It would not surprise me if someone had a database of all of the trades in MLB history and they said that it was not all that unusual for a team to make a trade and receive three minor league guys and a major league player. But my guess is that it’s quite uncommon to receive that haul in a trade and for fans to be more excited about all three of the minor league guys than the guy we’ve all seen play. But that’s what we have here with John Buck.
In parts of nine years in the majors, Buck has played in 948 games and accumulated 3,481 PA. He’s likely to be the team’s Opening Day starter behind the plate yet he feels like a throw-in and a glorified afterthought. So, what is a Buck worth these days?
Before we get to that, let’s look at his career. Buck had the great fortune to have a career-year when he became eligible for free agency. In 2010, he posted a .281/.314/.489 line and parlayed that into a three-year, $18 million deal with the Marlins. Of course, that was way too much money for this year’s version of the Fish and he was traded to the Blue Jays earlier in the offseason.
Ironically, it was with Toronto that Buck had his career year and I was all ready to point out that it was due to the friendly confines of Sky Dome. But it turned out that Buck hit better on the road (.841 OPS) than he did at home (.756) so there goes that theory. Instead, it was a fluke BABIP year combined with by far his best year hitting against southpaws that propelled Buck to his big season in 2010.
We get so used to saying that a “normal” BABIP is right around .300 that we ignore that some positions generate higher BABIPs than others. Catchers consistently have the lowest average on balls in play than of any position. Last year MLB backstops posted a .285 BABIP, eight points lower than left fielders. Buck has a lifetime .280 BABIP but in 2010 he posted a career-best .335 mark – 29 points better than his second-best BABIP season.
Also in 2010, Buck notched a .409/.411/.705 line in 90 PA against lefties. In the previous year he posted a .664 OPS (not SLG) against southpaws and in the last two years Buck has not cleared a .600 OPS against portsiders. In 2011 he had a .586 OPS in 132 PA and last year it was a .564 OPS in 125 PA against LHP.
My initial reaction upon hearing that Buck was now a Met was – Well, he’s not very good but maybe he’ll pop some HR against southpaws and help out our woeful performance against lefties. But seeing 2012’s production – just 2 HR in 125 PA against LHP – just kills that theory.
It should be pointed out that Buck did not perform very well in Marlins Park last year. He had just a .600 OPS in his home games compared to a .688 mark in road contests. Additionally, eight of his 12 HR came in road parks. In limited action (49 PA) Buck has not hit well in Citi Field, either. He has a .606 lifetime OPS in his new home park, with just 1 HR in 40 ABs.
Perhaps the Reds should have been the team interested in acquiring Buck. In 27 lifetime PA in Great American Ball Park, Buck has a 1.218 OPS with 5 HR in 26 ABs. Unfortunately, the Mets do not play in Cincinnati until late September and we all hope that Travis d’Arnaud will be the regular catcher by that point.
Buck’s best offensive weapon right now is his ability to take a walk. He had a 12.3 BB% last year, a year after posting a 10.2 mark. Compared to Josh Thole, his ability to reach double-digits in HR will seem like a power surge for the Mets and his .155 ISO is certainly a respectable mark. But barring a repeat of 2010’s luck with BABIP, Buck will struggle not to be a sinkhole in the lineup.
The uncertainty around Thole and his ability to bounce back from last year’s concussion made the acquisition of a catcher a prime focus of the offseason. However, it’s clear that Buck is just a placeholder, a veteran on the last year of his contract and someone who is just keeping the seat warm for the hotshot prospect. Now we just have to see if he can give Mets fans a positive reason to remember his name once d’Arnaud becomes entrenched as the team’s backstop.
Over at Baseball-Reference, Rod Barajas is listed as Buck’s number two most similar batter, with a Similarity Score of 947, which is pretty strong. Barajas was briefly a Met and most fans remember him for his power surge his first 23 games with the club, when he blasted 9 HR in 82 ABs. It’s unlikely that Buck could match that pace but let’s hope he can contribute in other ways while he’s the team’s starting catcher in 2013.