Sunday, April 7, 2013

Will John Buck Be Another Rod Barajas?

Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus

Ever since the Mets sent Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey to Toronto in December, the hot topic of conversation has centered around when the Mets would call up Travis d'Arnaud, the key player acquired from Toronto in the deal.  Would it be in June?  Would it be earlier?

But the Mets also acquired another catcher in the trade, one that would be the team's No. 1 option at the position until d'Arnaud was deemed ready to take over behind the plate.  John Buck - a catcher with a reputation of being a fine handler of a pitching staff, but not a fine handler of the bat - was sent to the Mets in the Dickey deal to keep the immediate area behind home plate warm for d'Arnaud (and also to prevent a plethora of passed balls, as Casey Stengel would have wanted from his backstop).

Buck is now off to a tremendous start for the Mets, hitting .421 with two homers and a league-leading nine RBIs.  He has also started two day games after night games with no ill effects, as clearly evidenced by his four-RBI performance on Saturday against the Marlins, just hours after catching every pitch in a 3½-hour loss to Miami the night before.

As great as Buck's first five games have been, causing many a Mets fan to reconsider how long they want d'Arnaud to remain in Las Vegas, we've seen hot starts by journeymen catchers before.  Anyone remember how we went bonkers for Barajas?

In 2010, Omar Minaya signed Rod Barajas to a one-year deal to become the starting catcher for the Mets.  Barajas was coming off a year in which he had a low batting average (.226) and low on-base percentage (.258), but showed good pop (19 HR) in his final year with the Toronto Blue Jays.  Barajas became an unexpected offensive sensation for the Mets, hitting .269 with 11 homers and 30 RBIs through the end of May.  During his hot two-month stretch, Barajas had three multi-homer games and provided Citi Field's first walk-off home run when he took Giants' reliever Sergio Romo deep for a two-run blast on May 7.

But once the calendar turned to June, Barajas went into a swoon.  Following his torrid start, Barajas began to hit like the pitchers he was asked to catch.  From June 1 to July 19, the former Hot Rod displayed a cold stick at the plate, batting .161 with no homers and just two ribbies in 101 plate appearances.  Barajas finally ended his seven-week homerless streak on July 21, but only started two more games for the Mets after his final clout.  Four months after endearing himself to Mets fans with his powerful bat, Barajas was a Dodger, as Los Angeles claimed him off waivers on August 22.

The Mets allowed Rod Barajas to walk off to Los Angeles three months after he walked off against the Giants.

Prior to becoming a Met, Barajas was a lifetime .238 hitter who had reached double figures in home runs in five of his previous six seasons.  In his final year before coming to Flushing (2009 with Toronto), Barajas posted his lowest full-season batting average since becoming a No. 1 catcher.

Meanwhile, John Buck was a .235 career hitter before becoming a Met.  Buck hit ten or more homers in seven of his nine seasons, but in his last year prior to his trade to the Mets (2012 with Toronto), Buck posted a career-low .192 batting average.

I don't know about you, but I think I see a similarity there.

It's great that John Buck is off to a fast start.  He's helping the team at the plate with his bat and he's also helping the team behind it by getting the most out of his pitchers (Mets starters have combined to give up five earned runs over the team's first five games).  But don't automatically assume that Buck's quick start will allow Travis d'Arnaud to stay at the Triple-A level for a long period of time.

The Mets have been down this road before.  They've seen a journeyman catcher perform brilliantly out of the box, only to see his production tail off dramatically before the first day of summer.  I tip my hat to John Buck for a wonderful first week, but I'm not ready to announce that he should be the team's starting catcher past the All-Star Break just yet.  We have our recent catching history to thank for that.

No comments: