'Homework' helps Buxton improve at stealing

'Homework' helps Buxton improve at stealing

DETROIT -- According to Statcast™'s sprint speed metric, Byron Buxton is the fastest player in baseball, but this season he's using his speed to become a better base stealer with the help of manager Paul Molitor, third-base coach Gene Glynn and first-base coach Jeff Smith.

Buxton, whose average sprint speed is 30.2 feet per second, or just a hair faster than Billy Hamilton's 30.1, stole his 22nd straight base without getting caught on Thursday, tying a club record set by Matt Lawton (1999-2000) and Chuck Knoblauch (1994). Buxton, who was 10-for-12 on stolen base attempts last season, is 27-for-28 this year, only getting caught on May 23.

"It's more that I've been doing my homework before the game," Buxton said. "I've been looking at video at whoever is starting that day. Does his head do something different? Does his shoulder do something different? Does his knee go a different way? Where does he set up on the rubber? Things to give me that slight edge."

Buxton said he averages about 30 minutes analyzing pitchers on video for stolen-base purposes, looking at the club's starters and relievers. The Twins also provide a chart in the dugout with all of the relevant info, including average times to the plate, throw-over tendencies and descriptions of each pitcher's move to first. But Buxton said he's more focused on getting good jumps based on reading the pitcher than worrying about how quick they are to the plate.

"It's not so much time," Buxton said. "You hear 1.2 [seconds] and you think that's quick, but if you take that time away and try to get comfortable and confident, if you've done your homework like the way his shoulder or head moves, you don't really worry about the time. You focus on what gave you that edge. That's the first key to going or not."

Molitor, who stole 504 bases during his Hall of Fame career, began working with Buxton on base stealing when he was in the Minors and noticed how raw he was in terms of technique. So he's proud of the steps he's taken since going 2-for-4 on steals in '15.

"I remember some of those early attempts and you could see his frustration like, 'This didn't happen in the Minor Leagues.'" Molitor said. "So it's kind of funny. But I had him at a younger age and we tried to work on some things. I tried to instill in him that in the Minors it's about attempts and don't gauge it on success or failure. You have to get that feel, so every chance you get, run."

Molitor noted that speed isn't everything, as Buxton admitted he used to simply try to outrun the catcher's throw, but now understands there's much more nuance to it.

"Sheer speed is not going to be your formula for success, although it certainly helps," Molitor said. "I've always broken down basestealing into two phases. You want good mechanics so when you come out of your lead you have the chance to be explosive and run a good route. But then there's the mental side, which has to do with understanding pitchers, and not just tendencies or possible things they do to give you an edge. If you can combine those things you have a better chance of not getting caught and doing something special if you can run like Byron."

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.