San Francisco Giants: 10 Bold Predictions for Buster Posey's 2011 Season

Peter WardellCorrespondent IJanuary 24, 2011

San Francisco Giants: 10 Bold Predictions For Buster Posey's 2011 Season

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    Buster Posey was a large reason why the San Francisco Giants capped off their 2010 campaign with a World Series pennant. Posey is one of the next up-and-coming stars of the game and expectations are high after an incredible rookie season.

    In 2010, Posey posted a .305 batting average to go with 18 home runs and 67 RBIs over 108 games. After the Giants traded starting catcher Bengie Molina away on June 30th, allowing Posey to slip into the starting role full time, the 39-36 Giants went on a 53-34 tear to end the year, winning the NL West.

    Behind the plate, Posey showed incredible composure handling the Giants’ elite staff. Meanwhile in the batter’s box, Posey rattled off a 21-game hitting streak, worked his way into the everyday cleanup slot and led the Giants to the postseason. Needless to say, the defending Rookie of the Year has huge expectations coming into the 2011 season.

1. Bats Cleanup For a Large Majority of the Season

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    Last season, 231 of Buster Posey’s 443 total plate appearances came batting cleanup. Come 2011, I expect Posey to begin the year batting fourth and hold that lineup slot for a vast majority of the season.

    In just his first major league season, Posey proved to be an effective run producer, knocking in 67 runs, good for third on the team despite playing just 108 games.

    While most teams look for huge power numbers out of their cleanup hitter, the Giants were most efficient in 2010 running out Posey, the team leader in batting average.

    Hitting behind Andres Torres, Freddy Sanchez and Aubrey Huff, Posey found himself with runners on in nearly 50% of his at bats (191 of 406). He got hits in 65 of those (good for a .340 average) with 58 RBIs. Consistent production is what the Giants need out of their cleanup hitter and Posey provides that.

    Last year, the team went 35-19 with Posey batting fourth, a win percentage that would have led the MLB. While Giants fans should not expect that type of winning percentage in 2011, Posey should enter Opening Day as the Giants’ cleanup hitter and I would not bet against him keeping that slot for most of 2011.

2. A .310 Batting Average That Leads NL Catchers

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    It’s no secret that Buster Posey swings a great bat.

    Coming into 2010, Baseball America called Posey the Giants’ Best Hitter for Average, but I’m sure few expected him to hit .305 in his first big league season. That .305 average led all National League catchers and trailed only Twins’ catcher Joe Mauer and his incredible .327 average for the MLB. With a BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) hovering right around the league average, Posey’s 2010 statistics look very repeatable in 2011.

    Posey has excellent hitting mechanics and his hitting splits line up with some of the league’s elite contact hitters. For one, an incredible 36 of Posey’s 43 extra base hits were either hit up the middle or opposite field. Hitting coaches always preach “drive the ball up the middle” and it appears Posey is doing just that.

    In addition, despite flashing obvious power potential last season, just five of his 18 home runs were pulled to left field, meaning he’s driving the ball rather than swinging for home runs.

    Like Joe Mauer, Posey hits line drives at a high percentage, another trait synonymous with great contact hitting.

    There is no doubt in my mind that Posey will raise his batting average a few more ticks in 2011 and will beat out Carlos Ruiz again for the top average among NL catchers.

3. 15 Home Runs

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    Last season, Buster Posey’s power output was the result of something you rarely see from a major league rookie: His home run rates actually improved from the minors to the majors.

    In 2009, playing at A+ San Jose and AAA Fresno in two hitter-friendly leagues (the California and the PCL), Posey hit home runs in 3.6% of his plate appearances with a slugging percentage sitting at a solid .531. Going from hitter-friendly parks and less talented pitching to San Francisco, one would expect his power output to decrease some. Instead, he hit home runs more frequently (4.1%) and only saw a slight decrease in slugging percentage to .505.

    In the minors, Posey flashed 15-20 HR potential, yet his major league numbers seemed to suggest otherwise.

    Last season, just six of Posey’s 18 home runs came at AT&T Park, a ballpark with deep center and right fields known to suppress home run totals. Posey has power to all fields and actually hit just one fewer opposite field home run than the rest of the Giants did combined. While it’s clear that he has a great powerful swing, the fact that that he is not a pull hitter (five HRs to left, eight HRs to center, five HRs to left) actually hurts his HR totals playing in San Francisco.

    As long as Posey remains driving the ball up the middle with an above-average line drive rate (and we pray he does), he won’t have the high HR totals that people are speculating due to last season.

4. 85+ RBIs That Leads the Team

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    While Buster Posey’s HR totals may be slightly down, his run production has the potential to skyrocket.

    Batting fourth in the Giants lineup behind Torres, Sanchez and Huff, who posted three of the team’s top four on-base percentages in 2010, should mean lots of opportunities for Buster to get some RBIs. Last year, Posey really thrived in situational hitting, batting .340 with 58 RBIs with men on base.

    Despite the fact that AT&T Park damages HR totals, the park actually increases doubles and triples for left-handed batters (or batters who spread the field like Posey).

    Posey’s home/road splits show that he batted significantly better on the road in 2010, but that appears to be largely due to his unlucky .265 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) at home. This year, as Posey gets closer to the league average .300 BABIP at home, Posey will hit more extra base hits and drive in more runs than we saw from him last season.

    Simply put, his extraordinary ability to drive the ball to all fields, and the fact that his luck will improve this season bodes well for a generous uptick in his RBI total this season.

5. Another 15+ Game Hit-Streak

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    Last July, the rookie sensation was the hottest player in the majors, rattling off a 21-game hit streak. He ended up just two shy of the season’s longest streak set by the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton.

    As I’ve mentioned countless times, Buster possesses one of the most flawless swings in the game and has such a textbook approach at the plate. And the fact of the matter is that great hitters can get hot.

    When you put the ball in play 87.6% percent of the time like he did in 2010, the ball will find gaps. Posey hit safely in 75 of the 105 games he played in San Francisco last season, and just once did he go hitless in three straight games.

    Although they are extremely difficult to predict, Posey has the tools to make a run at his 21-game hit streak early in his career again.

    He certainly has a great shot at making a run towards yet another 15-20 game streak this year, maybe even more.

6. A Frigid August

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    Catchers take a beating in the major leagues.

    In 2010, Buster Posey played 150 games between AAA Fresno and San Francisco, manning 1B in 42 of the games and catcher in the remaining 108. After being named the starting catcher on July first, he was given seven days off between then and August 22nd…to play 1B.

    He sat out only one game in that stretch. A grueling schedule like that catches up to young players.

    In the month of August, Posey’s statistics regressed some as he batted .282 on the month and posted a .146 ISO (isolated power statistic), a 0.136 drop from the previous month.

    Sure, Posey did impact the stretch and playoff runs, but in 65 plate appearances during the postseason he hit just one home run and struck out 18 times. It may have been partially due to nerves, but I think Posey was just exhausted.

    Posey enters 2011 as the clear number one catcher and I expect the Giants to push him towards another 150 game season. While this will be the most beneficial scenario for the team, a down month is very likely.

    In August 2011, the Giants play 29 games in 31 days including a 10 game-10 day road trip. On top of it, they face the Phillies four times and the Braves four times. I’m predicting a tough month for Posey, somewhere along the lines of .240 average with less than 10 extra base hits.

7. All-Star!

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    Buster Posey is going to come out strong in 2011.

    After nearly breaking camp with the Giants last April, Posey got off to a scorching start in AAA. In 2011, I anticipate Posey to come out just as hot, looking to establish himself as the Giants’ top run producer and one of baseball’s premier catchers.

    With another great campaign, he could certainly challenge to be the National League’s top catcher as early as this season.

    Despite my prediction that Posey has a down year when it comes to home run totals, his RBI total, batting average, and 2010 Rookie of the Year campaign will get him enough votes to play at this season’s Midseason Classic.

    Braves’ catcher Brian McCann has made the team five seasons straight and Cardinals’ backstop Yadier Molina has started the last two years, but Posey should beat them out.

    Posey has developed a huge backing here in the Bay Area and could easily start for the National League in 2011.

8. Caught Stealing Rate Approaches 45% and Leads Majors

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    The Giants’ pitching staff is known to be one of the worst at holding runners ,and yet Buster Posey’s caught stealing percentage in 2010 (37.1%) was good for fifth in the MLB among catchers who caught at least 60 games.

    In 2010, Giants’ ace Tim Lincecum allowed 27 stolen bases on 30 attempts, good for a top 10 spot in stolen bases allowed. And of that top 10, Lincecum had the worst caught stealing rate. Even on the big stage in the NLCS, the Phillies swiped three off him in a game. To make things even worse, Matt Cain was a top 20 in stolen bases allowed with 19 out 29 attempts, while Sanchez was a top 30 giving up 17 in 26 attempts. Posey’s 37.1% is remarkable when looking in context.

    Posey handled the pitching staff like a veteran in 2010, and I’d be willing to bet that he and pitching coach Dave Righetti are going to work with the pitchers this Spring Training on holding runners more effectively. Early in the season, former catcher Bengie Molina threw out just 23% early in 2010, so it’s clear that Posey’s insertion to catcher already made a little difference.

    I predict Cain will have a bounce back year (he’s historically been okay at holding runners), while Lincecum and Sanchez slowly improve over the season. With Posey behind the plate, I don’t think any of the three are top 20 in stolen bases allowed at the end of the year. If that happens, Posey, who as a prospect was projected for Gold Glove caliber defense, could up his caught stealing rate to tops in the league.

    Last season, Yadier Molina had a 48.5% rate but I expect that to drop down to the low 40s where he’s been most of his career. Regardless, with a league average around 28%, it’s clear that Posey is elite when it comes to throwing out runners.

9. Leads the Pitchers To a Sub-3.00 ERA Season

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    The last starting catcher to post a sub-3.00 catcher-ERA was the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Paul LoDuca in 2003. Buster Posey is going to make a run at it this year.

    The Giants are stacked this year at pitcher. Entering Spring Training, the five-man pitching rotation is set, and the stellar bullpen of 2010 returns fully intact. Last season, Posey held a catcher-ERA of 3.18, good for third in the majors and is going to have a great shot at improving with this year’s cast.

    Last season, Posey handled the Giants’ elite pitching staff like a true veteran.

    The pitchers were reluctant to work with the kid after having veteran Gold Glover Bengie Molina behind the plate for three+ seasons, but he earned their trust very quickly.

    In just a few months, Posey proved to the veterans that he was prepared to call games. The pitchers saw him working after hours, refining his technique and studying the pitchers’ tendencies.

    There were a few rough patches along the way (Timmy’s month of August), but overall I think Posey established strong relationships with all five of the rotation starters by season’s end. Entering 2011, they trust him and that’s going to pay dividends in 2011.

    You know Posey’s been working this offseason and I expect him to have the pitchers throwing like they did in October.

    The talk of the preseason has been about the Phillies staff but the way Posey interacted with the rotation late last season and through the playoffs has me thinking that they will be even better this year. If Zito bounces back and the bullpen stays dominant, a sub-3.00 ERA is extremely possible.

10. Posey Helps Sanchez Become a 20-Game Winner

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    Last season, Giants fans watched the agonizing but necessary development of trust between batterymates Buster Posey and Tim Lincecum. It took some time for the two to gel with one another as evidenced by Lincecum’s horrid 0-5, 7.82 ERA month of August, but as Posey gained Lincecum’s trust, the former two-time Cy Young winner returned to form and had one of the best Septembers and postseasons of recent memory.

    In 2011, Posey is going to make Jonathan Sanchez a 20-win pitcher.

    Sanchez has often been praised as having arguably the best pitch arsenal on the Giants’ rotation but has been inconsistent and prone to early inning blowups.

    But in 2011, with the help of Posey, Sanchez can become the starting pitcher we have all been waiting for.

    In Buster Olney’s ESPN the Magazine article on Posey, he tells the story how in Game Three of the World Series, the erratic Sanchez, who’s fastball was ineffective, fell behind three runs in the second inning. Bochy began to warm up the bullpen. Instead of bringing in Guillermo Mota however, Posey got Sanchez composed and got him to throw three more innings, using 60% off-speed pitches. Once he let Posey call his game and simply made his pitches, he became an effective pitcher.

    It’s no question that Sanchez has the stuff to be dominant, and with a patient, studious guy like Posey calling his game, this will finally be the season.

Bonus Prediction: Buster Posey Will Star in an ESPN Sportscenter Commercial

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    Posey actually confirmed this on KNBR last Friday.

    All he spilled though was that it was going to involve him sitting in catcher’s gear at a desk.

    I’m excited.