Is this really John Buck's sixth season were headed towards? Maybe it's just been his staggering consistency that's dulled me to his presence, but the man began appearing in a Royal uniform in 2004.
Despite a flash of power in the first half of 2007, it looks like the Buck we have is the Buck we've had, only now, he may be headed downhill.
PECOTA's projection for Buck in 2009 is a .231/.303/.393 line, with just nine homers. Somewhere, deep in the code for PECOTA, there's an odd suggestion that Buck is going to see an incremental batting average spike -- he averaged .224 last year -- but everything else is the same: lots of outs, a decent walk-rate dragged down by the BA and just enough power to separate him from the Paul Bakos of the world. The man is a career .234/.298/.398 hitter.
The scary thing is that Buck is heading into his age 28 season. Of course, at age 27 he took a step back from 2007, so maybe we shouldn't be surprised. Buck's only real asset is his power and he had something of a fast start during his rookie year, followed by 2007's blip. Other than that, he's slugged .389, .396, and last year's .365.
For all the generalist criticisms that get levelled at PECOTA, or rather at what people think PECOTA is, it actually has something of a scout's soul, as it factors in body size & type, as well as age, and draws much of its predictive power by using comparable players and the arch of their careers. In this case, Buck's top comparables are Charles Johnson, Del Rice, Harry Chiti, and John Orsino.
My guess is that last season's age 27 .365 SLG really set off the electronic red flags, as each of Buck's 2009 comps are guys who went from viable regulars to fairly useless in a short period, with a decline that began in their late 20s. Rice, Chiti and Orsino all became terrible really quickly, as their shaky performance bases quickly eroded. The only real exception here is Johnson, who was a thoroughly better player than Buck, peaked in his age-28 season (2000) and then quickly declined to just an average catcher and a below-average hitter overall. From 2001-4, Johnson slid down to essentially the level Buck is at now, although two of those seasons were in Colorado, a naturally great place for these types.
John Buck slugged .542 in the first half of 2007, before completely cratering in the second half, hitting .194/.280/.290. Sadly, last season, despite his newfound freedom from Buddy Bell, most likely assured us that that Buck is never coming back. In this new context, as Buck ages, the matter becomes more serious: his best-case scenario is now to simply remain his himself.
Can he? We'll find out.