San Francisco is the most surprising story in baseball heading into the last week of July. The Giants has been in first place since Memorial Day weekend, and have played better than the defending champion Dodgers and revamped Padres.
Leading the surprising resurgent Giants is their clubhouse leader and modern franchise icon Buster Posey. After opting out of his age-33 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Posey has come back to the game to post his best season in years.
Heading into Wednesday night’s matchup against the Dodgers, Posey had a career-best 165 wRC+, a slash line of .330/.424/.555 with 13 home runs. Despite a near-19 percent strikeout rate, the highest of his career, he is generating productive plate appearances through contact hitting and a 13.6 percent walk rate. His last season (2019) his walk rate was nearly half what is this year, at 7.6 percent.
Somehow Posey is managing these numbers despite making less contact on pitches inside and outside the zone. In total, his contact rate this season is 77 percent, compared to a career average of over 85 percent. Posey is whiffing more, but the hacks he’s taking are delivering big-time results. With a hard-hit rate of nearly 44 percent (compared to a lifetime average of 37.7 percent), Posey is making hard contact when he connects. This is also evident in Statcast data showing that Posey has ‘barrelled’ nearly 10 percent of the balls he’s hit (compared to half that number for his career average).
With hard-hit numbers at this level, it’s no surprise that 25 percent of his fly balls have left the yard. While Posey was never a true power hitter, he has a good chance to hit 20 homers for the third time in his 11 year career.
It seems the year off did wonders for Posey, who was in steep decline in terms of both production and health. The two were clearly interrelated, as he had to call it quits a month-and-a-half early, ending his season in August of 2018 due to a hip injury.
The daily grind of a catcher takes its toll, it’s what makes a player like Salvador Perez or Yadier Molina so uniquely suited as franchise backstops. Similar to what the Twins did with Joey Mayer, the Giants tried to limit reps behind the dish, opting to start Posey at first base more often. Perez and Molina are great assets, but did not have the offensive peak of Posey or Mauer, though Mauer did not have a late-career bloom like Posey is this season.
This week Posey rejoined the Giants for their critical four-game set against the second-place Dodgers, after missing nearly two weeks with a thumb injury. The timing was fortuitous for Posey and the Giants, as he had All Star week to recover, and consequently did not miss that many games. He smacked a two run home run in his first at bat showing that the time off didn’t slow him down, and perhaps even reinvigorated him.
While we shouldn’t expect his .373 batting average on balls in play to sustain itself for the next two months, nor will one of every four fly balls go yard for a home run, but if the Giants and Posey prioritize rest, and ensure they’re doing what they can to keep him healthy, Posey can continue to be an offensive leader on the team. He’s only 34, he clearly still has a lot in-the-tank.
San Francisco has their work cut out for them to stay in first place in the NL West. They’re likely to make the playoffs with FanGraphs’ giving them over a 90 percent chance to reach the postseason. The Dodgers are still the heavy favorites to win the division, but a healthy and productive Posey will keep the Giants contending in a competitive division.