John Buck is entering his second season in Miami as the Miami Marlins starting catcher. Signed to a 3 year, 18 million dollar contract, reactions of the deal varied between fish fans when the catcher was signed. Certainly he deserved a raise in pay coming off a stellar year in Toronto where he hit .281 while knocking 20 HRs and 66 RBI’s. Buck was also named an AL All Star the same year and made national headlines by hitting 3 home runs in one single game. At the time, our only catching options were Ronny Paulino and John Baker. Paulino was serving a suspension for PED’s while John Baker was undergoing serious surgery. Number 1 draft pick and former Top 5 team prospect Kyle Skipworth continued to struggle, therefore opening the discussion for a catching upgrade. So maybe you could say Buck got a little more money than what his career line deserves, but at the time the Marlins were close to desperate. Still, the front office was happy because Buck is an above-average option behind the plate with good power.
Bucks First Year
John Bucks first year in Miami proved to be really hard to judge. Yes, his previous batting average of .281 fell drastically to .227 but there are plenty of factors that could have caused that. Buck literally moved 1600 miles away from the city of Toronto to Miami, Florida. Not only is this a HUGE lifestyle change, but the weather factors in as well. Squatting down catching major league pitching is much easier in the Rogers Centre Sky-Dome compared to the humid, muggy air of Miami. The climate is a huge factor on a catchers body and performance, explaining the 33 starts by back up Brett Hayes. When catching comfortably in a stadium with reduced temperature rates, Buck can now stay a little more fresh and rested. Another factor in his drop of offensive performance could very well be the switch of divisions. Bascially, Toronto to Miami. Dealing with the Blue Jays pitching staff, Buck was familiar with their pitching styles and tendencies. Anytime a starting catcher moves teams, his first priority is the defensive mindset. A good catcher establishes a healthy relationship with his fellow pitchers. Learning their style, number of pitches, movement, fatique, and emotion is all part of the catchers job. Buck had to get accustomed to his new pitching staff while dealing with the pressure of making a good first impression to the organization and fans. With more attention to his defensive game, his offensive production was due for a drop. Still, even though his average dropped, this does not mean Buck is a declining hitter. In 2011, Bucked improved his .OBP, BB Rate, Triples, and nearly matched his number of hits the year before. Getting on base is always a positive sign in the eyes of any organization and is a well respected talent. Buck drastically improved his BB Rate (Number of Walks) by 38. In 2010 he walked just 16 times compared to last years 54. So while his average fell, it is encouraging to know he is taking more pitches and giving the team a better shot for more run production. Buck also showed an increasing ability to drive the ball opposite field. 8 of his 16 home runs were opposite field shots, along with a number of his doubles. To make the transition to the NL and pick up opposite field placements is very impressive in just one year. Bucks versatility allowed him to hit in the 4,5,6, and 7 hole so he is very flexable in his offensive positioning. Overall, while his numbers are not as sexy as some expected, Buck did an above average job at the plate for someone who went through the change he experienced.
Defensively, Buck was solid but would tell anyone who asks that he needs to improve. He allowed 83 stolen bases while only throwing out 17% of runners. In 2010 with the Jays, Buck threw out 28% and only allowed 47 stolen bases. While these numbers are not HORRIBLE, I, along with every fan expect an improvement. Again, playing in a different environment had some effect on Buck’s numbers. Throwing out Michael Bourn cannot be easy in humid, rainy weather after squatting down 7 straight innings. Still, there is no excuse for the high amount of stolen bases and I’m sure Buck will make that a major priority in his pre-season goals. While his defensive numbers were lower than expected, Buck still gained respect for his hard work each and every game. He offers a very strong presence behind the plate and even improved his fielding percentage from his year before. I will never forget one game in which Buck blocked 3 straight HORRIBLE pitches by Ryan Webb, causing him to basically throw his entire body outside of the batters box to block the pitch and save the tying run on third. Since that moment, I have had a some-what “attachment” to John Buck and will pull for him through the thick and thin.
2012: What To Expect
I am just a sports writer, therefore my opinion could be opposed by everyone who takes the time to read this. Actually, I’m just a blogger so “What do I know”? However, I do watch my fair share of baseball (Every Marlin Game) and feel like I know more than the average-norm when it comes to the game. In my opinion, 2012 is a HUGE make or break year for Buck. If the climate and change were actually a major factor in Bucks decline, then hallelujah because them days are over. If his numbers stay around the same area or decline, then I think we have a problem. Now don’t get me wrong, most teams will not expect their catcher to be a top offensive performer while being above-average defensively. Usually it is the exact opposite. A lot of good catchers today are known strictly for their defensive or offensive game. Yadier Molina for example. While Molina has had his years with the stick, he is known for being one of the best “defensive” catchers in the game. The Marlin’s are not expecting Buck to carry this team in any aspect. However, they do want to see him contribute a little more than what he showed in his first season in Miami. Whether its improving his game behind the plate or improving his game offensively, Buck needs to show that he is worth the money the Marlins are paying him.
Now here is where my opinion kicks in. I believe after taking away the factors discussed earlier, Bucks numbers will improve overall in most every category. Now that Buck is a year deep in Miami, his numbers should start to even out. Offensively, playing in a new park will take an adjustment so I do not expect a drastic improvement. However, I do believe Buck will play with more confidence this year thus sparking an improvement. Personally, I believe that Buck is capable of hitting: BA- .260 RBI’s- 70 OBP-.315
I know many of you are probably thinking 70 RBI’s is way too far fetched for John Buck. I mean 70 RBI’s would be a career high for the 30 year old catcher. However, this season should be a little different compared to last. If everything pans out right, Buck will have plenty more opportunities to drive in runs with the likes of Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, Mike Stanton, and Logan Morrison in front of him. If Buck can rebound and find the swing he thrived on in 2010, the Marlins offense would be a forced to be reckoned with. Defensively, Buck knows what needs to be done. As discussed earlier, the rate of his stolen base put-outs HAS to increase. Throwing out 17% of runners just won’t cut it. Every time a stolen base is successful, a base hit will usually mean a run. That is a HUGE aspect in baseball that many people do not take the time to look at. Having a catcher that can gun down the speedsters is a much needed aspect for any championship team. I know Buck is capable of improving. After all, he threw out 28% of runners in 2010 and was rarely challenged with the Blue Jays. With the new stadium and new environment, I do believe Buck can flirt around with his 2010 defensive numbers.
What Do YOU See out of Buck?
Wrapping this up, I clearly think an improvement is necessary for Buck. With J.T. Realmuto impressing in the minors, if Buck is dreaming anything remotely close to an extension in Miami then he needs to put his work into gear. Buck is capable, but every catcher believe’s their capable. My question to my fellow Marlin Fans: What do you see out of John Buck? Do you expect an improvement, or do you see a decline? The future at the catching position right now is somewhat a mystery so it is a debatable subject to say the least. I would love a few comments to see how everyone else feels! I am also on twitter @WillStanifer, and would love to hear from you on there as well.