Revisiting John Buck’s DefenseBy
Two weeks ago, I wrote a piece on John Buck, and his season to date. The post focused mainly on his offensive output this past year, but I also included a paragraph regarding the 31-year old’s defense. I wrote that Buck is defensively “a bit below-league average.” As it turns out, I may have been too kind in that assessment.
Coincidentally, the day after my post went online, Mike Fast published his excellent article concerning catchers defense. For those who haven’t already read it, I highly recommend checking it out. In the article, Fast quantified the long mysterious and sought after effects of catchers ability to “frame” pitches. His findings? Framing can make a significant difference in whether a pitch is called a strike or a ball. His work cited Dan Turkenkopf’s finding “that switching the call from a ball to a strike on a close pitch was worth about 0.13 runs on average.” As a result, over the course of a season, a catcher who is very good at framing can add an extra 20 runs to his team. On the flip side, lesser backstops can cost their teams as many as 20 runs.
Unfortunately for the Marlins, Buck does not fare well in this metric of measuring catchers defense. According to Fast’s data, Buck is actually one of the most unskilled catchers. In 2011, his framing (or lack thereof) cost the Marlins 11 runs. Over the past 5 years, he is tied for 8th worst of all catchers playing regularly. Granted, these numbers are slightly skewed because of 2010, where he recorded an atrocious –17 runs. The point remains, however, that Buck is actually costing the Marlins in this area, rather than helping.
Combine these numbers with Buck’s -3 Defensive runs saved from Fangraphs (which does not incorporate framing pitchers), and a defensive I called “a bit below average” now is looking “very below average.”
As we look ahead to next season, it’s hard to see Buck’s defense improving significantly as he enters his 30′s, and his 9th season at catcher. Unfortunately, arm strength as well as speed is only going to decrease as Buck gets older. Not to mention, the toll of playing 120+ games behind the plate every year can only speed up the inevitable and irreversible process of aging.
Framing pitches, on the other hand, is something that could presumably be learned, no matter the age. It may take considerable time and effort, but Buck certainly could improve his defense in this respect. From a managerial standpoint, I would prefer to have a catcher who is not very skilled at framing pitches, rather than a catcher with a weak arm, simply because you could improve your framing skills much easier. Whether or not we see an improvement from Buck next year remains to be seen.