Matt Harvey’s been dominant, Lucas Duda has been selective and powerful but beyond a shadow of a doubt the best story so far for the 2013 Mets is that of John Buck. So, I asked friends in the blogosphere the following question:
What do you make of John Buck’s start? Is this a brief hot stretch like Rod Barajas in 2010 or is it something else?
These people all do great work and their names are hyperlinked to their blogs so please go ahead and click on them to check out their real stuff.
Howard Megdal – A lonely teenage broncin’ Buck
It is, in all likelihood, Rod Barajas Redux. But I steadfastly hope otherwise.
Jason Fry – Buck, buck – please! We all know it’s Johnny on the Pony
So far Buck is working counts and looks like he’s got a sound approach at the plate, whereas with earlier briefly loved Met backstops it just seemed like hits were falling in (or going out) — Rod Barajas and Omir Santos got good results out of hacktastically suspect approaches, which works until it doesn’t. That said, though, Buck’s prior record isn’t exactly filled with seasons you’d want to plug into your lineup. Maybe he’s figured something out, but he’ll be 33 this year, and by then most players’ figuring-something-out days are behind them.
Still, here’s why this situation is different: If Buck can be a bright spot (or even decent) for a couple of months while Travis d’Arnaud shows knee and bat are sound, we’ll all be very, very happy. The heir apparent can come up and Buck can slide over to the role of wise old sage. If by then he’s reverted to more traditionally Buckian production, that’ll be OK: The Mets won’t need to scramble for a Plan B, because Buck will have become the Plan B.
James Preller – Remembers being Buck-toothed and skinny
It’s a hot streak. Across nine MLB seasons, 3,500 career plate appearances tell us that 32-year-old John Buck is a .237 hitter who has broken .250 exactly once in his career. Could this season be an outlier? Sure, it’s possible. But frankly, it’s not the hitting that has impressed me. I love his presence, his leadership, the strength and professionalism that he exudes. I watch him talking to the young pitchers in the dugout and can see the respect in their body language. They look up to this guy. That’s why I believe his greatest asset to the Mets will be to mentor Travis d’Arnaud — the sooner, the better. I want our catcher of the future to spend as much time as possible with Buck, sit in meetings with him, get drunk, watch film, talk hitting, laugh, talk pitching, talk baseball. It is so important for a rookie catcher to have that veteran by his side, teaching him the ropes. And the difficulty of that transition will be exponential for d’Arnaud under the NY spotlight. There’s so much to learn for a catcher, it’s overwhelming. The Mets should bring up d’Arnaud by May 1, ease him in slowly, and pair those two guys together. That way, John Buck can help us right now — and for years to come.
John Coppinger – Asked for a sawbuck to participate this month
Of course it’s something else. It’s the lizard skins he has on his bat. You think if Rod Barajas had lizard skins on his bat he still wouldn’t be here hitting .350 and preventing injuries to Johan Santana and Shaun Marcum? Imagine if Josh Thole had lizard skins on his glove, you think he wouldn’t have been able to hold on to all those throws from the outfield? You think Mike Nickeas wouldn’t have had a long and productive career if he had … okay, I’m stretching the boundaries. No it can’t last forever, especially if Buck is going to hit cleanup on a semi-regular basis against lefties in case Ike’s slump is prolonged (which it won’t be.) Pitchers adjust to Bryce Harper. They’ll adjust to John Buck. But anything in the .250 range for Buck with some power at the end of the season is a huge bonus. Hooray lizard skins.
Greg Prince – Shouts – Buck, Buck, Buck – whenever opposing pitcher throws a ball
He’s a pro on a hot streak which will eventually cool, but mostly he’s a pro, which comes in handy on a mostly young team. Difference between him and Barajas is circumstances. Thole was on the horizon in 2010 and Mets didn’t much care who backed him up. Buck was brought in as part stopgap, part mentor. The fleeting star aspect is a wonderful bonus thus far.
Jon Springer– Goes to bars dressed up as Buck Buchanan and says: “From now on, the Buck stops here!”
What, he’s not going to finish with 65 home runs and 200 RBI? I would like to think that Buck’s start is related at some level to his understanding that he needs to sing for his supper: Not merely to hold off the inevitable ascent of Travis D’Arnaud, but really for whatever additional opportunities he has still ahead of him with another club. Another year like last year, and he’s not going to start for anyone anymore: But if Buck proves he can still contribute, he (like, um, Rod Barajas) could still find himself getting jobs years down the road. I am certain Buck will cool down to a point where his numbers will begin to resemble the others on his baseball card (that is, a rich man’s Barajas) but his start has been good for the Mets, and great for John Buck.
Tanya Mercado – She’s not a Buck – she’s a Dolla!
I feel John Buck will be more productive than Rod Barajas. Unfortunately he is 32 years old. At the catcher position wear and tear is always an issue. He has logged 7786.1 innings. That’s 723 less than Barajas in only 10 years versus 14 for Barajas. All in all, I think he will be better, barring injury, especially when Travis d’Arnaud comes up. He will be able to get some rest. So he will be able to recuperate from time to time. He will come down to earth as the season goes on and he takes some punishment, but he will still be better than Barajas.
Buck’s career year came in 2010 when he hit 20 HR and posted a .281/.314/.489 line buoyed in part by a personal-best .335 BABIP. In our limited sample, he’s on pace to dwarf those numbers except he’s doing it with a .292 BABIP.
In 2010, Buck murdered fastballs but any pitch with a shake or a shimmy to it left him flustered. Right now in addition to the heater he’s also hammering cutters and changes and mostly holding his own against sliders, curves and splitters.
This may not mean anything. But it’s hard to ignore that he currently sports a career-low 14.3 K%. In 2010, he had a whopping 40.2 O-Swing%, meaning that pitchers had absolutely no reason to throw him a strike. This year that number has nearly been cut in half, as his O-Swing rate sits at 22.5%. The other part of the equation is that he’s making much better contact on those swings. In 2010, his O-Contact% was 54.5 while this year it checks in at 72.7%.
Again, the samples we are talking about are so small that this could easily be a fluke. But I’m beginning to think that there’s simply too much here to dismiss.
He’s hitting for a great AVG – but has a fairly normal BABIP
He’s swinging at fewer pitches outside the zone and making much greater contact when he does swing
He’s hitting pitches besides the fastball
Perhaps Dave Hudgens and his patient approach has been just what the doctor ordered for Buck. Or maybe it all comes crashing down in the month of May. But back in mid-February, I predicted Buck would amass 390 PA this season, post a .725 OPS and crack 18 HR.
I think I’ll take the over now on that forecast.
Thanks to Howard, Jason, JP, John, Greg, Jon and Tanya for participating!