Sunday Notes: Buxton, Bucs’ Frazier, Jays, AL Cy Young, more

On September 1, Byron Buxton returned from a stint in Triple-A and proceeded to go 15 for 37 with five home runs over 10 games. Talking to him at the tail end of that stretch, I got a good feel for what was driving his success. The 22-year-old phenom was just playing baseball.

When expectations are sky-high, that’s easier said than done. Buxton was drafted second overall by the Minnesota Twins in 2012, and shortly thereafter he was ordained as the game’s No. 1 prospect. Media attention was heavy. Every success and failure was scrutinized. Being Byron Buxton was burdensome.

That’s slowly changing. Buxton told me that this is “probably the least attention,” he’s received since turning pro. He still feels pressure to perform, but at the same time, it’s easier for him to “not worry about what people are saying, or expecting.”

He admits to pressing early in the season. He also owns up to getting away from what comes natural.

“I started complicating hitting,” said Buxton. “I got to where I was too mechanical and thinking too much in the box. What got me here was trusting my stuff — letting my ability take over — and not worrying about anything. Don’t care about striking out. Don’t worry about what they’re going to throw me. Just be aggressive and attack the fastball.”

Buxton feels that going back to his old see-ball-hit-ball approach — and the leg kick he briefly abandoned — “kind of takes everything off my shoulders and allows me to be myself.” Whether that results in him putting everything together remains to be seen. Buxton cooled off after we spoke, and his slash line is an uninspiring .221/.280/.415. Much like the team he plays for, Buxton had a disappointing season.

But then there’s his birth certificate to consider. Are impatient Twins fans guilty of losing sight of the fact that he’s just 22 years old?

“I don’t know,” said Buxton. “That’s not for me to say. Personally, I don’t really care what people think. I know that I’m not going to be able to do this the rest of my life, so I can’t worry about things that shouldn’t matter. I just need to go out there and have fun, and play baseball.”

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Coming into the season, Adam Frazier was ranked by Baseball America as the No. 27 prospect in the Pirates system. Here at FanGraphs, Dan Farnsworth — opining that he has a high floor — had him at No. 20. He’s surpassing expectations.

BABiP has been his friend. Frazier had a .360 BABiP last year in Double-A, and this year it was .369 in Triple-A before his June call-up. Since reaching Pittsburgh, his BABiP is .345.

When I asked the 24-year-old infielder-outfielder about the sustainability of his balls-in-play numbers, he referenced his approach.

“I just stay inside the baseball and try to hit low line drives,” Frazier told me. “I’m not a big power guy. I’m basically trusting my hands and trying to put the barrel on the ball. I know my identity and that’s what I have to stick with. I need to make things happen.”

Frazier is slashing .297/.352/.407 in 159 big-league plate appearances.

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Mike Napoli is quietly having a solid season in Cleveland. The 34-year-old first baseman has 34 home runs and a team-leading 101 RBI. Along with seeing a lot of pitches, he clears fences. It’s what he does.

“I could sit there and try to hit singles the other way, but that’s not part of my game,” explained Napoli. “I know what I can do — what I can bring to the lineup — and I’m not going to change that.”

I suggested to Napoli that he and Carlos Santana — 34 home runs and a .367 OBP — share a similar power-and-patience approach. After chewing on that for a few seconds, he cited a third party in his response.

“We are a little,” acknowledged Napoli. “He’s a big on-base guy. He takes a lot of walks and can hit for power. As a guy that can get on base and hit for power… David Ortiz does that, too. I’m not comparing them, but they both do that.”

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I’ve been asking people around the game for their thoughts on the soon-to-retire Ortiz. Among those I’ve asked is Toronto reliever Joe Biagini. If you saw the interview I did with him in April — or if you’re a Blue Jays fan otherwise familiar with his quirkiness — you know that Biagini is… let’s just say that he’s one of the game’s great personalities. Here is what the irreverent rookie had to say about the Red Sox icon:

“I don’t know much about him,” said Biagini. “I know he has really good facial hair. He’s a large man. He seems like a nice guy. I have a lot of respect for him, but I wonder what his interests are? Does he like art? Does he play golf? Does he like to fish? As for what he’s done on the field, I guess we all know that.”

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Devon Travis didn’t lose any sleep after Thursday night’s loss to the Orioles. The Toronto infielder has learned that once the game is over, “You shut it off and it’s on to the next one.” Not that it’s always easy. As he admitted on Friday, “Last night’s was a little harder than most because of how important it was.”

A win would have given Toronto a two-game lead over Baltimore for the top Wild Card spot. Instead, the two clubs were dead even going into the weekend.

Travis didn’t play a notable role on in the loss, so no reporters approached him after the game for quotes. He did talk to teammates — “probably half the team” — on the plane ride from Toronto to Boston. There was concern, but no panic.

“It’s not the first series we lost this season, so it was nothing I was going to dwell on,” Travis told me. “You just control what you can control. It does nothing for you to think about (the previous game) and drive yourself crazy.”

The Blue Jays landed in Boston a little before 2 a.m., and Travis estimates that he got to bed around 3 o’clock. He was up by noon and left for the ballpark a few hours later. The upcoming contest was already on his mind. “It’s a big game,” he acknowledged before taking the field.

Travis went 3 for 4 with a pair of doubles that night, but the Blue Jays blew a late lead and lost, 5-3.

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Once upon a time, managers were reluctant to start left-handed pitchers at Fenway Park. It was thought they couldn’t thrive there — or even survive — because of the Green Monster. For the most part, that’s no longer the case. Rotations are rarely shuffled when teams come into Boston.

I brought this up with White Sox manager Robin Ventura. What are his thoughts on southpaws at Fenway?

“I think when they pitch like Chris Sale they can pitch here,” said Ventura. “If you’re good enough… most of it is that you get so many righties and the wall is short. I don’t think anything has necessarily changed, it’s just that you have to be a very good left-handed pitcher to do it.”

So, is it indeed harder?

“Absolutely,” answered Ventura.

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The aforementioned Sale and Boston’s Rick Porcello are among the top contenders for this year’s American League Cy Young award. Neither would top my ballot. Nor would Cleveland’s Corey Kluber. My vote would go to Detroit’s Justin Verlander.

The foursome have similar ERAs and innings totals. Verlander will lead the league in strikeouts, but what tips the scales in his favor in my mind are low-run outings. The Tigers righty has allowed two-or-fewer runs in 22 of his 33 starts, while Kluber has done so in 18 of 32, Sale in 17 of 31, and Porcello in 15 of 33.

Verlander has also had the fewest outings in which he allowed four-or-more runs. He has six such games, while Kluber has nine, and Porcello and Sale have eight each.

Is this the best way to weigh Cy Young worthiness? No, but in a year where no starter has separated himself from the pack, it strikes me as meaningful. It’s certainly a better measure than W-L record.

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What about the closer with a 0.55 ERA and 47 saves in as many chances? As a matter of full disclosure, I came close to typing, “My vote would go to Baltimore’s Zach Britton” in the above section. Very close.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to wrap my head around Britton’s candidacy. A pair of recent conversations — one face-to-face, another on Twitter — stand out.

Mike Petriello brought up how a number of people are supporting Britton (65 innings) yet they aren’t supporting Clayton Kershaw in the NL race because he has only 140 innings.

Brian Kenny asked (paraphrasing him here): How many innings is enough when a pitcher has been perfect? Is it 70? 100? More? At what point does his performance equal, or surpass, a pitcher who has 200-plus innings but hasn’t been as dominant?

Britton hasn’t been perfect — 47 for 47 aside — but he’s obviously been brilliant. Then again, so has Andrew Miller. The Yankee-turned-Indian has a 0.70 WHIP and a 14.9 K/9 over 72-and-two-thirds relief innings. Is he any lesser of a Cy Young candidate than Britton because he has just 12 saves? I would say no.

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Max Scherzer would get my vote for NL Cy Young. Mike Trout and Daniel Murphy would be my MVPs. Corey Seager and Michael Fulmer would get my Rookie-of-the-Year nods. For Manager of the Year, I’d go with Buck Show… uh, I mean Terry Francona, and Joe Maddon.

Thinking aloud about the NL MVP, which of Nolan Arenado and Joey Votto would be more deserving? Coming into today, Arenado leads the league in RBI (by a wide margin) and home runs. His slash line is .293/.360/.570, and he’s the better defender. Votto leads in wRC+ and OBP. His slash line is .326/.435/.553.

My guess is that Arenado will receive more support. Votto was better.

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Steve Clevenger was recently suspended by the Seattle Mariners after making controversial comments — many feel they were racially insensitive — on social media. The news prompted me to listen to the audio file of a conversation I had with him in spring training. What I heard was interesting in light of what happened.

Clevenger had joined the Mariners over the offseason, so I asked him about the acclimation process for a catcher on a new team. Before getting into the nuts-and-bolts aspects of his job — pitching philosophy, strengths and weaknesses, etc — he started with personalities.

“It’s about communication,” began the backstop. “You’re getting a feel for everybody. Everybody is different and you have to get to know them, whether you’re going out to dinner or talking in the hot tub. That’s the biggest thing.

“There are guys you can get on a little bit and it brings the good side out of them. With others,doing that brings them down and they don’t do as well. You need to get a feel for who can take the heat and who can’t take the heat.”

Clevenger would be well-advised to ponder those words the next time he looks in the mirror.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

How is 43-year-old Bartolo Colon able to befuddle hitters with a high-80s fastball that he throws close to 90% of the time? James Wagner of the New York Times explained.

Per MLB.com — multiple authors contributed to the storyAnthony Rizzo was a second baseman for one play, even though he really wasn’t.

At the Japanese Times, Jason Coskrey chronicled Shohei Otani’s pennant-clinching win for Nippon Ham.

At the Guardian, David Gendelman wrote about the unmanly knuckleball.

Over at Fox Sports, Ken Rosenthal wrote about how Jose Fernandez’s death hit umpire John Hirschbeck close to home.

Andy Martino of the New York Daily News wrote about a longtime Chicago Cubs scout who is battling health problems. “You’re not taking care of this until the season is over,” Blitzer told his doctor. “We’re having a good year.”

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Ryan Howard has 382 career home runs, the same number as Frank Howard and Jim Rice.

As of Thursday, Baltimore’s Chris Davis and Oakland’s Khris Davis each had 23 doubles, 42 home runs, and one stolen base over the past 365 days. They were .002 apart in OPS. (Per High Heat Stats)

As of Tuesday, David Ortiz had the same number of extra-base hits as Edgar Martinez and Pablo Sandoval combined (1,191). Ortiz had struck out 1,743 times, while Martinez and Sandoval had combined to strike out 1,742 times (the latter stat per Patrick Dubuque).

Ian Kinsler’s home run on Friday was his 28th, tying him with Lou Whitaker for the most in a season by a Tigers second baseman. Whitaker had 28 in 1989.

In 1956, Washington’s Eddie Yost had a .231 batting average and a .412 OBP. He had 119 hits and 151 walks.

In his career, Joey Votto has slashed .300/.399/.500 against left-handed pitchers. He’s faced lefties in 777 games.

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A closing thought:

There will still be baseball to watch after today — we have the postseason to look forward to — but the majority of us will have to wait until spring to see our favorite team play again. If you go to bed feeling a little melancholy, it’s understandable.

Here is an excerpt from A. Bartlett Giamatti’s “The Green Fields of the Mind”:

“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring when everything else begins. It blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings. And then, as soon as the chill rains come, it stops. It leaves you to face the fall alone.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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madmanjay
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madmanjay

FYI — one too many L’s here “Devon Travis didn’t lose any sleep after Thursday night’s Blue Jays loss to the Orioles loss.”

Why the shot on Clevenger and not the crappy M’s front office — C-YA in 2017 Seattle. Enjoy the golf courses!

Fulmer has I’d say less than 1% chance at AL ROY — everyone going to go Sexy Gary Sanchez (no doubter)