Everybody out of the pool!
That’s the cry from the Mets’ fan base, directed at their training facility in Port St. Lucie. That’s where Travis d’Arnaud is running in water, strengthening his rehabbing foot and balky knee. That’s because John Buck has reverted to his regular old self. That’s not good for the team, the front office or the fans.
April was a beautiful month for John Buck. In the first 23 games of this season, he blasted nine home runs in 90 at-bats. It seemed every time a big blow was required, Buck was THE man, inspiring confidence and t-shirts among the fans. When d’Arnaud broke his foot twelve games into his AAA season, there was a twinge, but not an anguished wail. “Let him take all the time he needs to recover: we have Buck,” we said. Buck’s presence and “clutchiness” even drove your intrepid columnist to wax enthusiastic about Buck’s value to the team over the long haul. Aaaah, the beauty of the miniscule sample size: that was two games into the season! It also caused the wiser of us urge a trade while his value was at an all-time high. That never happened – to be fair, d’Arnaud’s injury had something to do with that – and pretty much all of us regret it, in hindsight.
When reality starts paying attention, its retribution is cruel and swift. Since April 29, Buck has seen his OPS plummet from a high of 1.246 on April 12 to its current depths, .653. Strikeouts have been his main enemy. Over those first 23 games, he struck out only 20 times – only twice having as many as three in a single game — a rate of 0.8696 K/game. Over his next 46 games – including last night’s (7/1) three-K performance – he has struck out 53 times, a per-game rate of 1.152. This has caused his overall strikeout-per-game rate to soar to 1.058, which means that over the course of a 162-game season, he would total roughly 172 strikeouts. These numbers would be generally acceptable if your name is Mickey Mantle, Reggie Jackson or even Dave Kingman or Adam Dunn – players who can be counted on to homer at healthy rates, thus offsetting their high strikeout binges. John Buck ain’t one of them. In fact it seems as if most of his strikeouts have come at the worst possible times in games: rally-killers with runners in scoring position, either none or two outs. This was certainly the case last night. Worst of all, it now seems to be affecting other aspects of his game. How else would you explain one of the most boneheaded plays of all-time, getting nailed trying to put a meaningless run into scoring position with two outs in the bottom of the 9th. For John Buck to have any value for Mets going forward he’s going to need to get his head together and cut down on the whiffs.
At least until Travis d’Arnaud can get toweled off.
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