San Francisco Giants: solving the Buster Posey problem

Let me preface this by saying Buster Posey is going to be fine. He’s simply too good of a hitter not to turn it around. Fresh off sweeping the visiting Cleveland Indians, the San Francisco Giants sit atop the National League West, half a game ahead of the Colorado Rockies. They’re playing good ball and still have room to improve.

It’s not that Posey is necessarily the weak link on the team, but we’re just not seeing the Posey we’ve become accustomed to witnessing. And when Posey has been absent or has underperformed, history has shown it presents a problem for the Giants. Look at 2011 when Posey went down for the year with a fractured ankle or the second half of 2013 when Posey and the Giants really struggled. I realize comparing different seasons and different rosters is anything but concrete evidence, but I think even the Giants recognize that if they want to compete for a spot in the postseason, Posey is going to need to perform like the superstar that he is.

It hasn’t been all bad for Posey so far this season. Much like the rest of the Giants’ lineup, Posey has supplied some surprising power in the middle of the lineup with five long-balls already. The 25+ home runs he is on pace for would be more than welcomed by the Giants from their starting catcher. Between Posey, Michael Morse, and Brandon Belt, the Giants have three hitters in the middle of the order that can take a pitcher deep at any moment, which is an element Giants fans haven’t seen since some guys named Bonds, Kent, and Aurilia donned the orange and black.

Yet despite the somewhat unexpected early season power, Posey is still having a disappointing beginning to the 2014 campaign, even by his standards I’m sure. His .238 average and .330 on-base percentage are both career lows. Those numbers are going to need to drastically increase if the Giants want to keep their lead in the N.L. West. So what’s to blame for Posey’s lackluster performance so far?

Giants fans are used to seeing Posey continuously roll over balls during his slumps. While he has fallen victim to a few rollovers, it doesn’t appear to be the same mechanical flaw that is causing his slump this year. In fact, Posey currently has the lowest ground ball percentage and highest fly ball percentage of his career. Is his recent power surge leading him to getting under balls? It’s not like Buster to become enamored with the long-ball. From the minute he stepped foot in a major league box he’s had a professional approach beyond his years. However, this could explain his increase in fly-outs this year.

I’d argue it’s not what kind of balls Posey is hitting, but rather where he is hitting them. Posey’s biggest strength has always been his ability to use his superb bathead control to utilize all portions of the field, particularly the opposite field. He has a penchant for peppering balls through the one-two hole, especially when the first baseman has to hold a runner on. He takes what pitchers give him and goes with the pitch. That ability has been absolutely non-existent in 2014.

According to fangraphs.com, Posey hasn’t had one opposite field hit this season. He’s only had three ground balls and three line drives to right field. Those numbers are utterly surprising, almost unacceptable, for a guy who’s made the opposite field his bread and butter since day one. Posey has become pull-happy, which could be a product of his potential infatuation with round-trippers.

[Fixing the Pablo Sandoval problem]

The simple fix to Posey’s problem is time. Buster is an extremely cerebral player and is smart enough to recognize and correct his flaws. If it’s a matter of approach, Posey needs to get back to his roots and start using the whole field to get on base again. Home runs are great, but not if they come at the expense of setting the table for hitters behind him. If it’s a matter of mechanics, Posey needs to get in the cage and do tee-work to help get back inside the ball. Either way, patience is the key. There’s no need to overreact with Posey.

If the Giants want to speed up the process, another way to get Posey going is to get runners on for him. Buster has always performed well with men on base. It could be a result of increased focus or it could be a product of simply seeing better pitches. Posey is currently hitting .382 with a 1.076 OPS and 8 RBIs with runners on. With those numbers, the Giants need to find ways to get more men on before him. I know it’s tempting for Bruce Bochy to hit Posey third against lefties to get him more at bats, but it may be worth it to keep Posey in the four spot permanently to maximize the potential of runners getting on in front of him.

Without a dominant Buster Posey it’s going to be difficult to hold off the Dodgers from winning the pennant. Not to mention the red hot Rockies seem more and more like a team that’s for real and not just a small sample size fluke. Hopefully Posey gets back on track sooner rather than later, so the Giants can build on their N.L. West lead instead of trying to fight their way back to the top.

 

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