. another term. Most electric? Absolutely -- especially until Ohtani starts hitting homers again. Best … impact? Definitely, based on the numbers above. But best is so tough -- there are so many outstanding players.

Castrovince: I find it stunning how good this guy is whenever he's actually on the field. There rarely even seems to be any build-up time once Buxton comes off the IL. He just shows up and delivers ... then gets hurt again.

But no, he can't be the best player based on such a limited sample. Otherwise, the best player in baseball at any given moment is the Player of the Week or Player of the Month.

Petriello: It's about potential, right? If Buxton stays healthy for 150 [games], then yes, I think he would be better, because he's still a truly elite defensive outfielder (Trout is average to below at this point), a better baserunner and not that much worse a hitter. If we're talking just hitting, give me Trout. If we're talking the overall package, give me Buxton.

Feinsand: Buxton is arguably the most fun player to watch right now. He does things on the field that make your jaw drop. If he’s able to stay healthy all year, he should be in the MVP mix. But that’s a big if.

Footer: How long does Buxton need to do this in order to qualify for the best player RIGHT NOW?

Castrovince: Sixteen more days.

Feinsand: I would say he needs to do it for the entire first half.

Petriello: A 500-plate appearance season.

Feinsand: Actually, I like Mike’s answer better.

Petriello: Me, too.

Langs: I think people will want to see a full season. Nobody is questioning that he has the potential to be the best player. The question is just how long we see it for.

Petriello: If he has a 500-PA season, he's a 10 WAR player. That's historic, borderline unprecedented, just because of how good the all-around game is.

Feinsand: Now you sound like our buddy Jeff Passan, who predicted Buxton would be a 10-WAR player this year.

Langs: He is that player, if healthy!

Petriello: Well, I don't think it will happen, because I don't think he'll play enough, but I absolutely believe if he's healthy, he can reach that rarified air.

Feinsand: It would also help if the Twins were contenders all year, because more people would be seeing his immense talent on a regular basis.

Castrovince: Buxton had the most interesting extension situation I can remember. I'm glad the Twins got it done, but that could not have been easy to calculate for them.

Feinsand: The Buxton contract made perfect sense for both sides. Given his talent, it’s a great deal for the Twins as long as he stays healthy. Given his health history, it was also a sensible deal for Buxton.

Castrovince: Remember, Buxton slashed .427/.466/.897 last April. We probably could have done this exact same roundtable then.

Langs: When we entered awards season last year, I wanted to tweet a Wander Franco note, and I found this:

Most WAR as position player in a season with 70 or fewer games played (AL/NL since 1900):
Byron Buxton (2021): 4.5
Eddie Stanky (1948): 3.9
Luis Robert (2021): 3.6
Mookie Betts (2020): 3.6
Billy Southworth (1918): 3.6
Wander Franco (2021): 3.5
Buddy Lewis (1945): 3.5

Look at that distance between Buxton and Stanky!

Footer: Maybe we're jumping the gun a little bit because we're so happy that Buxton is having this type of start to the season. We've been hoping for this for quite some time, right? His injuries always seemed to sting a little more, given the potential.

Petriello: Let's ask it a different way. We're all agreeing he's phenomenal and that health is the roadblock. Given health, would he be the best player in the sport? I say yes. Better than Soto (who is currently the best).

Castrovince: I still think Mike Trout is the best player in the sport -- given health -- until he's not. I respect my elders.

Or maybe that guy who pitches and hits. He's pretty good.

Footer: A 469-foot walk-off homer apparently did its job. Now we can't stop talking about Buxton, and we’re at least debating anointing someone else the best player on the planet.

Langs: The longest walk-off homer in Statcast history (since 2015)! This planet has such good baseball players. I feel badly for other planets.

Feinsand: Buxton currently ranks in the top 3 percent of the league in hard-hit rate, average exit velocity, xSLG, barrel percentage and more. He’s incredible. He needs to work on those strikeout and walk rates, as well as his propensity to chase pitches out of the zone, but there’s no denying how good he is.

The most amazing thing on his Statcast page is this: He’s in the 6th percentile for outfielder jump, yet the 88th percentile for Outs Above Average.

Petriello: I wouldn't read too much into that yet -- it's super early and he missed time.

Langs: I like Castro’s point earlier regarding Buxton’s 2021 April. He HAS done this. THIS is what he does. So we return to … can he do it for 500 plate appearances? That’s where I go in circles.

Footer: Can we agree on who the actual best player RIGHT NOW is?

Feinsand: Juan Soto. And he has only three more RBIs than I do.

Langs: Juan Soto. Mike Trout. Ohtani on the mound.

Feinsand: There’s another player who has trouble staying healthy who could enter the best player conversation if he can play 150 games: Fernando Tatis Jr.

Petriello: Juan Soto over the last three years has 204 walks and 133 strikeouts, which would make me laugh extremely hard if he wasn't also slugging .561 to go with it. I guess the right answer is probably Ohtani, just because of the incredible two-way feat he's pulled off.

Castrovince: Mike Trout is leading the Majors in OPS. Again. Because he's upright. Again, Mike Trout is the best until he's not.

Feinsand: Trout is still only 30 years old. How is that even possible?

Castrovince: All we've done for the last decade is compare other players to Mike Trout. And the person we're comparing him to changes all the time.

Feinsand: Great point, Castro. When the annual exercise is “Has (fill in the blank) overtaken Mike Trout as the game’s best player?” it probably means that Trout is still the best player.

Castrovince: The only guy who has given me pause in those comparisons is Ohtani, because he's simply unique. But I'm still deferring to Trout.

Footer: So by my calculation, we have zero "yes" votes on Buxton being the best player RIGHT NOW.

Petriello: Check back in five months.

Feinsand: Ohtani is incredible. But I want to see him put together another season like 2021 before I put him above Trout.

Footer: So if Buxton’s still doing this at the All-Star break, whose mind will be changed?

Langs: Depends what Soto, Trout and Ohtani are doing.

Feinsand: It depends. If Trout is still slashing .347/.458/.776, it might not matter.

Castrovince: If he's doing this at the All-Star break, put him in bubble wrap and ship him to Los Angeles.

Footer: So, in conclusion, longevity matters.

Feinsand: It’s funny ... I’m not even sure a 500-AB season would change anyone’s mind. We need to see Buxton put two or three healthy seasons together before the injury stigma starts to disappear.