Amidst the uncertainty and disappointment of the San Francisco Giants’ 2014 season, one narrative remains consistent: Buster Posey may not, and possibly should not, finish out his career behind the plate. Analysts and fans alike have shown the desire for Giants management to make the move from catcher for Posey, but the organization has shown few signs that any such plans are in the works.
The primary reason for the inclination to move Posey is clearly to extend his career. The burden of being in the squat day in and day out takes a toll on a catcher’s knees. Also, catchers are especially susceptible to concussions from foul tips into their mask, which Posey has had scares with in his young and successful career. Let’s not even get started on the possibility of another horrific injury like the one Posey suffered in 2011 that sidelined him for the entire year. Sure, the game has changed and there are new rules to try to protect catchers more, but should the Giants really risk Posey’s (and possibly their own) future by hanging their hat on rule changes?
In a Wezen-Ball study of MLB players with at least 1,000 games played, catchers finished with an average of 1406.83 games under their belt before they retired. Compare that to first base and third base, the two most logical destinations for Posey’s position change, and the idea to move Posey becomes even more validated. The study determined that first basemen average 1709.25 games and third basemen average 1667.15 games in their careers. That’s roughly a 300 game difference between a catcher’s career and a corner infielder’s. Two seasons might not be shockingly significant, but when you have a potentially generational talent like Posey, you should be doing whatever you can to prolong his career, not shorten it.
Upon looking deeper into Posey’s career, their appears to be merit around switching positions that stretches further than just career longevity. While he ranks average to above average defensively, his advanced stats are somewhat of an enigma. He ranks top 10 in catcher’s earned run average, caught stealing percentage, and fielding percentage among catchers for the 2014 season. However, his defensive wins above replacement is 0 for this year and has never been above 1.0 in his career. So, the naysayers who claim he shouldn’t be moved because he’s too valuable behind the plate have shaky ground to stand on.
Unfortunately for the Giants, the mediocrity he has displayed defensively has begun to creep into the batter’s box as well this year. Posey has had quite a pedestrian season for his standards with a line of .280/.341/.427. Not a horrible line, but not the 2012 MVP who hit .336 with 24 home runs and 103 RBIs. Giants fans want that Posey back and the Giants need that Posey back if they want to continue to contend for more World Series rings.
After reviewing his splits, however, Posey’s season shifts from disappointment to intrigue. While he has only hit .257 in games he catches, Posey is batting a blistering .385 in 85 plate appearances at first base in 2014. For those sighting small sample size, his career numbers are .291 at catcher and .363 in 397 at-bats at first base. Not quite as large a margin, but still substantial enough to consider the impact moving him to a different position could have on his personal numbers and team success.
The most logical move would be to send Posey to first base considering he’s had somewhat extensive experience there and has proven he can play the position. However, Brandon Belt continues to show promising power and defensive potential at first base when he’s been able to stay on the field. Moving him to left field adds more question marks and mixes the defensive jigsaw puzzle even further for the Giants. Moving two players from their natural positions is a little risky for a team who has won championships based around pitching and defense.
Instead, third base might be the more effective change for Posey. While Pablo Sandoval has done a decent job salvaging an epically disappointing first month of the season, he seems destined to move on the from the Giants when his contract expires after this season. Although he remains a fan favorite and a championship icon in San Francisco, Sandoval figures to want more money than the Giants have available or think he is worth. If that is the case, Posey might be a great internal candidate to take over the duties at the hot corner. He isn’t the lightest player on his feet, but Posey is surprisingly athletic for his broad base. He was the starting shortstop his Freshman year at Florida State University too, so he shouldn’t have much problem adjusting to the left side of the infield. Also, moving him to third allows Posey to better utilize his outstanding arm.
The Giants have gone 3-7 in their last ten games and remain in a funk, but despite there poor play of late, they still lie heavily entrenched in the playoff hunt. They currently sit 4.5 games back from the division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers and are tied with the Atlanta Braves for the second wild card spot in the National League. It’s unlikely to see any dramatic changes while the Giants remain in a playoff race. However, maybe shaking things up and moving Posey out from behind the plate is the shot in the arm the Giants need to get over the top and into October baseball.