Back when Buster Posey was shattered by a play at the plate — seven freaking years ago — there was a name that was whispered, half-talisman and half-curse. That name was Jason Kendall, who was pretty much the perfect catcher until a freak accident changed everything. Was Posey going to follow the same path? Then he had one of the greatest seasons any catcher has ever had.
The problem with that comparison is that Kendall came back from the injury to hit .320, with a career high in homers and 22 stolen bases. The decline came later. It was always a dumb comparison. But I’m back here again, in the year of our Bonds, 2018, to invoke Kendall’s name again in a comparison to Posey. I’m so, so sorry.
But it’s to prove a point. Posey is about to turn 31. After Kendall turned 31, he hit .260/.333/.318 for six seasons, which was good for a 75 OPS+. That’s dreadful.
The point isn’t that this is what’s automatically going to happen to Posey. The point is that Kendall was also worth an average of two WAR per season during that stretch. The point is that even if Posey declines, he’s still going to be a badass catcher, and those things are important.
So I’m not as worried about the gradual decline of Posey, if only because he’s still one of the greatest hitters the position has ever seen, even before accounting for park effects. There’s wiggle room with his bat, and then you get to the defense, which is reliably above-average. He’s miscast as a cleanup hitter, but he’s still plenty helpful with everything he does.
Except running. Not the running.
Posey is a weird feller to project, too. He’s on a Hall of Fame path, but what does that mean for a 31-year-old catcher? One tweak leads to two tweaks, which leads to three months on the DL, which leads to Kendall-like hitting for the rest of his 30s. Not everyone is Carlton Fisk. Not everyone has access to the same CVS that Pudge Rodriguez shopped at. At the same time, he’s been a reliable source for hits and walks over the years. His bat control remains stellar. It’s probably an overcorrection to assume that he’ll be old and bad immediately.
Some decline is probably wise to project. People have already started to suggest that it’s already started, but I would like to remind the court that Buster Posey hit .321/.400/.462 last year. The average was stellar of course, and so was the on-base percentage. Those are great for a DH. And if a Gold Glove catcher hit .191/.250/.462, I’d be completely impressed. No, he can’t hit or walk, but he can move runners around the bases, and with the defense, that’s more than enough. Instead, Posey did all of the good things. It was just hard to notice, what with the smoldering skeletons all around him.
It’s hard to believe we’re in a spot where Posey isn’t the fresh-faced youth that he used to be. I think I’ll have a harder time with his first gray hair than I was with my own.
Still, here are the career lows for Posey when he plays a full season:
That line would be an amazing season for 25 starting catchers around baseball. Those are Posey’s career lows. It’s easy to point at the age and shriek “31 YEARS OLD!” over and over again, but that tends to gloss over what a special player Posey has been. His worst years would be career years for almost all of the catchers who float through this game, so maybe it’s not wise to assume he’ll act like the typical catcher as soon as he turns 31. He’s probably still great, everyone.
His Marcel projections, which use his previous seasons and factor in a decline:
That would be sublime, especially if there were other Giants hitting around him. And here’s ZiPS:
A little harsher on the power potential, but roughly the same. It turns out that according to the abacus-twiddlers, Posey is still great, everyone. Just because he isn’t hitting 20 home runs anymore doesn’t mean that he fell down a well and is still trapped there.
I’ll follow these abacus-twiddlers.
Buster Posey, 2018 projections
Still great, everyone. Still great. If he’s the only productive hitter on the team, that’s a problem. If he’s still the same guy he’s been for the last several years, surrounded by hitters who make him better, that’s a heckuva thing.
The plan is to have Posey be Posey and surround him with hitters who make him better. I can’t argue with the logic.