John Buck’s improvements defensivelyBy
Last season, I spent a lot of time addressing John Buck’s defense (here and here), with most of my commentary being negative. Coming off one of his worse years, and entering into his 30′s, I was expecting to see a decline in defensive value as the effect of aging sets in. However, 2012 has been a vastly different year for Buck, with his catching so far showing great improvement.
While our current methods of quantifying catchers defense are far from perfect, they can still provide useful information about how valuable a player has been behind the plate. My personal favorite, and one of the better available rating systems is Matt Klaassen’s. His methodology and explanation of the system can be found here, although it’s easy to follow along with.
According to Klaassen’s most recent installment of the rankings, Buck has been the 11th best defensive catcher in the majors–saving 1.5 runs above average through May. Much better than in 2011, when he was 39th among all catchers, and was worth only .4 runs over the course of the whole season.
Here’s how he’s been more successful, by each category. FERns accounts for fielding errors, thERuns with throwing errors, PBWPRns with pitch blocking, and CSRns with stolen bases/caught stealings.
Year PA FERns thERuns PBWPRns CSRns Total
2011 4863 1.3 0.7 3.1 -4.7 0.4
2012 1554 0.5 -1.4 1.8 0.5 1.5
Over the past two years, Buck has been very good at avoiding fielding errors, as both of his FERns are positive (1.3, 0.5) and he’s on pace this season to top even his 2011 mark. In fact, he hasn’t been charged with a fielding error since his 2008 season with Kansas City, which is quite impressive.
On the flip side, Buck has made more than his share of throwing errors this season, and as a result, his thERuns is a league worst -1.4. So far, he’s made 5 throwing errors in 2012, the same amount he made during all of last season. It’s possible he’s been unlucky or he may have simply got off to a bad start, but whatever the cause of the abnormally high number of throwing errors, his 0.7 from 2011 gives me hope he can turn it around in this category.
Limiting passed balls and wild pitches has always been a strength of Buck’s, and this season is no different. His 1.8 runs saved above average this season is 5th best among catchers, and if he stays on track, he could post around a +4 for the year.
The area in which Buck has made the greatest improvement from last season is with throwing out baserunners. He ranked third worst in the big leagues last season by throwing out only 17% of runners while allowing 83 stolen bases, giving him a -4.7 CSRns. However, he’s managed a positive 0.5 up to this point in 2012, a 5.2 run jump, by throwing out 29% of runners while allowing only 24 stolen bases through June.
While a drop in effeciency this would have been expected from the aging Buck, he’s shown just the opposite in 2012. If he stays on track, he will beat his 2011 marks in 3 of 4 defensive categories, and will be a top 10-defensive catcher. It will be interesting to see how well he can keep up his stellar play through the rest of the season, especially as the wear and tear of the season take effect and as his legs get tired.
Data from Baseball-Reference.com