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2011 Marlins Season Review: Overview and Catcher

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Here at Fish Stripes, we have been talking a lot about the future. On our first day on the job, we talked about what you might expect to see at Fish Stripes. Next, we discussed the Fish Stripes Plan for Offseason Success and talked about what the primary goals of this offseason should be. Much of our early focus has been on the future of this team.

But what do they say about the past?

"The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again."

George Santayana

Here at Fish Stripes, we refuse to repeat the mistakes of the past, especially those of the 2011 season. To that end, Fish Stripes will present a Marlins Season Review looking at all the positions and the overall team in the 2011 season. You can expect these reviews on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Today, we will discuss the team as a whole before moving right into the various position players the club featured in 2011.

2011 Florida Marlins

W-L: 72-90
Runs Scored-Allowed: 625-702
Pythagorean W-L: 72-90
Component FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR)*: 36.7
Component Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement (rWAR)*:

*Note: Baseball-Reference WAR uses a slightly higher replacement level than FanGraphs WAR. Thus, a given rWAR is more valuable than an equal value in fWAR.

Obviously, all signs pointed to 2011 being the worst Marlins season since 2007. After a few years at .500 or better play, the Marlins suffered an undue number of injuries and regressions on their way to a struggle of a season, both for the team and the fans. Between the ineffectiveness of Hanley Ramirez and injuries to Ramirez and Josh Johnson, the Marlins lost two of their biggest cogs to a successful 2011. After losing those two sources of wins, very little could keep the team afloat, despite surprisingly good performances from players like Emilio Bonifacio and Mike Stanton.


Those rare good performances did not extend into the catching game. While John Buck was a serviceable addition this season and brought stability to a position that was fragmented in 2010, the team received one of Buck's worst offensive seasons and will need a bounce back next year to justify their three-year investment.

2011 - John Buck 140 530 .227 .316 .367 .301 85 1.8 0.7

The Good

Buck introduced himself to the Marlins fan base with a grand slam that helped fuel the Marlins' first win of the season. He hit 16 home runs total last season, approaching the 20-homer career mark he set in 2010 with the Toronto Blue Jays. That mark did fall short of his prior career rate of almost 19 home runs in 530 PA, so in a sense Buck actually hit fewer homers than we expected. Still, the 16 home runs were tied for the third-highest season total in franchise history and the highest since Miguel Olivo hit 16 in 2006 and 2007.

Buck also added the walk back to his resume, as he drew walks in 10.2 percent of his plate appearances after hacking away to a career-low 3.7 percent rate in Toronto in 2010. This helped to mitigate the effect of his terrible .227 batting average to a degree; he actually posted essentially the same on-base percentage that he did in 2010. Buck's walk rate also looks sustainable, as it was built on an increase in selectivity at the plate and contact.

Year Swing% Contact% OSwing% ZSwing% OContact% ZContact%
2011 49 76 30 70 62 83
2010 55 71 38 74 54 81

Note: Rates with the prefix O- imply numbers on pitches out of the strike zone. Rates with the Z- prefix imply numbers on pitches in the strike zone.

Perhaps the selectivity helped, because those improvements not only led to a career-high walk rate, but also his second-lowest career strikeout rate.

Defensively, it was not a terrible year for Buck, as he performed as expected. We heard nothing wrong with his handling of the pitching staff, and indeed the Marlins continue to have nothing but praise about his game-calling. Otherwise, he was below average, but playable at the position.

The Bad

Unfortunately for Buck, a lot of other bad things happened. In particular, his batting average plummeted due to a .268 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) -- the second worst figure of his career. Of course, a good deal of BABIP is luck, and we expect that Buck's talent is significantly better than that; his career BABIP, for example, is .286. A little regression and we should see something very close to his career .240 batting average.

The more concerning problem was a distinct lack of power outside of those home runs. For a guy with a career Isolated Power (ISO, calculated as SLG minus batting average) of .171, his .136 mark represented a lack of strength. Prior to this year, Buck hit a double or triple in 5.3 of his plate appearances. In 2011, that dropped to 3.1 percent on the year. This problem was not necessarily associated with BABIP as well, as he had a lower rate of doubles and triples on balls in play in 2011 compared to the rest of his career. In addition to hitting slightly fewer homers than expected, we also got a lot fewer doubles, and that has to concern Marlins fans when it comes to a catcher who will be 31 years old in 2012.

While Buck's traditional defense in terms of outs on caught stealing and prevention of wild pitches was as expected, one interesting point was brought to light recently: Buck has not performed well in terms of framing pitches. There has been a lot of research done in the field of quantifying a catcher's ability to frame pitches and induce strike calls. The latest masterful piece by Baseball Prospectus's Mike Fast brought out the possibility that Buck may be costing Marlins pitchers strikes. The estimate in 2011 was that Buck cost 11 runs for the team in terms of missed strikes, which would be equivalent of a full win compared to an average catcher. If his talent is indeed below average, it is another strike to his already negative reputation behind the plate.

The Future

Many of the hitting concerns from Buck this season are likely to be allayed next year. His sustainable improvement at the plate should combine with some regression to his career numbers to bring significant improvement next year. The concern will be whether his defense, including framing, will hurt the team. Depending on which WAR inputs you use, Buck ranged from a one- to two-win contribution for the Marlins, which is likely close to what the team is paying for. But if his defense at the plate continues to falter and his bat does not pick up, the team will not get its money's worth over the next two years.

The Rest

The Marlins got backup contributions primarily from Brett Hayes, and though his .231/.291/.415 slash line in limited play actually slightly outperformed Buck, it is still the hallmark of a backup catcher. Much like Buck, Hayes has power but he struggles mightily with strikeouts. John Baker once had a future with the team, but he spent most of 2011 recovering from Tommy John surgery and is now a non-tender candidate. If this is the last we see of Baker, we wish him and his father @oldcatcher27 the best of luck.