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Buster Posey doesn’t have to be in decline, you know

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His 2016 numbers were merely good instead of excellent, and he’s about to turn 30. Both are concerns that have been overstated.

San Francisco Giants v Kansas City Royals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

In two weeks, Buster Posey will turn 30. It seems like yesterday that we were apoplectic over Bengie Molina getting a one-year deal to block him in 2010. This was our fresh-faced savior, our undisputed hero, and he’s about to enter his 30s? It’s not that life is short, it’s that it sure keeps happening, one day after the other.

We’ll miss you, 20-something Buster Posey. That was one heckuva decade.

However! He is not getting sealed in a cave for the rest of his existence. He will still play baseball for the San Francisco Giants, and he should be quite good at it. The argument that he’s declining goes something like this:

  1. His OPS+ was the lowest it’s ever been for a full season
  2. His home run total was the lowest it’s ever been for a full season
  3. He’s turning 30

It’s not an argument that’s without merits. The older players get, the worse they get. Catchers age faster than hitters at other positions. However, I have a rebuttal:

  1. Career high in triples, suckers.

Technically, he tied a career high that he had already set twice, but the point is that he’s probably just fine. Look at the triples!

Truth be told, I’m a teensy bit concerned about Posey entering the decade of limited baseball happiness, but we’re talking a smidgen. His 2017 season doesn’t have to be the start of a completely linear, downhill progression. It turns out that some 30-year-olds actually continue hitting baseballs well. Strange, but true. And if some 30-year-olds can still hit, it’s reasonable to hope that Posey is one of them. We shouldn’t bury him because he had one season where he was good instead of great. That’s just weird.

Don’t be weird.

To help bolster this argument, I’m going to look at the best hitting catchers through age 30 in baseball history, and see what they did in their age-30 season. It goes something like this:

Catching after 30

Catcher Offensive WAR through 29 Age-30 season oWAR? Age of actual decline
Catcher Offensive WAR through 29 Age-30 season oWAR? Age of actual decline
Johnny Bench 50.5 3.8 34
Joe Torre 41 8.6* 34
Joe Mauer 40 4.5 31
Ted Simmons 40 5.3 31
Mike Piazza 38 4.6 34
Gary Carter 35.1 6.4 32
Mickey Cochrane 34.4 6.4 33
Ivan Rodriguez 33.9 3.2 33
Thurman Munson 32.9 5.1 N/A
Yogi Berra 31.9 4.1 36
Bill Freehan 30.6 4.1 31
Buster Posey 29.9 ? ?
Roger Bresnahan 29.4 1.9 30
Bill Dickey 29 6 33
Darrell Porter 28.4 2.4 32
Jason Kendall 27.9 4.3 31
Carlton Fisk 26.2 5.9 38**
Gene Tenace 25.8 4.9 34
Brian McCann 24.7 1.7 28
Tim McCarver 23.7 0.9 29

* Moved to third base in his age-30 season

** lol

The end is nigh, yes. Carlton Fisk is an outlier and a freak, which means that the average Hall of Fame or Hall of Nearly Great catcher declines somewhere in their early 30s. Not all of them became liabilities at the plate. Most of them could still help their teams win. They just weren’t hitting at an All-Star level any more. This will happen to Posey over the next few years.

However, my point isn’t to spread doom about the long term. It’s to spread optimism about the short term! Notice how almost none of those catchers stopped hitting when they turned 30. It’s not like they went to sleep the night of their birthday and had their talent repossessed.

It turns out that 30 isn’t a magic number and that all players, bodies, and situations are different.

What’s more important to me than a round number? What Posey’s done for the past three years. That’s an average season that looks something like this:

PA: 614
AVG: .306
OBP: .368
SLG: .465
HR: 18
SB: 3
WAR: 5.3

He’s been very, very good. Healthy and reliable. The best catcher in the game, and it’s not all that close. Last year’s numbers do stick out a bit, but a) they were still good, and b) one outlier season doesn’t have to make for a trend just because it came before a round-numbered age.

That doesn’t mean you have to ignore the part where he’s turning 30. Just know that it’s not the only rational alternative.

There are positive indicators from last year’s season, even though Posey’s homers dropped while the rest of baseball couldn’t stop hitting them. His exit velocity is averaging above 90 mph, the highest it’s ever been, which means he’s still hitting the ball hard. His walk rate ticked up, and the strikeout rate stayed steady. His biggest problem was an increased ground ball percentage, which Hensley Meulens acknowledged is a problem that could be fixed with a couple tweaks.

So you get to choose what you believe, and it will all seem rational. Is Posey going to be a good-to-great hitter because that’s what we’re used to? Or is he getting chewed up slowly by the bacteria that grows on catchers from the first time they squat? Both arguments have merit.

I’ll go with the last three seasons being a better predictor than the last season, even if we’re in the scarier decade. Buster Posey won’t win another MVP, but he’ll be just fine.

And by “just fine,” I really mean, “better than almost every other catcher in baseball, but I’m spoiled.”

Buster Posey, 2017 projected
PA: 554
AVG: .303
OBP: .377
SLG: .459
HR: 18
SB: 1
CS: 1
WAR: 5.4

That is a very good baseball man. Same as it ever was.