MLB: San Francisco Giants at San Diego Padres

The San Francisco Giants are, as constructed, a decent team. Probably not as good as the Dodgers, probably a little better than the Diamondbacks (but with a lower floor on their win total.) They didn’t add much this off-season, save the addition of veteran starter Tim Hudson and slugger Michael Morse, but the talent they have is pretty good.

The Giants have areas of concern (left field), areas of adequacy (SS, 2B, CF), and areas of quality (RF, 1B, 3B). To their credit, they do not look anything like a “stars and scrubs” program until a single player gets hurt, at which point they’re cooked.

There is one position the Giants have a serious advantage. At one position, the Giants are the class of the league. Not because of any platoon but because of one man. The Giants have Buster Posey and he’s really great.

Reading through Fangraphs’ 2014 Giants projection summary, the Buster Posey’s qualities sort of jumped off the page. Right around the time author Carson Cistulli noted that Buster Posey’s project WAR for 2014 is second in baseball, behind only Mike Trout, it was something of an “a-ha” moment.

We have a two-time World Series champion, a former Rookie of the Year and National League Most Valuable Player who is just entering his prime. Posey followed his 2012 MVP season with something of a down year in 2013, though he still managed an OPS+ of 138 and around 5 WAR. In a down year.

Posey is a catcher who plays in San Francisco so his triple slash line doesn’t punch you in the face but only three catchers bested his .357 wOBA. Again, this came in a down year. Looking forward, Posey projects to be the second best player in baseball in terms of WAR (according to both ZiPS and Steamer*). The numbers for his age-26 season figure to make him more than three wins more valuable than the next best catcher.

  • ZiPS: .293/.367/.467, 18 HR, 9.9% BB, 14.2% K, .174 ISO, 6.5 fWAR
  • Steamer*: .304/.383/.490, 21 HR, 10.6% BB, 13.2% K, .187 ISO, 7.1 fWAR
  • PECOTA: .295/.370/..467, 20 HR, .172 ISO, 4.3 WARP

* – Steamer outperformed all other freely available projection systems according to this research.

It doesn’t take a series of projections to know that Buster Posey is one of the better players in baseball right now. But after four years, it is starting to look like Buster Posey might be one of the best catchers…ever?

If we look at his raw OPS – no messing around with park effects – and compare it to all catchers through their first five seasons, you get a pretty telling list.

Rk Player OPS WAR/pos PA From To Age HR Tm
1 Mike Piazza .947 22.3 2223 1992 1996 23-27 128 LAD
2 Roy Campanella .880 20.5 2416 1948 1952 26-30 117 BRO
3 Buster Posey .864 17.6 1850 2009 2013 22-26 61 SFG
4 Jason Kendall .858 19.9 2682 1996 2000 22-26 45 PIT
5 Mickey Cochrane .858 17.8 2610 1925 1929 22-26 43 PHA
6 Joe Mauer .856 19.5 2388 2004 2008 21-25 44 MIN
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/10/2014.

Those are impressive names, with Hall of Famers and soon to be Hall of Famers at every turn (and also Jason Kendall!) Buster Posey is on the fast track to “generational talent”, if we care about such things. The comparison to Mike Piazza is most telling, as Piazza never had the same defensive reputation as Posey, who is well-regarded for his pitch blocking, throwing and overall handling of his pitching staff.

Like Posey, Piazza played his home games in a pitcher’s park. During the first five years of Piazza’s career, he hit .347/.412/.601 away from Dodger Stadium, while Posey owns a .321/.389/.521 career line away from AT&T Park.

Two great players, two of the finest catchers in the last 30 years. Piazza went on to a Hall of Fame career, moving to Florida and then the New York Mets, where he posted some of his best seasons through his early 30s. Piazza basically spent his entire pro baseball career in very large pitchers parks.

Buster Posey is set to remain a member of the San Francisco Giants for the next seven years, signing with the Giants through 2021 (with an option for 2022.) He’s a Giant for now and perhaps a Giant for the duration of his career.

Posey acknowledged that last season didn’t play out, on a personal level, as well as he hoped. He showed up to Giants’ media day claiming he added ten pounds of muscles this offseason to allow himself to “stay strong” throughout the system. Heading into his prime, learning more about his body and what it takes to be in productive for all 162, be it behind the plate or with a few breathers at first base mixed in for good measure.

There is no doubt that Buster Posey is a superstar, one of the best players in baseball. He’s accomplished and still young, the core of a competitive team that already achieved the ultimate team prize in 2012 and 2010. Yet somehow he seems slightly overlooked in the greater baseball sphere. If Posey puts together another huge season for the Giants, the soft-spoken Georgian will have no choice but assume his place among the game’s greats.