Buster Posey: The San Francisco Giants' Derek Jeter?
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Buster Posey is going to be a Giant for just about the next decade. He's an icon in the Bay area already, but the good-looking All-American at the important position up the middle on a perennial championship contender has a chance to cement his status.
A little bit like Derek Jeter once did.
The similarities between the two run fairly deep, actually. Both were drafted in the first round and were supposed to be good. Neither was ever a top-five prospect across baseball, but they both came in as their team's best prospects. Both found success immediately, as the Yankees won the world series in Jeter's first full year, and the Giants managed the same in Posey's first full year.
But how does Posey's career really stack up against Jeter's so far? And what does that mean for the catcher's future?
At the dish, they don't seem so similar. Jeter's game is built on contact, a little bit of power and a little bit of speed, while Posey mixes patience with powerful contact. But they are not so far apart than they seem. Weighted On Base Average (wOBA) is a statistic produced by adding together a player's offensive contributions according to empirically found weights.
Posey's wOBA through four seasons is .378. Jeter's at the same point was .378.
Of course, this ignores context. The league wOBA in Jeter's fourth season was .341, so far this year the league wOBA is .318. Wins Above Replacement corrects for that sort of thing. So let's look at their cumulative WAR, mapped against each other.
Posey looks like he comes up short. Definitively to the right of Jeter's career arc so far.
But look closer at Posey's curve and it's obvious what's going on here. Posey missed a year. Let's look at their WAR by age instead.
That's better. Now we get the sense of two similarly productive young men at the core of two similarly successful teams.
But what does this mean going forward? We can't ignore the year that Posey lost. He's a catcher, and as gruesome as that hit was, it's part and parcel of the job. Catchers get hurt. They get hurt more often than shortstops -- researcher Jeff Zimmerman found that catchers lose 268 days more to the disabled list in a given year than shortstops. Catchers don't actually age much worse than other players, but they miss more time along the way.
That doesn't even count the regular days a catcher will miss sitting to rest his knees. Jeter, even with his decline years factored in, has averaged 699.7 plate appearances over his 17-year career so far. That will drop, but Posey's career high in plate appearances is 610. Part of that is where Jeter hit in the lineup—the top spots get more plate appearances—but much of that is just due to the regular sitting a catcher does. Even one that plays first base from time to time.
Even if we try to say something simple like: Buster Posey's bat is a little better than Derek Jeter's, but he's likely to miss more time than Jeter did, and that will leave him short of Jeter's career production... even if we try to say something that boiled down, we're missing one final variable.
Defense is a tough thing to quantify. Watch Derek Jeter go into the stands for a ball, or do his patented jump turn, and you think he's a great defender. Sum up all his chances and try to define his zone of reachable balls, and Jeter shows up as a below-average defender in every year of his career, save two. And the worst shortstop in the league more often than you'd think.
Posey gets credit for his defense, but catcher defense is even harder to define than the other positions. How much credit do you give the catcher for framing a pitch? How much for blocking a pitch in the dirt? Evaluating a catcher's ability to throw out potential base stealers seems easy, until you realize how much the pitcher (and his delivery) have to do with suppressing the running game. And then there's calling the game.
Who will prove to be more valuable to his franchise when all is said and done?
Not all of those things are included in FanGraphs' version of WAR—only the blocking and throwing aspects have made their way into the calculation. Posey does show up well in some of the separate catcher defense metrics, but nobody has yet put them on the same scale and inserted them into WAR.
So, if you're on that bar stool now, or 17 years from now, and you're debating the relative value of Buster Posey and Derek Jeter, you'll have plenty to argue about. The numbers just can't capture their entire value to their teams on the field.
And we didn't once talk about leadership, lineups, awards or abilities in the clutch.
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