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How does Buster Posey compare to other hitters in 2019?

Statcast has a new player comp based on batted ball data and strikeouts and walk rates. Does Buster still measure up?

Colorado Rockies v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Yesterday, Buster Posey added to his already historic Giants career:

Does he have a shot at passing McCovey? Does he have a shot at realizing our wildest hopes and dreams for him and reach the Hall of Fame?

MLB’s Statcast is an eye-opening trove of data that usually helps kick start article ideas and sometimes causes those same articles to get bogged down in the numbers. Sorry about that. Sometimes, it’s hard to figure out which of the interesting data points will be most interesting and for the sake of fully making a point, I’ll just throw it all in there and hope for the best.

Bad writing aside, here’s a new tweak on the Statcast system that doesn’t require a lot of explaining and provides a lot of bang for the buck:

Now, how does this compare to the other comparisons you’ve seen out there — specifically, Baseball Reference’s similar batters profile? This setup primarily relies on Statcast data and it seems to stick to current players in the database. Baseball Reference goes the historical route and seems to look for players of similar age and position.

Statcast — or Baseball Savant, as calls it — just wants to compare batted ball profiles. If you hop over to Buster Posey’s Statcast page, then you’ll get these names as comps:

  • Jose Altuve
  • Adam Frazier
  • Elias Diaz
  • DJ LeMahieu
  • Michael Brantley

At first, I wasn’t sure if this meant that 2019 Buster Posey compared to the 2019 editions of these players, but next to the names is a link “Compare All Similar Batters”, and when you click on that, you get this:

That’s certainly a visualization of the data, but those .xx’s by each name simply equals the percentage by which other players best compare to Buster Posey. It also answers the question as to whether or not the comp score is based on single year data. It takes in career Statcast data, as evidenced by the presence of Victor Martinez (retired) and Didi Gregorious (out until midseason), which means that the comparisons on that list — and, I think you’d agree, getting comparisons to Jose Altuve and Michael Brantley are good for Posey long-term — might not be apt for this year... right?

Posey is coming back from hip surgery and he’s a 32-year old catcher. We’re on the last legs of his career, right? Not quite. At least, according to the early data.

Buster has a career hard hit rate of 37.8%, and after 13 games this season it’s at 48.6%. His career average exit velocity is 89.3 mph and it’s at 89.1 mph to start 2019. His barrel rate (Statcast’s tag on balls that had the snot hit out of them) of 5.7% is right in line with his career rate of 5.6%. And just to bring back the context, Altuve’s career barrel rate is 5.8%.

You’re not going to find many players in that data cloud who are older than Buster Posey, however, and that’s where the Statcast comparison can’t help us. All evidence points to a healthy return from hip surgery, but there’s no telling what’s the next chapter in Buster’s story. That Statcast data could fall off a cliff in the second half and we could be in for a sudden, steep decline. Or he could do as he’s done up to this point and continue to age gracefully.

Of course, Statcast data isn’t everything. He’ll still need to actually gain hits and extra base hits in line with his career norms and maintain his stellar defensive record (he’s currently the best defensive catcher in Baseball, per FanGraphs). Still, the data shows that his underlying All-Starness is still there... at least in April 2019. That’s a welcome change of pace from the Buster Posey we got last season.

The odds are good that he’ll reach the Hall of Fame, but he’ll need to have at least a few more above average seasons, if not 1-2 actually great ones. There’s evidence to suggest it’s not absurd to think it can happen. At least in the short term, there’s room to still dream big.