What Should the Mariners Expect from John Buck?

Kansas_City_Royals_John_Buck

==Cheesy Headlines, and … ===

The Buck Doesn’t Stop

Can He Buck the Trend?

Can’t Pass This Buck

Brother, Can You Spare a Buck?

Oh … maybe you were interested in what to expect from John Buck as a hitter?

Well, it turns out that, despite 10 years and 4,000 plate appearances, that’s a pretty darn hard thing to figure out.

Buck, you see, has flashed interesting pieces of being a valuable hitter, but he’s never really put them all together in the same year.

Cases in point:

2007:  Buck had a very strong season at the plate, with 18 homers and a .207 ISO.  It takes a lot of slugging to get over .200 ISO.  He also walked at a very nice 9.0% rate (well above average).  But!  His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) plunged into sub-arctic territory — just .243 (average is around .300).  So even though a reasonably fortunate BABIP would have given Buck a banner season, he got the opposite, and his results looked (deceptively) very tepid: .222/.308/.429.

2010: This time BABIP fortune smiled on Buck — a .335 rate, far above his career levels — and he was still putting plenty of jolt into the ball (20 HR; .208 ISO).  But!  This time, his plate skills evaporated.  His strikeout rate was high (as it has always been), and his walk rate dropped all the way down to 3.7%.  Again, even just an average walk total would have given Buck a monster year.  His career rate is 7.6%, or right around average.  But the walk drought gave him just a .314 OBP despite that .335 BABIP.  That’s what a high-K, low-BB season will do.

So, Buck had:

  • a .308 OBP in 2007 made up of 9% walks, 9% XBH, 10% singles (low BABIP, high BB); and
  • a .314 OBP in 2010 made up of 4% walks, 10% XBH, 16% singles (high BABIP, low BB).

That would kind of hard to do if you tried.  Either way, Buck kept falling short of being the offensive-impact catcher that he might have been, and ended up as something of an upgrade over Miguel Olivo and not much more.

***

So what about Buck circa 2014?

This we know:

  • He will strike out.  That’s been the one constant.  He will strike out 20+% of the time (career rate 23.9%).
  • He will run a low BABIP most years.  He’s right-handed and slow, and seems to have a tendency to hit the ball in the air.  His career BABIP is .278.
  • He will bop some long flies.  His career HR% is 3.4%, which is pretty slugger-ish.  In 2013, it was 3.5%; so he’s not falling off a cliff in that department (yet).

This we don’t know:

  • What is the deal with his walk rates?  His career rate is right about average, but he got there with wild swings.  Just two years after the abysmal 3.7% rate that kept him from getting MVP votes, he posted a way-above-average 12.3% rate!  So who knows what we’ll see this time.
  • Is the decline from his glory-day ISO permanent?  Buck’s decline has not shown up so much in homers, but in doubles.  He hit just 11 in 2013 (he had 15 HR).  So he still has jolt in his bat, just not with much consistency.  From 2004-2010 his XBH% was pretty consistent between 8 and 10% with a high year of 11.9%.  The last three years, he’s been in the 6-7% range.

Buck will be 33 in 2014.  Through 2010, he still had the capacity for that shock-the-world season — 20+ HR and .350+ OBP — if all his skills fell into place at the same time.  It looks like that window is closed.  He now looks like an Olivo type (some long balls, a bunch of K’s), except with a few more walks and less speed.

Of course, Olivo was not just asked to be the everyday catcher, he was asked to bat 4th, 5th or 6th in a power-starved lineup.  Buck won’t have to do either (or, at least, we certainly hope not).  It’s certainly possible that a part-time role and less pressure will enable Buck to consolidate his abilities.

As we seen, the elements are there, and if they all show up at once Buck could be a pleasant surprise.  If not, he should be a decent role player.

For the full four-stage drill-down stat analysis of Buck, go here.

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