How Tracking Technology Helped Baseball’s Best Fielding Outfielder

After improving his first step, the Twins’ Byron Buxton has saved 24 outs over the average outfielder this season, according to Statcast

Minnesota Twins center fielder Byron Buxton catches a fly ball during a recent game. Photo: Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

By Jared Diamond

Byron Buxton, the human vacuum cleaner who patrols center field for the Minnesota Twins, reached a frightening conclusion last winter: Even with his sprinter’s speed, superhuman instincts and unparalleled fearlessness around the wall, his defense could still be better.

He arrived at that belief thanks in part to Statcast, Major League Baseball’s sophisticated player-tracking technology that counts Buxton as perhaps its prototype player. With data provided by Statcast and the Twins’ coaching staff, Buxton learned that his first step—how quickly he reacts after the ball connects with the bat—wasn’t as quick as he would have liked.

So over the offseason, he spent a couple weeks at his old high school in Baxley, Ga., focusing intensely on trying to improve an area that not long ago couldn’t have been quantified.

“I picked up on the numbers and I was like, ‘Well, I can be better than this, I can do this better,’” Buxton said in an interview this week at Yankee Stadium. “So I started picking out the small things that I felt like I could get a little better at.”

Launched across all 30 ballparks in 2015, Statcast uses high-resolution cameras and radar equipment to record the location and movements of the ball and every player on the field.

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