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Buster Posey has been dethroned

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The clearest sign that baseball is broken is that someone can say they’d rather have Yasmani Grandal than Buster Posey and be right.

Los Angeles Dodgers v San Francisco Giants Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

.257/.320/.368, 7 HR, 38 RBI, 0 SB, 85 wRC+, 1.8 fWAR

Okay. I can do this.

At the end of 2018, Buster Posey was still the best catcher in baseball, but—

/takes a walk around apartment

But Buster Posey is no longer—

/pours shot of whisky

He’s not the b—

/pours another shot of whisky

Buster Posey is no longer the best catcher in baseball.

There. I said it. And it gave me no pleasure to do so.

The last two seasons have been very un-Poseylike. Last year, the power went away and this year, the contact went with it. That’s been enough to give the title of best catcher in baseball to Yasmani Grandal (or JT Realmuto if you more heavily weight most recent performance). After a down year in 2018, we could at least say that Buster Posey was the fWAR leader for catchers over the last four seasons. After two down years, we have to go back over the last six seasons to make Posey the WAR leader.

This was going to happen eventually; the aging curve comes for every player, but I wasn’t expecting it to come for Posey so soon. It would have been chill if Posey had slipped to second or third best catcher when Joey Bart was up, but Posey’s slide came a few years early.

The past two seasons have easily been the worst of his career. Now, even when Buster’s power is gone when he looks lost at the plate and weirdos on Twitter are telling Henry Schulman that the Giants should trade him, Posey still ranks sixth in fWAR among catchers between 2018 and 2019. It’s not like he’s bad now, so calm down, jackals.

Still, there are reasons to be concerned. Posey posted the highest strikeout rate of his career and the lowest walk rate since his rookie season. Just about every other stat was a career-worst, too. His batting average, RBI, runs scored, on-base, slugging, wOBA, wRC+, fWAR, swinging strike, BABIP, average exit velocity, and xwOBA were all low-water marks. If he could have stolen negative bases, I’m sure he would have. The only stats that weren’t his worst were home runs and ISO and even then, 7 dingers and a .111 ISO aren’t anything to get excited about, especially in 2019.

But if you can’t handle Buster Posey at his worst, then you don’t deserve him at his best. It bears repeating that his worst isn’t that bad. Even in a year where he had a wRC+ lower than Freddy Galvis, he was still roughly a two-win player because of his defense. If he can get back to being a roughly average hitter, he’ll be a 3-to-4-win player again.

Now, Posey’s at the age where players don’t have to bounce back, and he had hip surgery last year. Being a league average hitter might be a tall ask, but his xwOBA and BABIP both suggested he was getting a bit unlucky.

As a line drive, groundball hitter, Posey has run a .322 BABIP throughout his career, but that was down to .296 in 2019. That’s driven by a couple of things. First, this was Posey’s worst year with the ground attack. He hit .201 on grounders this year (he’s .238 for his career). It’s not a huge difference. With career average luck, he’d get around six extra hits this year. Still, six more singles raises his slugging by 14 points and gets his OPS out of the .600’s.

He also had a little worse luck on fly balls. His batting average on flies was 21 points lower than his career average, but this was symptomatic of a larger issue. Over the last two seasons, Posey stopped pulling the ball in the air. Not coincidentally, balls stopped leaving the yard when he did.

Even in 2019 when Randal Grichuk and his 90 wRC+ can hit 31 bombs, it still helps to pull the ball. If you’re a right-handed hitter who plays at Oracle Park, it’s a necessity. But Posey’s pull percentage on flies was the fourth-lowest in the majors this year.

Buster Posey Fly Balls

Season FB% Pull% SLG on FB Ovr. SLG
Season FB% Pull% SLG on FB Ovr. SLG
2015 33.8 17.3 .665 .470
2016 29.9 16.1 .691 .434
2017 33.0 18.9 .636 .462
2018 30.8 13.1 .410 .359
2019 28.4 9.5 .489 .368

Posey is sending most of his fly balls to center and right-center. Even at parks that don’t feature the unholy trinity of cold air, low elevation, and extreme dimensions, it’s harder to pump those out. It’s impossible to say whether Posey’s ability to pull the ball is tied to his hip. If it’s not, that’s an easy fix. If it is, it’s not clear what Posey and the Giants do about that. Hope that MLB deadens the ball so line drives become cool again?

Role on the 2019 Team

This was the first year we saw Posey in something of a platoon. Near the end of the season, Posey was sitting against right handers to let Stephen Vogt get into the lineup. This was also the least amount of time Posey has spent at first base since his injury shortened 2011. He started just three games at first this year which might tell us something about what Farhan Zaidi thinks of the ‘Posey to First’ idea or it might just mean that the Giants wanted to give Posey some actual time off less than a year removed from surgery and when he wasn’t hitting well.

Role on the 2020 Team

Any other year, this is a simple answer: “Buster Posey is the starting catcher, he won’t be moving to first, and he’s the heart and soul of the team.” In 2020, it might be a little different. We’ve already seen Posey take a step toward a platoon, and I imagine Zaidi is keen on getting a lefty hitting catcher on the roster. If that’s Stephen Vogt or someone else, we’ll likely see more of what we saw this season. Not only that, the heir apparent is currently slugging 1.000 in the Arizona Fall League. I expect we’ll see Joey Bart on the big league roster at some point in 2020, and when that happens, it’s not really clear what happens to Posey.

If Bart arrives as a September call-up, that makes things easy. Give Bart the starts and Posey some rest. If Bart forces his way onto the roster before then, things get a little trickier. They won’t rush Bart up to the majors to have him be a back-up. I don’t see “Trade Belt, Call up Bart, Move Posey to first” in the future. The Giants can count on Posey to provide value from behind the plate not at it.

Do I expect Buster Posey to be the Opening Day starting catcher? Yes. Absolutely. 100 percent.

Do I expect Buster Posey to be a starter for the rest of the year? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

How ‘Farhan’ is Buster Posey?

2 out of 4 Farhans.

Buster Posey checks a lot of boxes for what Farhan Zaidi is looking for in a catcher. He’s a solid framer, he can throw out baserunners, he works well with pitchers, he doesn’t strike out a lot, and he’ll draw a walk. Before the hip surgery, Posey would have been a four-Farhan player easily. But all stuff about Posey not pulling the ball in the air doesn’t really jive with what Farhan Zaidi said about finding hitters who profile well at Oracle Park. Maybe that changes if the bullpens are moved into Triples Alley or the center field wall is brought in some. Until the dimensions are changed or Posey gets his groove back, he’s a glove-first catcher. Those are still nice to have around.