To the naysayers out there, here are John Buck‘s performances in 2010 and 2011:
It might not look great compared to the 2010 season that the Marlins “paid for” when they offered Buck a three-year, $18 million deal. However, the Marlins really did not pay for that three-win season, but rather a year that was more like his projected .320-ish wOBA with slightly below average defense, exactly the sort of season they are getting from Buck as the team heads into September. At an estimated $4 million per FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR), the Fish would have received $8.4 million in production in return for Buck’s services, $2 million more than they actually paid.
Those who complained before the season that the Marlins paid too much for Buck may have been right given the possible alternatives, but they cannot argue that he has not made his money so far this season. Let’s take a look at how he has done it.
Peripherals and power
Looking at the 2010 and 2011 numbers and comparing them to Buck’s career totals, you can see a few anomalies between both seasons. We all knew that Buck could not manage a .285 batting average again last season due to him posting a career-high .335 BABIP, but the bigger concerns among other fans wer whether his power would stick moving to Sun Life Stadium after spending a season in the launching pad of Rogers Centre and whether he could bump his walk rate up closer to his career levels. Well, after a few seasons of .200+ ISO with both the Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays, Buck returned to an ISO closer to his career .176 mark. Part of the reasoning for that is the reversion of his ground ball and fly ball rates to career norms.
This season looks more like his 2004 through 2008 years, during which he had a .164 ISO but was still a solid home run hitter (62 homers in 1914 PA). The difference in HR/FB rate may have just been simple regression, meaning that Buck did not necessarily lose anything in terms of his power in the move to Sun Life Stadium but rather that he just regressed to his more likely true talent level.
Being less aggressive
This was an interesting quote from an article regarding Buck’s “power projections.”
"Buck credits Blue Jays hitting coach Dwayne Murphy and former Toronto manager Cito Gaston for helping him increase his power numbers.In 2010, Buck was figuring things out about himself at the same time his then Blue Jays teammate Jose Bautista was beginning to blossom into a slugger.According to Buck, Murphy has a unique approach that benefits players with power potential.“It helps them be more selective, which was my huge thing,” the catcher said. “I was always extremely aggressive.”"
It says that Buck became more selective when working with Toronto Blue Jays hitting coach Dwyane Murphy. However, what is interesting about this quote is that it does not really fall in line with what we see in the numbers (courtesy of StatCorner).
The numbers show that, since 2009, Buck started swing at more pitches, and that approach did not stop during his stint in Toronto last season. This year, he has dropped his swing rate again, though he is still seeing a similar number of pitches per PA this season as he has the last few seasons. This is likely due to his improved contact rate, as he is making contact more akin to his 2007 and 2008 seasons, which showed better plate discipline in terms of swing rate. This also corresponds nicely to his increased walk rate as well. All in all, it does seem to point towards an improved approach at the plate by Buck with a return to acceptable walk rates at the expense of some power.
Of course, this does not mean that Murphy did not have a hand in improving Buck’s approach. Perhaps Buck’s selectivity within the zone improved under Murphy’s “grip it and rip it” type of approach. However, if you believe FanGraphs plate discipline numbers, you can actually see that Buck’s selectivity is actually vastly decreased under Toronto’s regime, and has returned to his 2009 levels here in Florida.
Happy with the move?
It has only been one season, but the Marlins have to be at least satisfied with the current incarnation of John Buck. He has allayed fears that he would lose his power moving from Toronto (a fear that I personally never had, as he had plenty of power in Kansas City as well) and that he lost all semblance of discipline last season in Toronto. If he can continue playing like this, he will be worth what the Marlins paid for, whether or not it was the “correct” move given the options in the market. At this point, we can only hope he continues his production rather than worrying about the opportunity cost of acquiring other players for less money.