How much is a John Buck worth in 2013?

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.

32 comments for “How much is a John Buck worth in 2013?

  1. Chris F
    December 27, 2012 at 10:24 am

    Realistically, you are right, his role is as a placeholder. Im less worried about huge offensive production and more concerned that he can start to congeal the reshaped pitching staff so that d’Arnaud inherits something that is functional, calls a good game, and defensively play solid. Everyone in the room knows he is there to keep pitchers from hitting the backstop…or plate umpire, and then grooming the newbie and being a back up. Not much else is expected. I suspect thats a tall enough task. As long as he is at least Shoppach-level good, then he will drift into the history books as that guy that came in the trade for d’Arnaud (and hopefully Syndergaard).

    • December 27, 2012 at 10:58 am

      Catcher defense is notoriously hard to judge. The fielding component of fWAR listed Buck as being a plus defender last year, although the previous five years he was below average.

      Overall last year, Marlins pitchers had a 4.10 ERA and with Buck behind the plate it was 3.88 — catcher’s ERA is not as great a measure as some believe because a lot depends on who you catch. If you’re always catching your staff’s best pitcher, your ERA should be lower. Last year Thole caught a lot of Dickey’s starts, so we should expect his cERA to be lower. Have no idea how it worked out with the Marlins but they used three catchers last year and two were pretty close (ERA-wise) and the third was terrible.

      Finally, in 915 innings last year, Buck threw out 27% of opposing baserunners and had 16 WP and 7 PB. Thole, in 798.1 innings, threw out 23% of runners and had 18 WP and 18 PB. Of course we have to discount Thole’s PB because most came with Dickey.

      I thought Thole had a good year defensively in 2012. It appears Buck did, too. However, it seems like more of an outlier in Buck’s case.

      • Chris F
        December 27, 2012 at 11:06 am

        Lets hope Buck passes the “eye test” behind the plate. I would be completely satisfied with that alone.

        • NormE
          December 27, 2012 at 11:31 am

          Chris, I agree with you. The questions that I have concern the dynamics involving the manager, the pitching coach, the catcher and the pitching staff. How does a new catcher exert enough influence when the manager and the pitching coach are entrenched?
          Did Shoppach really have any positive influence, and if so, can Buck replicate it? Or does the Warthen/Collins influence make the catcher more of a cypher?
          Brian, I guess the challenge is yours, if you care to accept it. What new stats are out there that might help us in this evaluation?
          Or, is Chris correct about the “eye test?”

          • December 27, 2012 at 11:58 am

            This is a slippery slope into he said/she said land.

            Reports are the Mets were generally unimpressed with Shoppach, although I don’t know if that’s in general or defensively. Probably the best thing to do would be to check his numbers on a matched PA per pitcher compared to Thole and Nickeas but that information is not readily available and takes a bunch of time to replicate.

            Maybe the thing to look out for is to see if Buck looks into the dugout on every pitch or not. That would be a strong indication that Warthen/Collins are calling pitches and would deserve blame/credit for the results. I would expect the bench to call a certain number of pitches and/or pitchouts but if they’re calling every pitch…

            Certainly, the eye test is a useful measure, as long as we understand its limited utility.

          • Chris F
            December 27, 2012 at 1:20 pm

            Norm, you raised an excellent point that has been a very sore spot for me and others about the entrenched coaching staff we have. Our pitchers have experienced a staggering amount of arm problems (a staff with THREE anterior capsule tears?) and a line up of leftys that cannot hit lefty pitching or breaking pitches at all. I believe our coaching staff (aside from Tuff) is in desperate need of an overhaul. The Mets cannot win with what is present.

        • Metsense
          December 27, 2012 at 12:56 pm

          I have a problem with the eye test when the eyes belong to Sandy, Terry and Dan. It was their eyes that saw Nickeas as a major league platoon catcher coming out of spring training 2012 and quickly discounted Shoppach after 1/3 of a season. I really hope d’Aurnaud wins the job out of spring training, goes on to have an above average carreer, and Buck is just a very expensive back up catcher in 2013.

  2. Paul Mino
    December 27, 2012 at 11:37 am

    Paul from West Haven, can Sandy Alderson and Wilpons sign this great middle relief guy already named Vinnie Pestano from the Clevland Indiians, he pitched 70 re life innings with a 2.57 era., and only 7 hrs. Givin up., 76 strikeouts in that great relief work against American League extra hitter lineups, meaning the designated hitter spot. I truthfully would love to see the designated hitter come to the National League in 2013! It would be make the game that much more exciting + the pitchers would’nt bat meaning less strain on their arms trying to bat 3x a game, saving their arms for what’s more important to them Pitching the Baseball not Hitting It. Management for the Mets should also sign 3 outfielders now Scott Hairston, Delmon Young, Jason Kubel. Backload all their contracts with 3 year deals, they all should have great seasons! Let’s start winning and getting in the playoffs next season Sandy and Fred!!!!!!! Thanks and I personally hope they ink their Contracts today!!!!!!! Paul

    • December 27, 2012 at 11:45 am

      Hi Paul – thanks for reading and commenting.

      Vinny Pestano is not available for the Mets to sign — he’s a pre-arb player under control by Cleveland.

      I hope the NL is never soiled by the DH.

      Jason Kubel is not available either – he’s on the D’Backs. But even if he was – I shudder to think about that OF. I generally prefer my team to employ a center fielder. Hairston can play there in a pinch but over a full season?

      • Paul Mino
        December 27, 2012 at 2:05 pm

        Michael Bourne would be a great sign at centerfield! Jason Kubel could be a B+ from a C+ right fielder that Duda brings us right now! Hairston could start and put up say 25- 30 home runs next year with a great arm also. Matt Dan Deckkar can be a good back up to platoon when needed along with Valdespen and Kirk Newenhausk + Mike Baxter. This lineup will definitely blend well with the rest of the fellows we have signed in are starting lineup now! The pitching will come around starting this season and Travis De’naurd signing is a great deal, with long term progressive ability in sight, hopefully All-Star caliber from are new backstop Buddy!! Hope Management makes some mager moves besides what they’ve done so far!!!!!!!

        • Brian
          December 27, 2012 at 10:48 pm

          Although Bourn is a very good outfielder, i think he would bring leas to the plate than you believe. He is a guy who relies on his legs and with him advancing into his 30s that starts to become a problem. He is a great fielder and brings class a speed, but is a lefty with almost no pop. Kubel brings pop to the ljneup but plays terrible defense and is once again a left hander it would do the Mets no good to trade for him when Duda can be the same player (slow, bad defensively, good left handed pop). If, and its a big if, the Mets resign Hairston, dont expect the same production as last year, he struggles mightly against right handeds and would soon be figured out by pitchers (he really likes that fastball up and in or just in period). Valdespin might not even break camp with the big league squad, and although brought magic last year, was inconsistent with the bat and glove and needs to learn the outfield better. Matt Den Decker is nowhere near ready for the big leagues, he cant hit well enough yet. Hairston/duda in left, hairston/cowgill/captain kirk in center/ hairston/baxter in right (just choose your grouping) without more right handed power hitters, especially outfielders, i find it hard to think the Mets can do anything special this year, but i hope im wrong. Paul, i love your optimism, but its just not realistic, UNLESS the Mets make some moves in thr outfield and bullpen

  3. Name
    December 27, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    I want Buck to focus on nuturing and learning the pitching staff. If that erodes, the Mets have no chance of winning games.
    I really don’t care about the offense he will provide. Just at least stay above the Mendoza line and hit the occasional bomb and i will be happy.
    BTW, do we have a backup AAA catcher yet? I’d imagine that position is a little more important this year because he would be the mentor to D’arnard.

    • Chris F
      December 27, 2012 at 3:00 pm

      +1

      • Metsense
        December 27, 2012 at 3:35 pm

        I know I stated earlier that Nickeas was a poor MLB choice in 2012 BUT as a AAA mentor he would have been perfect for d’Aurnaud if Travis wasn’t ready. Nickeas also caught the pitchers in Georgia during the off season also. His reputation is more coach than player. I guess it would have been a deal breaker if he wasn’t included (sic). Another baffling Sandy move.

        • Chris F
          December 27, 2012 at 5:08 pm

          The one thing is this…he is competing for making the team as the starter out of camp (he wont of course if only for keeping him under control longer). I agree we need another 3A catcher, but he will get enough advice from Buck once he makes it up. He wont be in LV long…Im thinking he’ll get the call for the White Sox then Pirates series at Citi starting 7 May. Last half of April looks brutal.

          Plewecki better hurry…its thin pickins now that we dumped our 3A catchers!

        • Name
          December 27, 2012 at 5:49 pm

          Metsense, I imagine the Jays wanted Nickeas as another option for Dickey if Thole was really ineffective or gets hurt and for the reason you wanted to keep him.

          Do the Mets still control Rob Johnson, or is he a free agent now?

  4. Metsense
    December 27, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    He signed with the Cardinals on a minor league deal with an invite to ST. Could you blame him?

  5. steevy
    December 27, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    One thing Shoppach could do that I had no confidence in Thole doing,was black the plate.That doesn’t happen every game but it can happen in huge spots.Buck is probably also better at that than Thole and like Shoppach he can hit homeruns.

  6. Paul Mino
    December 28, 2012 at 11:10 am

    Like to hear Mets talking trade for Baltimore Orioles Adam Jones. He would be an excellent fit for the Mets in Centerfield. Power, hit for above average, defensively sound. Also, need to sign Vinnie Pestano, nice fit for us in the eight inning hole. Like to see us somehow work some of Sandy Alderson’s magic by trading for Jurickson Profar the Texas Rangers shortstop who could be another offseason accomplishment for Mets, I see him hitting for a consistent above 300 average, 30-40 doubles, 20 + homers, 20 + steals a season. Nice long term fix at the short position. Like to see us sign Derek Lowe to a one year deal!

    • Name
      December 28, 2012 at 11:37 am

      You seem to keep bringing up names who aren’t on the trade block and aren’t possible to acquire. You can’t just scan through all the players in MLB and say “I want him, please go get him now!”

      • Paul Mino
        December 28, 2012 at 3:29 pm

        When you have a G.M. Like Alderson theses acquisitions can be done. Plus the names I’d like to see us acquire are everyday players who would e nd up winning us a possible run at the World Series, Eastern Conference Championships stating next season. Besides tired of seeing the longer tenured Yankee squad doing all the big stuff, like winning Conference Championships. Think young very talented lineup here!!!!!!

        • Name
          December 28, 2012 at 5:22 pm

          The fact that Sandy is our GM makes it neither any more likely nor less likely that we will acquire any of those players. Anyone can make deals; it’s about making sure what you give up isn’t worth more than you get back. Would you be happy if Sandy gave up Wheeler, Niese, Wright, Davis, D’arnard all for Adam Jones? That’s an extreme example but there’s no reasonable way for the Mets to acquire of those players you listed without overpaying because the teams that control them have no reason to trade any of those players unless we overpay.

    • NormE
      December 28, 2012 at 1:38 pm

      A trade means that you are giving up something someone else wants to get something to get something you want. What are you proposing that the Mets give up in these deals?

      • JerryGrote
        December 28, 2012 at 2:03 pm

        I’ll toss out a “what if”?

        What if you put Jordany Valdespin back to SS?

        Teams looking for 90-100+ SS are plenty. If you combine Tejada and Duda (who screams 1B-DH) to an AL team, I think you’d be surprised at what you get. Add in Sondergaardensvoortenheimer,and possibly Flores and you could put together a potent package.

        Its not enough to get the likes of Adam Jones. But you could likely find yourself in the middle of a three way trade (off the top of my head, I’d dream of getting Josh Willingham, Dee Gordon and Chris Capuano and cash).

        To get, you gotta give. A starting cost-controlled SS that’s young, an incredible pitching prospect, a 20-25 HR power bat and possibly a power 2B should get you several nice pieces in return … and ostensibly not terribly hurt the big league team.

        • Chris F
          December 28, 2012 at 3:08 pm

          Im not there, thats for sure. I dont see Willingham as part of the future (age 34), Gordon is a wild card that might not ever be legit defensively at SS or with the bat, and a decrepit Cappy (who we should be able to get for little any way as the Dodgers dont need him) for Tejada and Sydergaard (dont care about Duda). Sorry, to lose RA for a top prospect like Syndergaard then unload him for 2 people that have no future and a question mark ss is a place I would not go. Tejada and Syndergaard are the future of the Mets IMO.

          • JerryGrote
            December 28, 2012 at 4:52 pm

            Here’s the deal Chris: I like Willingham, but that’s not important. Even in Flushing, you have redundancies that are important elsewhere. You have potentially two shortstops, both young and under control. You have a power hitter realistically that would be useable to others. You have an abundance of young pitchers.

            The overall perspective here is that we don’t have talent to trade to get the guys we want. Paul Mino is dreaming about Adam Jones. But he is basically right; we have talent to trade if you find the right dance partner.

            • Chris F
              December 28, 2012 at 5:12 pm

              I’m certainly on board for trading to get something. I like Willingham (and Cappy) too, but not on the time frame this team is looking for to be competitive, say 2-4 years. I just would not be moving young talent (who will be coming to prime when we are competitive) for people who wont be here when we are ready to make a run. I guess like with RA, with him or without him, we are in 4th in the NL East. Id be more excited to go after someone who is 25-27 in age for 2013. We have trade chips to be sure, and Im not afraid to spend them, but Id like to see the players peak and gel in ’15-’17 time frame.

        • December 28, 2012 at 10:07 pm

          If any team out there offers us something for Valdespin – I say we take it. I don’t think he can hack it at SS in the majors on anything but a fill-in role. And I don’t think he’s going to hit enough to carry his glove.

      • Paul Mino
        December 28, 2012 at 3:35 pm

        Like to see us use some of our trade chips here, Valdespen, Flores, Tejada, Sondergaard, Duda, Baxter, a Double A prospect maybe if need be.

  7. Mets Man
    December 28, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    So far I like Buck and think he will be an upgrade behind the plate. Last week I heard a radio interview with him and I really liked what I heard about his approach to calling a game. He seems to have a really good grasp on how to handle a pitching staff and I think that will only help the Mets young pitchers. Although most of his career has been in the AL I think he was good for a throw in. If you look at his career stats it seems like a year of batting average of .240 with 15 HRs and 50 rbis may not be too bad.

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