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San Francisco Giants: Buster Posey providing reasons for optimism

HOUSTON, TX - MAY 23: Buster Posey #28 of the San Francisco Giants doubles in the sixth inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on May 23, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - MAY 23: Buster Posey #28 of the San Francisco Giants doubles in the sixth inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on May 23, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
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Despite a slow start to the season by traditional measures of success, there are signs that there is more to come from San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey.

By the high standards San Francisco Giants star Buster Posey has set for himself, 2018 was a down year. It fed speculation on this very site that his career might be in irreversible decline.

Although his 2018 slash line of .284/.359/.382 over an injury-shortened 105 games was perfectly respectable, but Giants fans have come to expect more from the six-time All-Star.

His OPS of .741 was nearly a hundred points below his career OPS of .837, and was just 13 points better than the league average of .728.

He struggled to generate power, tallying just 28 extra-base hits and mustering a career-worst .382 slugging percentage.

And with only five home runs on the year, he averaged one every 88 plate appearances. For context, even with gradually declining home run outputs since the 22 he hit in 2014, he still managed to hit one home run in every 40 plate appearances from 2015-17.

After going under the knife to address hip impingement and repair a torn labrum, there was some fear this offseason that Posey would never be the same.

Firstly, there were lingering doubts whether Posey would even be ready to catch consecutive games in the early season.

“I’ll have to watch him early in the season,” manager Bruce Bochy said, as reported by Kerry Crowley in the Mercury News . “We don’t want to grind him in the early go. We’re not going to be able to.”

Then there were the underwhelming spring training numbers as he hit .205/.295/.282 whilst he made post-surgery adjustments and focused on rediscovering his old rhythm and timing.

So far in 2019, Posey’s numbers have not looked great. He is hitting .189/.250/.270 with no home runs and just three extra base hits.

But in many ways, things have already been better than might have reasonably been expected.

Perhaps most importantly, he has shown a clean bill of health and appeared in 10 of the team’s first14 games.

He has already looked good behind the plate, throwing out three of a possible seven base stealers. And by generating 2.9 defensive WAR, he is the most valuable defensive catcher in baseball so far this year.

He also looks to be running more freely than he was last season, notably making it comfortably from first to third on a Brandon Crawford single to right field in the bottom of the second against the Padres on Tuesday night.

In addition to the running and the defense, and in spite of the slow start with the bat, there are some underlying numbers that suggest we should still be optimistic about the season ahead.

Statcast tracking now allows us to better understand the quality of a players’ hits, and there are signs that Posey could be due some positive regression. In the first two weeks of the season alone, he had three hits register an exit velocity of 106 mph or greater, which is remarkable given that in 2018 he only did that five times the whole season.

Furthermore, Posey’s hard-hit rate—the measure a player’s quality of contact—is currently 43 percent and a good deal higher than his career average mark of 33 percent. Whilst a high hard-hit rate does not necessarily guarantee success, there is a strong correlation between hard hitting and successful outcomes at the plate.

We should, of course, be wary of getting overly excited about such a small sample size. Posey has only had 44 plate appearances so far this season, but early indicators suggest that he is hitting the ball as hard and as cleanly as ever has before.

The numbers are not yet where we want them to be for Posey, but we should be heartened that in all areas of his game, he is showing signs of making a full recovery from the hip problems that left him short of his best in 2018.

Advanced stats courtesy of FanGraphs.

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