Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Royals Insider: John Buck

First and foremost, I apologize for the lack of recent updates. Throughout the last two months, I have taken time to write for other Royals-related websites, including Royals Nation the fine folks over at Royals Review. However, I plan on updating this website every day for the forseeable future.

I would like to begin a new segment of called Royals Insider. The name might sound ambiguous; thus, why don't I describe it?

Each week, I will analyze each position on the Kansas City Royals depth chart from our current 40-man roster, beginning with catcher (led by John Buck) and concluding with designated hitter (led by Billy Butler). I will provide a short analysis on the players' history, recent accomplishments with special attention paid to their 2007 results, followed by 2008 predictions for that particular player. Because approximately 13 weeks remain until the regular season, I will only choose certain players to analyze extensively here at The Royal Treatment.

Accompanied with the short biography, summary, and analysis will be my 2008 statistical projection, based solely - nothing more and nothing less - on the wavelengths flowing in the sanctity of my baseball-infested mind! Yes, I've already posted these projections on one other Royals website, but why not include hundreds more in on the excitement?

First on the organizational 40-man depth chart is the position of catcher, occupied by three men: John Buck, Miguel Olivo, and Matt Tupman. Traditional baseball thought dictates that catchers should mostly be judged by ability to block baseballs, relate to their pitchers and understand their pitches and tendencies, and generally "call a good game". Offense is usually secondary when analyzing the game of a catcher. A .240/.310/.400 hitting catcher can easily maintain service time at the MLB for many years. In fact, a .210/.280/.370 hitting catcher can usually tread the thin line between AAA backstop and MLB backup for a fairly extensive period of time (see: 30-somethings Paul Bako, Kelly Stinnett, and Royals favorite Jason/Pepe LaRue/LaPoo). As long as the catcher has extensive experience behind the plate (usually dating back to the draft), can communicate well with a big-league pitching staff and "call a good game" effectively, 95% of their job is completed. However, I beg to slightly differ with that fairly dated philosophy. In this offensive-heavy era and especially in our division, which features not only impressive offensive catchers but strong offensive teams in general, offense is generally regarded as necessary at virtually every corner, including catchers and middle infielders. Offensive-heavy catchers are more common than they used to be, what with well above average offensive catchers like Victor Martinez, Jorge Posada, Joe Mauer, Ivan Rodriguez, and Michael Barrett remaining in the scene. If one position is well below average or near replacement level.

That brings us to our incumbent starter and projected frontline 2008 backstop, Mr. Johnathan Richard Buck, born in the self-described fossil fish capital of the world, Kemmerer, Wyoming.

John Buck seeks to improve on a promising 2007.

After arriving in the Carlos Beltran trade in June 2004, many Royals fans were eagerly anticipating the next Mike MacFarlane - a lukewarm average but high power player who could catch well into the next decade. By 2005, Buck had emerged as one of the leaders of the team, and generally related well with the pitching staff. From 2004-06, he showed improvement in those traditional ooh's and aah's of a catcher - understanding of his pitchers, ability to block pitches and - you guessed it - "call a good game". Unfortunately, Buck treated K.C. fans with decidedly below average offensive production that usually included one or two months of promise, only to be surrounded by a virtual black hole.

G.M. Dayton Moore lured in Jason LaRue from the Cincinnati Reds to provide competition in the Spring. Buck responded well, using a leg-trigger many strong sluggers use to gain timing and leverage on the ball, hitting .297/.409/.514 in the Cactus League. He then proceed to set the baseball diamond afire in late Spring, stroking the ball to the tune of a .320/.426/.680 attack in April, with a .387 BABIP, 10 extra base hits, and a 198 OPS+. For reasons still vague, then-Royals manager continued to platoon Buck with Jason LaRue throughout the month, starting him for 11 games. Bell then mysteriously decided to cease Buck's leg trigger that helped him gain so much success in the month. Buck's batting average in May plummeted to .239, and then dropped to .196 for June. The power remained (roughly a .500 SLG in that time-span), but then disappeared almost completely in the final three months. Buck's 2007 trend showed that he increasingly became a liability at the plate, while Jason LaRue, an even more damning liability, continued to receive 2/5 of the playing time. Buck struggled hitting finesse pitching and steadily lost bat control throughout the season, as indicated by his very poor situational and 2-out hitting when the season concluded.

Hopefully in 2008, John Buck can rebound and show the raw power and plate discipline he demonstrated in April through June of 2007. Despite the fact that he'll likely never hit above .250 in a big-league season, he can counter it with the qualities mentioned above, not to mention those qualities old-school analysts love to pinpoint in a catcher.

Attached below are my predictions for how J.B.'s 2008 will shake up:


GS: 116
AB: 434
H: 102
AVG: .235
OBP: .318
SLG: .452
OPS: .770
HR: 18
RBI: 55
R: 52
1B: 60
2B: 23
3B: 1
TB: 181
BB: 45
SO: 97
SB: 0
CS: 1
OPS+: 99

- Improving power and plate discipline (BA/OBP split last three seasons: +45, +61, +76)
- Ability to block pitches (3 PB's in '07)
- Ability to hit fly balls limits GIDP and strengthens power

- Overall handling of bat
- 2-out/situational hitting, 2 out hitting (.143/.244/.277 with 2-outs in '07)
- Ability to hit finesse and groundball pitchers (.638 OPS vs. finesse, .624 OPS vs. groundball)
- Arm strength, ability to gun baserunners (20.2 CS% in '07)
- Ability to hit left-handed pitching (.184 BABip in '07)

OVERALL 2008 TREND: Considerably upward

Also, I've included several more indicates of where I believe John Buck's future is headed.

On-field performance: Mostly-offensive based expectations of player
Injury contingency: Chances of player spending at least 15 days on D.L.
Whereabouts: Chances of departing our organization
Job allocation: How the player will most likely be implemented, assuming he remains healthy and in our organization.

On-field performance:
Significant dropoff from 2007: 5%
Repeats 2007 form: 65%
Power surge, true breakthrough (.255/.330/.480): 30%

Injury contingency:
Injured for 15 days or more: 5%

Chances traded before Opening Day: 10%
Job allocation:Starting catcher (80-90%): 10%
Starting catcher (65-80%): 65%Platoon with Olivo: 20%
Backup/reserve: 5%

As a fan of John Buck, I believe he will benefit from increased playing time, but still won't receive the 500+ AB's some Royals fans would like to see, even after the acquisition of Miguel Olivo. As he enters his age 28 season, Buck will show marginal improvement in plate discipline from 2007 and will slug more doubles than 2007. Hopefully, the leg-trigger that facilitated his bat at the beginning of 2007 will help him accomplish more in what I believe could be a respectable, steady career as an everyday big-league catcher.

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