John Buck and the Quick Hook
Fernando Rodney’s imaginary arrow had barely cleared the foul line when Ryan Divish gave us the news that changed the tenor of the evening. John Buck, seen joking with teammates a few minutes earlier, was dumped by the M’s – DFA’d, after hitting an anemic .226/.293/.286 in just shy of 100 plate appearances. Buck’s never hit for average, but figured to have a bit of power after averaging about 16 HRs over his past four seasons. A back-up catcher who didn’t make the most of his limited PAs is always at risk – ask Kelly Shoppach – but the collapse of Buck’s ISO wasn’t what the M’s pointed to in the aftermath of the move. Instead, the M’s pointed to complaints about Buck’s blocking and receiving.
The fact that Buck’s defense received poor grades from M’s pitchers, defensive stats and the eye test really shouldn’t be that shocking. As I mentioned back in the spring, Buck was the worst framer in baseball in 2010, and was 3rd from the bottom last season. What would be more interesting, if also worrying, is if they picked him up for his defense and then found it lacking in his 20-some games behind the plate. That’s not the only explanation, of course, but this is becoming something of an annual tradition. Kelly Shoppach only got until June last season, and Jesus Montero started the long walk from C to 1B last year as well. The M’s – at least under Zduriencik- haven’t found a back-up catcher they truly felt comfortable with. It’s an interesting, if not all that important on the field, problem to have.
It’s possible that Buck’s defensive shortcomings were just the final straw; that the move wouldn’t have been made absent a sub-.600 OPS. It’s also possible that the M’s *real* issue is that Buck simply wasn’t suited to this back-up role, and that it affected his offense and defense much more than they assumed. Remember, Buck got at least 100 games in each of the past four years, and eight of the past nine. From an on-the-field standpoint, the M’s may have improved. Jesus Sucre appears to be both a good framer and someone who can control the running game. He’s also hit surprisingly well this year in AAA, though his rest-of-season projection is still slightly below Buck’s. It’s close enough, however, that Sucre’s defensive advantage may make him the better player overall. Unless you put a lot of weight on Buck’s contribution to clubhouse camaraderie, it’s unlikely that the move will hurt the M’s playoff chances. But like a true baseball nerd, I’m always trying to glean the principles that underlie roster changes like this, and I have to say I’m nowhere closer to discerning them than I was in March.
Welcome, Jesus Sucre. Best of luck wherever you turn up, John Buck.