San Francisco Giants: Why Buster Posey will Remain a Catcher

Jun 20, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey (28) looks on during a replay challenge against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the seventh inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 20, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey (28) looks on during a replay challenge against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the seventh inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

Since the horrific home plate collision in May of 2011 which resulted in a season-ending injury, many believe that Buster Posey, who turns 30 today, should lock away his catching equipment for good and transition to either of the corner infield spots so he may preserve his body and sustain All-Star caliber offensive productivity. Let’s discuss why he’ll remain behind the dish for seasons to come.

On this day, March 27, 2017, Gerald Dempsey “Buster” Posey III turns 30, a number which many fans of the San Francisco Giants fear because of the belief that a catcher’s offensive production begins to, if not completely, disappear.

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These fears have intensified after the worst statistical full season by the former-MVP’s standards, ending the 2016 campaign with a slash line of .288/.362/.434 and a wOBA of .341, wRC+ of 116, all of which were career-lows with the exception of on-base percentage.

Posey missed out on the league’s home run surge as well, hitting only 14, the least he’s hit in a full season.

An uncharacteristically average second-half of baseball possesses responsibility for Posey’s pedestrian season. After finishing the first half of the season with a wOBA of .356 and wRC+ of 126 to go along with 11 home runs, totals which have become the standard for the catcher, Posey sputtered in the second-half with a wOBA of .324, wRC+ of 105, and only three home runs.

Posey’s problems may have possibly stemmed from his infamous face first slide into third base on August 8 against the Miami Marlins as well. While hilarious among San Francisco Giants fans after the fact, Posey was visibly shaken up in the moments following the counter and potentially uttered that he broke his finger based on lip reading.

Following the incident, Posey posted a wOBA of .319 and wRC+ of 102 over 192 plate appearances.

Regardless of the potential source of Posey’s struggles, 2016 electrified the debate as to whether Posey should transition to another position, whether it be first base or third base, in order to prevent his body from suffering the wear and tear that comes with catching over 100 games per season, and keep his body fresh for the batter’s box.

Furthermore, the league has already seen former American League MVP Joe Mauer transition to first base at his age-31 season because the Minnesota Twins wanted to prevent him from enduring the grind that comes with being a full-time catcher, further adding fuel to the fire of the Posey debate.

The purpose of this piece, evidenced by the title, is to argue the contrary, that Buster Posey still stands tall as the best catcher in baseball and that he will remain behind the plate for the San Francisco Giants in 2017 and the ensuing seasons.

Posey entered his first full-season with the San Francisco Giants after three seasons of tearing up minor-league pitching. The former fifth overall pick zoomed through San Francisco’s farm system, slashing .333/.427/.542 with a wRC+ of 155 over 750 plate appearances in various levels of minor-league ball.

The organization saw star potential in Posey, and after seven seasons in the league, it is fair to say that he has obliterated expectations with the bat.

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Posey currently possesses a career slash-line of .307/.373/.476 with a wRC+ of 136, a figure which ranks fourth all-time among catchers.

Since 2010, Posey leads all qualified catchers in batting average, wOBA, wRC+ and WAR.

In addition, Posey’s on-base percentage and slugging percentage are second-highest among catchers, while his strikeout percentage of 12 percent is the fifth lowest among catchers.

Sprinkle in Posey’s MVP, Rookie of the Year, four All-Star appearances, and three Silver Sluggers and attempting to undermine Posey’s offensive prowess becomes all the more difficult.

The best indicator of Posey’s offensive value is where he stands in comparison to all his contemporaries.

Posey has been the only catcher whose wRC+ ranks in the top 20 since the turn of the decade, while no other catcher sniffs the top.

Simply put, no catcher has been more dangerous with a bat in his hands than Posey since he entered the league full-time.

Posey’s improving defensive ability has garnered more attention in the past few seasons as well. In both 2015 and 2016, Posey led catchers in Defensive Runs Saved and has compiled 21 in the previous two seasons, five more than Salvador Perez in second place.

Yadier Molina won the 2015 Gold Glove over Posey despite an inferior defensive season from a DRS-standpoint, but the former-MVP finally added that illustrious piece of hardware to his collection by winning in 2016.

The Fielding Bible identified the three-time champion as the superior defensive catcher in both seasons, and Posey now has two Fielding Bible Awards.

Quantifying the pure ability of a catcher can be tricky, but here’s what the expert panel at the Fielding Bible had to say about Posey’s 2016 season with the leather:

“Buster Posey excels at every aspect of catching. There are five categories of defense that are measured in Defensive Runs Saved (Pitcher Handling, Controlling the Running Game, Handling Bunts, Good Plays and Misplays, and Getting Extra Strikes). Posey’s MLB-leading total of 23 Defensive Runs Saved breaks down with an above-average number in each one of these categories with 1, 2, 4, 5, and 11 runs saved by category, respectively. Fielding Bible voters acknowledged Posey with a first place vote on every ballot giving him his second straight Fielding Bible Award.”

Expertise is not required to interpret just how elite Posey has been at receiving the ball from that passage, and after catching a career-high 1,069.2 innings in 2016, the San Francisco Giants will continue to lean on their franchise cornerstone.

ESPN’s Mark Simon wrote an analytically driven piece regarding the raw numbers behind Posey’s masterful defense, which you can read here.

Now, the concerns about Posey’s age aren’t completely out of left field as the early-30s is the period in which the average hitter, catcher or otherwise, begins to display signs of a decline and Posey enters his age-30 season after one of the worst offensive stretches in his career. Despite popular belief, the offensive production of a catcher doesn’t evaporate once he hits age 30; rather, it steadily decays at a rate similar to that of a non-catcher.
I have collected data from some of the best hitting catchers of all-time. The chart below shows the average amount of Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) a catcher produces before turning 30, and then how much they produced on a yearly basis from 30 until retirement.

I have also inserted the visual representation of Mike Piazza’s Off through the seasons as his data was representative of the downwards trend.

As the data shows, offensive skill decays with age rather than suddenly disappearing.

Finally, if the San Francisco Giants were to move Posey to another position, this decision would destroy a stable infield situation and raises more questions than answers

Say that in a hypothetical scenario, Posey moves to first base, displacing Brandon Belt and forcing him to move to left field. While Belt has made a couple starts in left field, his defensive skill in the outfield doesn’t come close to that of first base.

The same goes with Posey, as while he has started at first, his true defensive value is behind the plate.

In that same hypothetical scenario where Posey moves to first and Belt moves to left, someone has to start as catcher.

Nick Hundley would likely start with Trevor Brown as a backup, but neither can match the value Posey provides both with the bat and with the glove.

Posey has also rightfully earned the respect of San Francisco’s pitching staff regarding calling a game, an attribute which neither Hundley nor Brown possess.

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In the half-decade following his horrific injury, Posey has yet to show signs of permanent decay either with his bat or glove. Last year was an abnormally bad season but currently stands as nothing more than an outlier.

Barring an injury or significant change in circumstances, the San Francisco Giants will elect for Posey to remain their catcher of the future.