Buster Posey: Why the San Francisco Giants MVP Will Stay at Catcher Long Term
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After Posey suffered a catastrophic injury in a brutal collision with Scott Cousins at the plate in 2011, his career seemed to be in jeopardy. No one, including Posey, had any idea how much he was going to be able to play last year after his lengthy rehab.
After missing 114 games in 2011 to repair his broken ankle and torn ligaments, Posey returned with a vengeance.
He started 111 games at catcher and 29 more at first base. He hit .336/.408/.549 with 24 home runs and 103 RBI out of the cleanup spot last season. He won his second World Series title, the National League MVP and Comeback Player of the Year awards and the batting title.
His defense behind the plate was fantastic as well. According to the advanced catcher defensive metrics created by Matt Klaassen, Posey was worth nearly seven runs with his glove—fifth best in baseball.
His bat would be solid at any position, but having the combination of Posey's defensive acumen and offensive talents behind the plate is arguably the biggest reason why the Giants have won two out of the last three World Series titles.
The year Posey was injured the Giants did an admirable job of staying afloat without him, but they ultimately didn't come very close to getting back to the postseason. They finished eight games behind the first place Diamondbacks in the NL West.
As long as Posey's body continues to hold up and he still has the desire to wear the tools of ignorance, he should remain the Giants' starting catcher. Hector Sanchez is an intriguing young catcher, but he isn't ever going to be in the same stratosphere as Posey on offense or defense. Either is top catching prospect Andrew Susac.
In fact, no other catcher in all of baseball matched Posey's overall value last year. His eight Wins Above Replacement (WAR) led all catchers and NL players last season.
A huge chunk of Posey's value comes from his defensive ability at a premium, demanding position. Combine that with his ability to put up a .957 OPS at a spot where the average player had a .715 OPS last season and it's hard to see the Giants ever moving him to first base unless his body forces them to.
Some have pointed to Joe Mauer as the example for where Posey's defensive career is heading. At the age of 29 last season, Mauer started only 72 games at catcher for the Twins.
However, the Mauer comparison misses two key points. First, Mauer is 6'5"—which is tall for a catcher—whereas Posey is a more compact 6'1". More importantly, Posey has suffered one major injury that he has recovered from. Mauer was continually getting banged up from the wear and tear of squatting.
Mauer missed 122 games in 2004 with a knee injury, 37 games in 2007 with a thigh strain, 22 games in 2009 due to a back strain and 57 games in 2011 with lower leg fatigue.
Posey had one major injury from a vicious collision. Now that he no longer even comes close to blocking the plate, another injury of that magnitude seems unlikely.
Jason Kendall is a better comparison for Posey than Mauer. Kendall, who is about the same height as Posey, missed the remainder of the 1999 season due to a fractured and broken ankle. Kendall returned from the injury the following year and was a durable catcher for the rest of his career, playing an average of 147 games per season in the decade after shattering his ankle.
Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area recently detailed Posey's grueling rehabilitation. While Posey was better than ever last season, he will likely always have to manage his ankle according to Giants' head trainer Dave Groeschner. He told Baggarly,
The truth is, this is something he’ll have to continue to work on throughout his career, and we’ll have to stay on top of it. He’ll wear orthotics for the rest of his career. Those cracks, snaps and pops he’ll have the rest of his life. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a couple more bouts of soreness.
But you do watch him now, and it’s amazing to think just a year ago we were hoping he could run bases.
Even though the effects of the injury will continue to linger for Posey, his work ethic and intelligence should allow him to continue to manage the pain. He may never catch 140 games for the Giants, but he should remain the primary catcher as long as his health permits.
Catchers that are this good on both sides of the ball come around once in a generation, while slugging first basemen are easier to find. A brutal collision nearly destroyed Posey's ascending career, but he was able to fight through it and come out even better than before.
Posey's career is on a Hall of Fame trajectory. As long as his legs continue to hold up and he maintains the torrid pace he's set at the start of his career, he'll eventually be inducted as a catcher.
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