Miami Marlins Catchers Brantly, Buck Producing...For Now

Sept 6, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Marlins catcher Rob Brantly (19) at bat against the Milwaukee Brewers at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

The Miami Marlins have numerous holes in their lineup at this point, but for much of the year, one spot on their roster has essentially been a black hole offensively. Marlins catchers have sucked the life force of the bottom of the lineup this season. Overall, Marlins catchers have hit a paltry .212/.303/.339 (.280 wOBA) for the year, pulled down primarily by John Buck and his season line of .196/.302/.335 (.281 wOBA).

The production would have been much worse by now had Marlins catchers not picked up the slack recently. The Fish finally pulled the trigger on promoting catcher prospect Rob Brantly, who was acquired as part of the Anibal Sanchez / Omar Infante trade that also netted Jacob Turner, on August 14. Since then, both Brantly and Buck, whose playing has been reduced to the small side of a platoon situation, have raised their games.

Player, Since Aug 14 PA AVG OBP SLG
Rob Brantly 75 .317 .427 .508
John Buck 50 .267 .320 .422

Where have these guys been? The Marlins would have done anything for this kind of production from their catchers earlier in the season, and it seems now that finally the team can rest easy knowing that their catchers can hit for a change! No need to worry about 2013 and beyond, right?

Well, not necessarily. Yes, it is very encouraging that the Marlins are getting this production from their catching duo, and indeed a 2013 return of the Brantly-Buck platoon may be in order. But as you might expect, expectations should be tempered, because these guys are not likely to continue to hit this well

Brantly's Contact

Rob Brantly has been a revelation since starting with two hits in his first 19 PA to start his career. Since his hot series in Los Angeles, Brantly has turned up the bat and been red hot. A look at his peripherals shows some good and some bad things about his future.

Brantly K% BB% ISO XB/H BABIP
2012 16.0 16.0 .190 0.600 .367

Obviously, Brantly's BABIP is sky-high and should fall soon, so we need not discuss the fact that his batting average should be on the way down. The power has been promising, but perhaps also has been buoyed by a 25.5 percent line drive rate. Brantly has driven more balls than expected, and while his swing is built for that when he makes contact, it also to me seems a bit long for it to be driving balls that consistently. Brantly had a .150 ISO in his longest stint at one level this year, in Double-A with the Tigers organization, and that seems more like his level of power given that he has never hit more than 10 homers at any level.

One interesting thing about Brantly is that his strikeout and walk rates early on is that they are very good, but they do not seem to match his plate discipline numbers.

Brantly Swing% OSwing% ZSwing% Contact% OContact% ZContact% Zone%
2012 45 31 65 78 64 87 42

These numbers are not bad, but players with similar contact rates have struck out a little bit more this season.

Player, 2012 PA Contact% K%
Ian Desmond 486 78.6 20.6
Dexter Fowler 507 78.5 23.9
Mike Moustakas 564 78.4 19.9
Freddie Freeman 562 78.0 19.6
Andre Ethier 559 77.5 19.7
Andrew McCutchen 602 77.4 18.9
Adam LaRoche 586 77.2 21.3
Justin Upton 558 76.9 20.1
Garrett Jones 459 76.5 20.0
Michael Saunders 496 76.4 23.8

As a group, these ten players who had the most similar contact rates as Brantly thus far this year have struck out in 20.7 percent of their PA, and this seems appropriate given the transition for Brantly from a Triple-A rate this year of 17.9 percent to the major league level. His batting average is already inflated now due to the BABIP, but you should expect to fall a little further even after that once he begins to strike out a little more.

The walk rate is also seemingly anomalous, especially when you consider that Brantly never walked in more than 10.6 percent of PA in any level of professional baseball. This season, Brantly walked just eight times in 154 Triple-A PA (4.1 percent) and only 12 times in 195 PA in Double-A (6.2 percent). But a breakdown of his walks shows just why this has been the case. You can already see that pitchers have been reluctant to throw him strikes, mostly because he bats in front of the pitcher. Two of Brantly's 12 walks were intentional, and by looking through his play log, you can see that two more came in situations in which you could presume an "unintentional intentional" walk.

Still, an 11 percent walk rate (eight walks in 71 PA that were not intentional walks of any kind) is not a bad mark, but I imagine Brantly would have to also cut down on the swings out of the zone to maintain such a mark. However, because the relationship between outside swings and walk rate is a little more tenuous, I am willing to give Brantly the benefit of the doubt and extend some credit to him for walking more than expected. If his batting eye continues to improve, the Marlins could have a future supporting piece for years to come.

John Buck's Regression

One look at that John Buck line since August 14 and you might say he is simply regressing to his mean finally after months of struggles. His .304 BABIP for that time period suggests that he is at least capable of having stretches where hits fall in after a season of miserable luck. But as we detailed earlier in the year, it is very possible that Buck may not be able to climb back to being a respectable hitter after under-performing this poorly. Keep in mind also that Buck has been doing this primarily against lefties and not against both sides. So while the last few weeks have been a good sign, the concern is still there and his seasonal line at this stage is more at a backup catcher's level of hitting.

So the Marlins are getting better performance from their catchers, and Brantly's work so far is very promising. But as always, temper your expectations before you think the catcher position has been solved. The Marlins are heading into 2013 with a workable solution, but there is still regression to consider with Brantly and possible collapse with Buck. These are positives, but we are not out of the woods yet.

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