Why Can’t Buster Posey Do it Again?

I was talking to a friend in our Ottoneu league about 2013 expectations for my roster, and he made a comment that I wasn’t expecting – namely, that he was expecting a significant regression from Buster Posey.    Given Posey’s age, I hadn’t dug into the numbers in great depth, just assuming he’s ascended toward the top of the list of the best players in baseball – but let’s see whether I should temper my enthusiasm for #28.

After winning the 2010 Rookie of the Year as a 23 year old in 2010, Posey lost almost all of his 2011 season to a broken ankle suffered in May, leading to questions about how we would recover from injury as well as how long he will remain at Catcher for the Giants.  Posey answered both resoundingly – of his 148 games, he played 114 at catcher, and capped off his regular season with a 336/408/549 line, and proceeded to lead his team to its 2nd championship in 3 years.   Comparing his rookie and MVP seasons, the improvement is across the board:

AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
2010 0.305 0.357 0.505 0.371 134
2012 0.336 0.408 0.549 0.406 162
Posey went from a very good hitter as a rookie to an elite hitter in his second full season — his wRC+ of 162 was tied for 3rd in baseball (behind only Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera), and was the best offensive season by a catcher since Mike Piazza in 1997.
Posey’s improvement is supported by obvious progress in terms of plate discipline – though he struck out a bit more, he swung less, made more contact with strikes and swung through fewer pitches and doubled his walk rate.
Season Swing% OContact% Contact% SwStr%
2010 46.80% 71.30% 83.40% 7.60%
2012 42.50% 77.10% 85.30% 6.00%

Posey’s gaudy .336 batting average appears to have resulted from some luck on balls in play – his .315 BABIP number in 2010 jumped to .368 in 2012.  But was it lucky?  Here are the details on his balls in play:

LD% GB% FB% HR/FB ISO

2010

18.40%

48.60%

33.10%

15.40%

0.200

2012

24.60%

46.50%

28.90%

18.80%

0.213

Posey hit significantly more line drives, and fewer fly balls, both of which would be expected to have significantly positive effects on his BABIP numbers.  In fact, using Jeff Sullivan’s xBABIP calculator, his 2012 xBABIP comes out to . . . .366.  So while that number looks high, it is exactly what we would expect from a hitter with Posey’s combination of line drives, grounders and fly balls.  (And as an aside, Posey’s line drive rate is good for 13th in all of major league baseball).

What does it all mean?  Buster Posey is a much more selective hitter than when he broke into the league, which has allowed him to (a) walk at a rate significantly above the league average, and (b) make better contact when he does swing the bat.  His .336 batting average wasn’t particularly lucky last season, and his ISO hasn’t changed significantly since breaking into the majors.  And he turns 26 just before opening day.  I don’t see any reason (outside of injury) to think his 2012 numbers won’t be repeated.

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About Bill Porter

Bill is an aspiring sportswriter (attorney by day) born in Washington DC, raised in New York, and currently living in San Francisco with his wife Kirsten and two spazzy labs, Fletch and Bear. Follow me on Twitter at @wfporter1972
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