Hit it anywhere near Buxton, you'll regret it

May 1st, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS -- may have had an offensive month for the ages, but it's only fitting that he capped off his MVP-caliber April with a pair of highlight-reel defensive plays.

It's nothing personal against Royals left fielder Andrew Benintendi, who was the unfortunate victim of both catches during the Twins' 9-1 victory on Friday night at Target Field.

You just never know when the defensive talent that earned Buxton the 2017 American League Platinum Glove Award will strike next.

"When Byron is in the lineup, when he's in center field, we feel great pitching because we know whatever line drives, we're always thinking that he has the opportunity to catch the ball," starting pitcher Michael Pineda said. "Byron is unbelievable in center field."

Buxton first struck in the fifth inning, when Benintendi lifted a sinking line drive to shallow center off Pineda. From his starting position in deep center, Buxton sprinted in, covering 68 feet in 4.1 seconds, before he made a full-extension dive -- cap flying off his head -- to snare the ball just before it hit the ground.

Buxton reached a sprint speed of 29.2 ft./sec., covering 68 feet in 4.1 seconds, to snare the fifth-inning liner, hit with a 35% catch probability. The four-star catch was Buxton's third at four or five stars this season, tying him for the Major League lead in that category with the Rays' Manuel Margot. Buxton has 43 such catches since 2016, seventh most in the Majors.

"I think the biggest thing for me coming in is keeping my head just balanced a little bit more as I'm coming in, just because I know I'm trying to close in on this ball a little bit quicker," Buxton said. "So I tend to think, run on my toes a little more running in, because that keeps me a little bit level."

Buxton wasn't done. In the seventh, Benintendi lifted a fly ball to deep center field off Hansel Robles.

Big mistake. Benintendi should have known better. That's where Buxton plays.

The center fielder ranged back to deep left-center field, and with left fielder Luis Arraez loudly telling Buxton where he was on the field, Buxton perfectly slowed in anticipation of the wall, pulled up, jumped and made a leaping catch before a controlled collision with the wall.

According to Statcast, the ball carried an expected batting average of .800. But expected batting average can't adjust for Buxton.

"All I've got to do is stay off the wall and catch the ball, so I did both of those," Buxton said. "It was just one of those where, off the bat, with the way that the temperature was dropping, I kind of knew the ball wasn't going out, so I had Arraez right there to kind of guide me a little bit."

Arraez's contribution here is no insignificant feat, considering these plays have posed injury risks to Buxton throughout his career. But he's no worse for the wear -- which is more important now than ever, considering how he's hitting.

Buxton entered the night tied for the Major League lead in homers, with eight, and his .938 slugging percentage also paced the big leagues. He was coming off a 5-for-5 day in Cleveland -- with a homer and a stolen base -- and followed that with a single and walk to begin his Friday, marking eight straight plate appearances reaching base and seven consecutive at-bats with a hit.

He added another steal on Friday, his third of the season, again using his speed as an offensive weapon.

There's no hole in Buxton's game right now -- hitting, power, speed, defense, arm -- it's all there. He entered Friday as the Majors' leader in WAR, according to both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference and finished the game with a .426/.466/.897 batting line. This is the best possible form of Buxton the Twins hoped for when they selected him with the second overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft.

"Defensively and offensively, you've got to separate the two, because you can take a bad at-bat to the outfield and make an error," Buxton said. "So it's just one of those where defensively, I leave it on the defense side."

And still, he's doing it all at an elite level.