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Miami Marlins Season Preview: Catcher

Feb 22, 2012; Jupiter, FL, USA; Miami Marlins catcher John Buck (14) during spring training drills at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
Feb 22, 2012; Jupiter, FL, USA; Miami Marlins catcher John Buck (14) during spring training drills at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Today, we begin our run through the Marlins' actual players in the Marlins Season Preview. We will be looking at each position and examining the players that the Marlins have available to them. We will discuss each player's strengths and weaknesses and take a look at some projections for the 2012 season to see what type of impact that player can bring to the table.

First up today is the position of catcher.

Depth Chart

1. John Buck
2. Brett Hayes

Minor League Depth: Jake Jeffries

John Buck

The fact that Buck regressed from his 2010 high last season was rather unsurprising; it was going to be difficult for him to repeat his excellent 2010 performance in the bandbox that was Rogers Centre in Toronto. Still, we should not have expected to see Buck regress to such a degree last season; his .301 wOBA was the lowest he had posted since 2008. His 16 home runs came on an 11.1 percent HR/FB rate, the lowest since 2008. Buck struggled a little with power and with batting average, dragging his entire batting line down.

But it is important to point out that much of what we saw was probably a string of bad luck. Buck hit .268 on balls in play, as compared to his career .286 average on balls in play. A regression in that alone should bump his batting average and drag the tide of the rest of his batting line up with it. Buck's strikeout rate last season was the lowest since 2006, but it was not so different that we can expect a similar, more disciplined approach in 2012. It seems a lot more likely that Buck will revert to something close to his career 23.5 percent strikeout rate and 73 percent contact rate, so the strikeouts should mitigate some of the regression in BABIP. All in all, however, it seems likely to expect a small but still significant increase in each of his batting line numbers next year.

As for power, however, it may be a different tale. We still do not know exactly how the Marlins' new stadium will play out, but it does seem to be favoring pitchers more than the old park did. However, the field to the left is unlikely to be significantly different, as the deeper mid-left field compensates for the slightly shorter right field. The difference will be to left-handed hitters, as right field will be deeper almost throughout. What is interesting about that is that Buck tends to spread his home runs out to both sides fairly evenly, as evident by his home run spreads from 2010 and 2011. Might the new depth in right field hurt Buck's chances a bit more for a repeat in power? I would bet "yes," but not by a whole lot. It is likely that he may lose some of his true power talent, but that in the end may just yield a repeat 2011 season of 16 homers.

The problem with Buck is that offense is where he needs to establish himself, because defensively he is a poor catcher. Despite what the Marlins have said about his game-calling, it is likely that Buck is a below average thrower and just an average-at-best fielder of passed balls and wild pitches. Scarier still is the possibility that he is costing Marlins pitchers strikes with his framing skills, though it may be a bit early to know anything definitive in that department. Either way, it is fairly certain that Buck is costing the Marlins runs behind the plate, so he needs to be a little more passable with the bat to help compensate for that weakness.

So how passable might he be with the bat? Here are a couple guesses based on various projection systems:

Proj. System PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA / TAv*
ZiPS 428 .239 .309 .391 .306
PECOTA 560 .234 .309 .399 .254
Fans 512 .239 .306 .383 .301

*PECOTA-projected value listed as TAv, which is scaled to look like batting average with the league average set at .260 every season.

All of the systems project an extreme regression in walks along with a positive uptick in BABIP, leaving his line somewhat similar to his 2011 mark. For many Marlins fans, that may sound like a disappointment, but depending on who you ask, Buck was worth anywhere between one and two Wins Above Replacement last season. And because the Marlins are only paying him $6 million in 2012 and 2013, the team is not expecting much from his production. Indeed, at $4.5 million per WAR, the Marlins are looking for a staggeringly small 1.3 WAR from their starting catcher. What may he ultimately project at?

Projection: 500 PA, 1.5 WAR

Why so high? When you combine Buck's defensive capabilities and his offense, he may be somewhere along the lines of 10 to 13 runs below average in 500 PA and 135 games. But catchers do not need to be great in order to be worth something, and even with all of those problems, Buck still ends up being just good enough to be worse than a league average player over a full season. The Marlins are not expecting much, and they are getting a less than stellar player, but the team should be happy enough with the production that they can focus on the positives elsewhere. Whether you like Buck or not, he is a mediocre starter that does provide some value to the Fish.

The rest of the team's catchers are decent. Brett Hayes represents an excellent backup choice in that he is decent defensively, has an occasional power swing, but would not be someone to whom you would entrust most of your season. Jeffries was picked as minor league fodder in the Burke Badenhop trade, and he is more or less just that, as he is a career .254/.318/.343 hitter in the minors and someone the team would not want to see the light of day.

What is the status of the Marlins at catcher? Buck is a decent but unspectacular starter and one of the clearly below average parts of this year's team. Hayes is a solid backup without much more potential to him, and Jeffries and the other minor leaguers are non-options. The position is stable in that the Fish are happy with whom they have, but it is among the weaker spots on the team.