Royals Review Dialogue with Marc Normandin of BP

Last week Marc Normandin of Baseball Prospectus featured John Buck in his weekly Player Profile column, taking an early look at a player that many Royals fans feel has made a leap forward this season. (Not coincidentally, Buck homered twice today in Tampa, and now trails only Victor Martinez for most homers by a catcher in baseball.)After two stagnant seasons, Buck is now the proud owner of a .288/.383/.600 line. After looking at Buck's data -- both traditional rate stats and Hit Tracker batted ball speed/height numbers -- Normandin concludes that Buck's improvement is real:

He isn't squaring up on the ball and hitting solid line drives, as evidenced by the batted-ball numbers. Buck is instead getting under the ball and crushing it, using his bat speed and strength to muscle it out of the park. At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, Buck has the heft to hit 20-25 homers when he's disciplined enough to wait out mistakes. He's doing that this year, and luckily for the Royals, he should be able to keep it up as long as he stays disciplined at the plate. The difference between 3.5 and 3.8 P/PA might not seem like that big of a deal, but it's an additional 150 pitches over 500 plate appearances, and chances are good that some of those will be pitches that don't break like they were supposed to or mistakes left out over the plate. Buck hasn't been able to force the pitcher's hand in his short major league career, but he appears to be doing that so far in 2007, and the results are better than what we've come to expect out of Buck during his initial time in the majors.

Late last week, I chatted with Marc about these, and other matters, over baked halibut, braised lentils and le treuffe. In a very short time, Marc has established himself on the net and in the analyst community in quite an old-fashioned way: diligently producing quality work. In addition to his work at Baseball Prospectus, Marc writes a weekly column for Heater Magazine, is the founder of SB Nation's Beyond the Boxscore and is a rising senior at Merrimack College. Thanks to Marc for his time.

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RR: Your recent profile of John Buck concluded rather optimistically, suggesting that thanks to increased plate discipline, Buck may have reached a new, sustainable level of performance. Looking at your data, his BB% has risen to over 13%, after 6.5% in 2006. Is it your position that this is too large a jump to not simply be a random good month?

Marc Normandin: 13% may be high in the long run, but I expect Buck to have more patience in this year than in others, thanks to his new approach at the plate. Buck now has an exaggerated high leg kick that he starts very early in the pitcher's delivery, and I think adding this extra dimension to his stance and swing has given him extra time in determining whether or not a pitch is one that he can do something with. This has led to an increase in the pitches that he sees, and has given him more of a chance to work with mistakes that pitchers throw. Buck has always had considerable power, but now he's using it on pitches he can do something with, rather than whatever the pitcher is throwing. So, as I said, 13% might be high overall due, but I see this version of Buck as a more disciplined and patient hitter than we are used to seeing.


RR:What is your prediction for Buck's 2007 stat line, and will this end up being his career year?

Marc Normandin:This should be his career year, given that he has never done much of anything in the majors. He looks like he finally tapped into his potential, and should come out as one of the better offensive catchers in the game for a few seasons, as long as he keeps with what makes him good. I figure Buck for .260/.340/.465 or so, which is very good for a catcher. He's been in a bit of a slide lately relative to his April, but that's to be expected.


RR:Buck will be a free agent after this season, do you think his market value will stay fairly reasonable?

Marc Normandin: Considering his past, Buck probably will not cause any general manager to do something rash like overpay for his services. Then again, the market for catchers isn't looking like it is that impressive, so someone in a desperate place might overpay for someone like Buck if he keeps it up. Not to say that another team wouldn't get production out of Buck if they were to sign him for some real money, but it might take the Royals out of the bidding depending on how their front office is feeling about cash at that point.

[editor's note, by royalsreview] Actually, Buck will just be arb-eligible next season. Thanks to the commenters who pointed this out to me.

RR:What is the sabermetric consensus on catcher usage and rest patterns? It seems that with all the fixation on pitcher usage (in both stathead and mainstream channels) that someone would suggest something innovative with catching platoons, long rest versus short rest, three catchers versus two, catcher hitting by inning, etc.?

Marc Normandin:I'm not sure if there is any consensus. There are ideas out there certainly; I tend to like the ones where the backup catcher is one of the regular bench players. In most cases this gives you an extra bat off the bench you can depend on, a different situation than the one where you house some .200/.260/.340 backup catcher because you need to have somebody to play that spot. Plus, who doesn't want to see a Phil Nevin type suit up to catch every few days...well, back when he could hit.


RR:Shifting gears a bit, what do you think of Dayton Moore's work so far? While the Meche signing has gotten the lion's share of ink, I've been much more annoyed with seemingly odd moves like the Burgos-Bannister and Sisco-Gload trade, which turned two live arms into older, low-ceiling depth guys.

Marc Normandin:I don't think he's been there long enough for me to fairly critique him in either direction. He has done plenty that I've liked, and just as much that I've disliked. Although I wasn't a huge fan of the Burgos and Sisco deals, I understand what Moore was trying to do with them. The Royals were a perpetually loss-happy franchise with players who underperformed their potential and capabilities. Moore wanted to show that no one on the club could have that mentality while he's in charge, which is a good thing. It just, well, sucks that guys as talented as Sisco can't focus on their chance to make millions and be good at what they do.

RR:Do you think Tony Pena Jr is an acceptable American League shortstop?

Marc Normandin:Defensively? Sure, Tony's got himself a good enough glove. Offensively...well, that's pushing it. Little Pena's greatest contribution to the Royals so far is not being Angel Berroa. He's had spurts of useful hitting, but overall he's just a poor option offensively. He isn't there to stay, I don't think, but is intended as a bridge to whatever comes down the line. If they really think he's a long-term solution at short, then I'd like to adjust my answer to the last question somewhat.


RR:The next AL Central team that finishes below the Royals in the standings will be the ___ in ____.

Marc Normandin:White Sox, probably. The other teams in the division have strong farm systems or young ball clubs, so the White Sox would be my pick to fall below the rest of the pack. They might not be a bad team when they do it, although they look like a bad team at the moment.


RR:Can you talk a little about your role at Baseball Prospectus, both on the web and for the annual? What would you like to do more of?

Marc Normandin:Right now I write a weekly Player Profile that runs every Wednesday. They're usually 2,000-2,500 words in length, and I try to incorporate batted-ball data and neat charts and graphs when applicable. Basically, I try to look deeper than the generalizations we often lean on in regards to player analysis, and look for more contextual answers in individual players.

I made my debut in the 2007 annual and wrote one chapter. It was a lot of fun, but it was definitely a learning experience; I'm sure my editors would agree with me there :-) . I hope to take on more chapters in future editions of the annual and write a bit more at the website as well. Lately I've been having my fun with Unfiltered, the blog at BP.com, since I'm done with classes for the summer. If all goes to plan, I should pop up there every few days, if not every other day.


RR:The mainstream sports media seems interested -- however clumsily -- in responding to both sabermetrics and "blogging" (its an open question what "blogging" even is or should be, both in the eyes of us scrubs and the actual paid media, many of which have "blogs") in their content. What, if anything, do you see coming next from the powers that be, both MLB and the mainstream media?

Marc Normandin:Right now, there seems to be a rise in players doing the blogging, which might be giving some newspapers the scare. I've enjoyed a few player blogs so far--it was cool seeing C.J. Wilson discuss the gyro before the season started, and Curt Schilling always has something interesting to say. I think we'll see more of that in the future, as more web-inclined players build up their own fan bases via blogging.

As for MLB and the mainstream media trying to mediate the growth of blogs by coming out with their own, it's both a good and bad thing. You don't know how thankful I am for the Keith Law and Rob Neyer blogs over at ESPN.com, but at the same time, I feel like the mainstream media can act like the only legitimate blogs out there are ones that they oversee thanks to the success of prominent writers turned blogger. It's an interesting scenario overall. I haven't done as much independent blogging as I once did, since I've given up the reigns over at Beyond the Box Score, so I hope I haven't lost my blogging street cred. All my blogging seems to happen at Unfiltered, at least baseball blogging.


RR:For a young guy, you've already done quite a bit to establish yourself as a writer, whats been your biggest "wow moment" so far?

Marc Normandin:I have a few things to share...I traveled to New Jersey so I could sit with a panel of experts and take questions from a crowd. I was interviewed by Scott Andera of the Palm Beach Post at the beginning of last season, along with Bill James and Studes, company I never expected to see my name next to. BP2007 went on the New York Times Bestsellers list, which meant I could go around telling people I co-wrote a NY Times Bestseller; that's just funny in its own way. That, signing books in Boston, and meeting a lot of people who I have admired for quite some time probably beats everything so far. It's all a bit intimidating, to tell you the truth, but it's been a whole lot of fun.

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