John David Baker is a California boy. Not a SoCal guy, but a NorCal guy. He went to the University of California, and he was drafted by the Oakland Athletics. He never quite made it to the big league team while in the A’s farm system and was traded to Florida. Baker now comes full circle, returning to California in a trade that sent Wade LeBlanc to the Miami Marlins.
Baker’s time in Florida, while short, showed promise. His career line is .271/.356/.401. If anything stands out in that line, it’s his OBP. .356 is a respectable OBP and something that can play well with the Padres. However, Baker has missed a lot of time at the Major League level. The best evaluation year would be 2009 since Baker played in 112 games. In no other season did he even break the 65 game plateau.
In 2009, Baker hit .271/.349/.410, numbers that are pretty close (and likely driving) his overall career numbers. The biggest concern with Baker would be the sustainability of his BABIP. In his two years of 60 or more games played (2008 & 2009), Baker posted BABIP’s of .367 and .332 respectively. That average can’t be sustained for the long haul, and hitting in Petco Park is much different than hitting in Florida.
On the flip side, though, Baker hits a lot of balls on the ground. Staying out of the air in the expansive Petco Park outfield is usually a smart option unless you plan to hit it completely out. Baker doesn’t figure to be a home run hitter, but his GB% throughout his career could help him adjust to hitting in San Diego. His career average is 50.2% ground balls. Yet, he’s only grounded into 21 double plays in his 212 games of Major League experience.
Baker swings at 43% of the pitches he sees, he makes contact 80% of the time, and only gets hit with a swinging strike 8.4% of the time. He’s aggressive at the plate, but not so much so that he destroys his OBP. Baker doesn’t have to be a star. He doesn’t even have to be above average. All he needs to do is be average. He needs to get on base. He needs to call the game nicely behind home plate. And he needs to give the Padres a little more production than they saw from the back-up catchers in 2011.
Nick Hundley is still the guy in San Diego, but with Baker backing him up, the Padres hope to have found their solution at catcher. Now they can turn their focus elsewhere and continue building. Building toward what still remains unclear. It’s not certain whether Josh Byrnes is rebuilding or trying to build a contender now. The Kotsay signing doesn’t fall into either category, but this Baker trade seems to fall into the rebuilding category. Either way, the club needed some help behind the plate and they got it. Now, we just wait and see what happens.