As the San Francisco Giants continue to free-fall in the National League West division, more and more players are falling down to earth. Including Buster Posey. The two-time World Series Champion, 2010 Rookie of the Year, and 2012 National League Most Valuable Player is having a down year. Will his decline continue or is it a fluke?
In his worst season as a major league player, numbers wise, the criticism is finally heading his way. In 110 games this season, Posey has a line of .283/.345/.433 with 13 home runs, 58 RBI, and a 123 wRC+, which all are career lows. His FanGraphs WAR has decreased from 7.7 in 2012, 4.8 in 2013, and now 4.1 in 2014 with over 30 games to play. The regression is present, but could a change in position help?
Posey, 27, has played 439 career games at catcher and 101 games at first base. The difference in offensive production is staggering. In 1627 plate appearances while playing catcher, Posey has a slash of .292/.361/.462 with a 130 wRC+, 9.4 BB%, 13.6 K%, and an .823 OPS. All-Star numbers, but not as good as when he plays first base. In 354 plate appearances at first base, Posey has a slash of .364/.425/.568 with a 179 wRC+ (Mike Trout comparison), 9.2 BB%, 12.2 K%, and a .993 OPS. Obviously the sample size isn’t enough to assume he would be an MVP candidate for years to come, but it shows that the pressure off his legs and brain could help him.
According to FanGraphs, his BABIP (Batted balls in play) is .293, which is below league average. Generally, this means you are “unlucky.” His career BABIP is .323, above league average, so 2014 has not been kind to Buster. His line drive percentage is up from 19.9 % in 2013 to 24.9% in 2014 while his career line drive % is 21.6. This could mean he is hitting the ball hard, but ill-fated. Another good sign is that his ground ball, fly ball, and infield fly percentages are lower, which all points in the direction this a fluke season. This is where it becomes evident where Posey is struggling: plate discipline.
Posey’s base on balls percentage has declined from 11.3 in 2012, 10.1 in 2013, and to now 8.7 in 2014. He is swinging at pitches out of the zone nearly 5 percent more than last year and nearly 3 percent more than his career averages. Fatigue could be the issue. Looking at Brian McCann’s career, his swing percentage at pitches out of the strike zone tended to increase or stay around the same every season. From 19.4 in 2005, his rookie season, to now 31.7 in 2014. This basically means that moving Posey to first could help him add more years to his career while also increasing his performance at the plate.
The decay in Buster’s plate discipline is a main reason why he has been waning, but that might be fixed if his legs are healthy. If he moves to another position, he could be healthy enough to play everyday and never take at-bats off, because of the fatigue caused by catching. His fluky 2014 season is just that. His BABIP is low and he is actually hitting the ball harder than last year while striking out less. He could be an MVP candidate in 2014, yet again, if he moves positions in the offseason.
The Giants sit at 63-58, 5 games out of first place in the National League West, but half a game out in the Wild Card behind the Pirates. San Francisco will look to take game number two Saturday after losing Friday 5-3 to Philadelphia as Kyle Kendrick (5-11, 4.88 ERA) and Tim Hudson (8-9, 2.81 ERA) face off.