The Mets’ season starts on Monday and the roster is set. John Buck will be the catcher on opening day, and Jeremy Hefner will start the year off in the rotation. Prized catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud and pitcher Zack Wheeler are starting the 2013 season at Triple-A Las Vegas. With Wheeler, this was foreseeable because he was sent to the Minor League camp midway through spring training. However, some believe that d’Arnaud could have started the year in the bigs, and think that opening day starter John Buck is not a viable starting catcher. However, there is something to be said for the amount of experience that Buck provides.
Usually the idea of bringing in a veteran player because of his leadership is a euphemism for saying that a player has seen better years. However in Buck’s case it could make a real difference. Sure, Buck hit a dismal line of .192/.297/.347 and accrued a WAR of 1.0, but like all statistics, WAR doesn’t necessarily indicate the value of every type of player. When it comes to catchers, it excludes intangible things like framing, calling pitches, and anxiety management. That’s nothing against WAR –it’s a very useful statistic. However, there are some things that data can’t yet measure.
The intangible things that add a lot of value to a catcher only come from experience- something that Buck has a lot of, and something a young pitching staff like the Mets’ can benefit from. The staff needs a catcher who can identify problems in a game, and make adjustments based on a pitcher’s need.
For example, in a spring training game Mets righty Dillon Gee explained that he had lost his release point on his fastball, causing him to miss his locations up and away. Buck noticed the problem, and made Gee throw a number of sliders allowing his release point to guide itself back to the right spot. Buck’s ability to fix a problem like that within a game is immeasurable.
Buck is probably just a placeholder for d’Arnaud, yet that doesn’t mean that Buck will be completely worthless. Buck has had years of experience handling young pitching staffs, and has proved that he can provide leadership. d’Arnaud would likely hit better than Buck, however d’Arnaud is probably not ready to call games as well as Buck does. Having a catcher in Buck who can increase the value of the staff is something that should be acknowledged, despite Buck’s mediocre offensive production.