Earlier today, the 2012 Miami Marlins Season Review series officially got started on its player reviews by checking out the first of a series of large failures for the 2012 Marlins, John Buck and his offensive performance. The Marlins stuck with Buck for much of the season, in part because he was owed $6 million total this season and another $6 million next year as part of his three-year, $18 million contract signed before 2011. While fans could not have been happy about that reasoning, it was one possible cause for the team's insistence of running Buck out there despite his struggles.
But the truth is that it probably was not the best reason. The best reason was that the Marlins did not have any other options for much of the year, and that is painfully evident when you look at the season that primary backup catcher Brett Hayes.
As bad as Buck was on offense, it was hard to believe that Hayes was that and much, much more. Of course, as your quintessential backup catcher, Hayes was never known for his offense, but prior to 2012, he had hit eight home runs in 239 PA and was being mostly held back by a 28.8 percent strikeout rate that did not look like it was coming down much.
No one could have expected what Hayes actually did in the 2012 year in terms of strikeouts. Out of all of the players who ended their seasons with fewer than 200 PA since 1961, Hayes's 49 strikeouts are tied for 126th out of 291 seasons. The problem is that only 18 players had fewer plate appearances than Hayes's 118 attempts this season. He struck out in a whopping 41.5 percent of plate appearances in 2012, That is the 39th greatest strikeout rate among the 200 top strikeout totals of players with fewer than 200 PA. Hayes struck out just a little more than Sandy Koufax (yes, that Sandy Koufax) struck out in 1963 as a pitcher!
Hayes's performance at the plate was truly brutal, and those who clamored for Buck to be replaced by Hayes as Buck limped through his 2012 season did not see the big picture. Buck had almost 3.4 times the number of plate appearances as Hayes this past season, yet somehow Hayes cost the team the same number of runs offensively according to both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference. Think about how terrible that is. Buck played more than three times as much and, as terrible as his year was, Hayes's was at least three times as bad!
Thankfully for the Marlins, the midseason trade that sent Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante to the Detroit Tigers brought back rising prospect Rob Brantly to the Marlins' organization. Brantly was having a breakout Double-A season, having hit an impressive .311/.359/.461 (.361 wOBA, 122 wRC+) in 195PA before being promoted to Triple-A. When Brantly arrived in Triple-A New Orleans with the Marlins organization, he picked up his previously poor play at the level and earned himself a promotion to the majors.
The Marlins lucked out in having Brantly display early success, much like the rest of the rookies from the trades. As mentioned in the linked article:
If the Marlins could consistently get even half of that production above the league average, they would be very happy with Brantly's play. The book on Brantly was that he was a capable contact hitter with a line drive swing that did not produce a lot of pop but could pick up enough singles to keep his batting average high. Surprisingly, all of that seemed to translate in his small major league sample with Miami and more. After hitting just five homers between two different minor league levels this season, Brantly hit thee in 113 PA in the majors and posted a surprising .170 ISO. He also was able to lay off more pitches than expected and draw a decent number of walks (11.5 percent), though that may have been due to his standing at the bottom of the order.
If there was a negative to be mentioned with regards to Brantly's season, it would have to be that his defense left something to be desired. Brantly struggled to block pitches in his short time in the majors, allowing 12 wild pitches and six passed balls in only 247 2/3 innings at the plate. In watching the games, you could see Brantly consistently failing to get in front of pitches and misjudging the location of pitches in the dirt, leading to baserunners taking extra bags. In comparison, John Buck allowed just 16 wild pitches and seven passed balls in almost four times the innings.
Nevertheless, the Marlins have to be happy with the offensive production that Brantly provided, and while it is likely he will not walk as many times as he did last season, his line drive swing may be able to provide more offense for the Marlins than they got from the position this year. Next year, Brantly will be the large half of a platoon at the position, and getting a full season out of Brantly should serve to help his development and stem the tide of a potential John Buck fall.