Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Buster to Move to Fresno

Do you know the way to Fresno, CA? Buster Posey has been promoted to AAA Fresno, as announced on sfgiants.com and Henry Schulman's blog. Henry noted that Brian Sabean said last month that this was likely to happen. Posey will make his debut in AAA on Thursday in the Grizzlies return from their All-Star Break (Bowker was suppose to be in that game).

For San Jose, he hit .322/.421/.536/.957 with 13 HR in 289 AB (roughly 22 AB/HR or a 25+ HR season) with 60 runs and 57 RBI in 79 games. His ISO was an excellent 215 and his BABIP was .346: only time will tell if that is normal or high.

Walking 44 times and striking out 45 times, his contact rate was just a hair below the desired rate of 85% - he was at 84.4% - but his BB/K was an excellent 0.98 - the best hitters can get it over 1.00 while keeping their contact rate above 85% (that is, K-rate under 15%).

He clobbered LHP and did OK against RHP:

vs. LH: .446/.539/.819/1.358 with 8 HR in 83 AB (11 AB/HR)
vs. RH: .279/.381/.428/.809 with 5 HR in 208 AB (42 AB/HR)

He has also benefited from hitting at home, which is odd because San Jose is a pitchers park in the hitter's league that is the California League:

Home: .378/.483/.608/1.091 with 7 HR in 148 AB (21 AB/HR)
Away: .273/.369/.469/.838 with 6 HR in 143 AB (24 AB/HR)

Perhaps that bad patch he had in May was on the road, pulling down those stats:

APR: .366/.447/.646/1.093 with 5 HR in 82 AB and 11 walks and 13 K's
MAY: .245/.319/.382/.701 with 3 HR in 102 AB and 8 walks and 18 K's (elevated K-rate)
JUN: .385/.529/.631/1.160 with 3 HR in 65 AB and 18 walks and 8 K's
JUL: .357/.462/.571/1.033 with 2 HR in 42 AB and 8 walks and 6 K's

As one can see, he greatly improved his walk rate and kept his K-rate (contact rate) around where it is suppose to be if you are good (much like how Pablo Sandoval did while in the minors). Even the pitch to his head in late June did not slow him down much once he got back in June. I noticed that after a couple of oh-fers, he just started hitting again.

He spent most of his time in San Jose batting fourth, clean-up, and he did best there, obviously, since his overall numbers are so good. He did not bat well in the 3 hole however, his OPS there was .754, not close to as good as he has done overall.

Amazingly, he hit this well with a high ground ball rate of 52% and a low FB rate of 30%. His HR/FB rate is about double what it normally is for the majors in general, which is roughly 10%, though each batter has his own HR/FB rate. He could just be that good or it could just be a fluke to be aware of, but at 16%, that is usually the stratified region where sluggers reside, and Buster is a slight looking guy. It was his great hitting with fly balls and particularly line drives that made up for his greatly elevated ground ball rate that normally would kill a hitters overall batting line. I don't have the splits for this, but I would hazard a guess that he hit a lot of ground balls in May, when he scuffled for a bit. I would love to see his splits for ground balls, fly balls, and line drives by month.

Giants Thoughts

He is El Machino, grinding up Advanced A and jumping to AAA. By age, he was actually young for the league: the average hitter was 22.7 years old and the average pitcher was 23.0 years old. But he hit like he was many years older, because experience conveys a significant advantage relative to the league. For a comparison, look at what Sandoval did at age 21 repeating Advanced A last season, with roughly the same amount of AB:

Pablo: .359/.412/.597/1.009 with 12 HR in 301 AB (roughly 25 AB/HR), 23 BB, 39 K
Posey: .322/.421/.536/.957 with 13 HR in 289 AB (roughly 22 AB/HR ), 44 BB, 45 K

They were very similar, though Posey did walk much more and Pablo was one year younger than Posey, though he was also repeating the level.

Clearly, Buster is on the fast track to the majors now, jumping to AAA. Buster now has 80 games under his belt in the minors, plus another roughly 15-20 games in the final Hawaii Winter League, helping the Beach Boys win their first championship, plus, as reported, his being brought back to instructional league for direct tutoring on the nuances of catching professionally. He should get roughly another 50 games in the minors and whatever else he gets in the majors if he is called up in September. If there is a pennant race going on, I would bet on it.

Now, from what I have read, catchers need roughly 200-250 games played to be ready for the majors. He'll have 150 plus whatever he plays in the majors in September, plus I would expect that he would be put in the AFL this year if we are allowed to place a catcher, which should get him another 20-40 games, depending on how they use him (the HWL used him only once every three games, one reason why he got pulled). Weiters basically followed this path and thus the games he played in the minors this season put him into that experience range that experts think is needed to be ready for the majors. Posey would be short that experience at the start of next season, based on what I tallied above.

However, Weiters, at best, is considered a competent catcher ultimately. Posey has been rated as an above average receiver, with arm strength, receiving skills, and a quick release, plus he rates high on baseball acumen. Baseball America says that he profiles as a catcher in the mold of Joe Mauer, who is considered one of the best defensive catchers today, adding half a win to one win per season, according to Baseball Prospectus. He's also very athletic, which is not surprisingly since he once played all 9 positions in a game in college.

Thus, to me, it would seem that he should be able to make the jump to the majors next season, both offensively and defensively. He will probably struggle initially, but if we sign an experienced catcher who is good defensively, both as mentor and as backup in case Buster struggles too much, we should be covered at the catching position in 2010. Plus, Sandoval could catch a few games himself. In addition, should Posey struggle at catcher, he could at least be a utility player and give other position players a rest while getting to hit.

Experienced free agent catchers this off-season, with some defensive street-cred, includes Brad Ausmus (age - 41), Rod Barajas (34), Jason Kendall (36), Jose Molina (35), I-Rod (38), and maybe Gregg Zaun (39; club option). If the Giants want to make Bengie feel OK at some level with moving on, they could sign his brother, Jose Molina. And it won't be a pitty signing. According to the Fielding Bible, Jose Molina is a very good catcher.

Despite not being a full-time player like his brothers, according to the Adjusted Earned Runs Saved (AERS) stat that is being developed for catchers by the author of the Fielding Bible, Jose has saved about as many runs as his brothers over the past 3 and 6 years. In a 3 year period, Jose is 7th overall with 6 AERS, while Yadier is 8th with 5 AERS and Bengie is 12th with 4. In a 6 year period, Yadier is 8th with 9, Jose is 10th with 8, and Bengie is 15th with 4.

But remember, Yadier and Bengie are starting catchers. Jose, at best, has been Mike Mussina's and Andy Pettitte's personal catcher on the Yankees. However, for every pitcher Jose handled on the Yankees, the pitcher pitched better with Jose catching than any other catcher, according to the Fielding Bible research. According to the raw Earned Runs Saved data, Jose was better than Ivan Rodriguez, who is considered one of the best catchers of his generation.

Based on the last six years, the top five catchers by AERS are Jason Kendall, Paul Lo Duca, I-Rod, Chris Snyder, and Gregg Zaun; based on the last three, they are Kendall, Ronny Paulino, Brian McCann, I-Rod, and Brad Ausmus. Kendall, I-Rod, Ausmus, and perhaps Zaun will be free agents this off-season. But these are not adjusted for playing time and I would guess that had it been, Jose would have easily jumped into the top five for both lists, though probably not at the top, somewhere below that but definitely top five.

Great defense, should be cheap because he's not looking for starting money, Jose looks like he would be the best to sign. He did make $2M per year the past two years, so he won't be totally cheap. But that appears to be the going rate, with a King George bump-up because he can.

Zaun is making $2M himself, so perhaps that is the going rate for great defensive backup catchers, though he was actually the starter until Wieters was brought up; I have to assume he knew that was going to happen and signed accordingly. Ausmus is only making $1M with the D-gers as their backup, and signing him would give us inside information on how the D-gers work internally, as well as how Torre does things. He probably got much less both because he's much older and because Russell Martin should get the vast majority of the catching starts for the D-gers.

Kendall, who is still a starter and probably wouldn't sign with us because he's looking to start, got $5.0M based on the 2009 option vesting. Bengie Molina is getting $6M from us this year plus performance bonuses based on games started that should net him another $0.5M probably, plus his 2009 salary increases by 50% of performance bonuses earned in 2007-08, which probably adds another $0.5M. I-Rod, while a starter, only got $1.5M for 2009 plus up to $1.5M in performance bonuses based on PA and games played and he looks like he will earn all that for a total of $3.0M. He got a lesser contract because he basically signed near the end of spring training. I don't think we can sign any of these to partner with Posey.

To sum up, Jose Molina looks like the best choice for the money, skill, and age. Great defense, great handling of pitchers, and I assume he would be willing to teach Posey his tricks of the trade and that Posey will absorb everything like a sponge. We probably can sign him for a long-term contract (2-3 years) at $1.0-1.5M and thus pair him up with Posey. He won't have Posey's offense, but his defense would be so good that it would make up some for that loss in offense.

I think Ausmus would be a good second choice, but on a year by year basis since he's already 41, because he is strong defensively and would be able to give us good information regarding the D-gers operations, particularly since he is an aspiring manager, and would be viewing the entire D-gers operations like a manager. We could give him the carrot that the Giants have already hired a number of former catchers as managers - Decker, Skeels, Trebelhorn, Bochy - and would be open to him starting his managerial career in our minors.

And Zaun would be a close third choice, as he has already done the caddy/support act with the Orioles and is apparently OK with it. He's also younger than Ausmus and better offensively and defensively, and thus might have more to share with Posey as a tutor. And he hasn't been that far removed from being a full-time starter, only since a month or so ago, while Ausmus was last a full-time starter in 2006, though he did get into the majority of the games in 2007.

This helps cover us at the catching position no matter the scenario. Obviously, if Posey transitions smoothly, our backup would be just that plus provide tips much like Randy Johnson has been greatly influencing our starters, particularly Sanchez and Cain, though also Lincecum, as the Kid wants to learn how to strike out a lot while also lasting deep into games.

If Posey struggles but is OK enough to stay up, he and the backup can share the position, plus Sandoval can take some of the starts with Posey starting at 3B - one scenario I like for the future is that Posey can be the starting catcher and Sandoval the starting 3B, but when Posey needs a rest, he starts at 3B and Sandoval starts at C, thus giving him a bit of a rest but we don't lose his bat from the lineup either. Again, the backup would share his knowledge with Posey.

If Posey struggles so badly that he needs to be sent down to AAA, the backup catcher would be good enough to catch a significant number of games and the Giants would also start Sandoval a good number of games, more than a backup would normally get, though that would screw us up at 3B. Uribe has been pretty good starting part-time at 3B this season but perhaps this could be a way to give Frandsen some regular starts, putting him at 3B, assuming he is not already starting at 2B. In this scenario, Frandsen could be the uber-utility guy that some suggests is his role, a Chone Figgins type who gets a lot of starts around the field and thus playing a lot, but is not the full-time starter at a particular position.

2 comments:

  1. I don't agree with the G's deciding to have Posey skip AA. If he has trouble initially it might hurt his confidence. I am a firm believer in a guy working his way up the ladder. Additionally, as you point out, he is probably going to need to spend some more time in the minors next season. No reason to rush him to AAA. Plus I think he should be with Bumgarner and Alderson and building up a comfort level with them.
    I disagree with your idea of making him able to be moved all over the field to play if necessary. Playing catcher is a full-time job. If they want him to be an elite catcher he needs to be behind the plate while he's developing as a player.

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  2. I don't think he will have confidence problems with any struggles, and in any case I think it would be worse to expose him to Dodd Stadium in AA, than to push him to AAA. Dodd Stadium kills power hitting and has affected most of our prospects for the past 5 years at least. It screwed up Ishikawa's bat for a whole season, else he might have gotten up sooner.

    I don't think that he's being rushed. He sounds very mature and from all reports sound like he is ready to move up. He's not going to be great when he first gets promoted to the majors, but most young players have some sort of struggle.

    He was with Bumgarner and Alderson for a good 6-8 weeks in San Jose, battling together to win the first half title. Plus they will have plenty of time together when they make the majors. If comfort level was so important, then they should have just kept Posey and the two together all season long, thus they would all three been promoted at the same time.

    I'm thinking of the future when I talk about Posey moving around. I expect him to have a career like Craig Biggio, where he moves up the middle as catching catches up with him physically. I also want his bat in the lineup everyday, as I expect him to be a good hitter.

    And I'm only talking about the days he is not catching. If he can catch 162 games, great, but I expect him to be held out of games during the season. Those games, I want to put him in other positions, like DH against AL teams, 3B if Sandoval catches. I've never played professional ball, but if he's in his 20's, I would think that resting by playing another position is doable; not so much for players in his 30's. But maybe I'm wrong.

    I want his bat in the lineup because I expect him to be good, but if he struggles, yeah, I can see just sitting him and having him watch the game, take extra batting practice.

    I see 2010 as a transition year and I'm OK with risking a poor performance by promoting him to the majors. I expect 2011-2013 to be our prime years to win it all, as Bumgarner and Alderson, probably Villalona, join the core of Lincecum, Cain, Sandoval, hopefully Sanchez. Posey needs to be ready for 2011-13 by being brought up in 2010 and learning and getting used to the majors, get over the various learning curves a rookie needs to learn.

    That's why Earl Weaver preferred to bring up pitchers as a back of bullpen reliever, even starters: so that they can acclimate to being a major leaguer while Weaver puts him in situations where he can succeed. There are so many things that happens when you are a major leaguer that he liked to ease guys in.

    Not that I'm saying to do the same, but given this learning curve, I would rather have Posey up here next year - Wieters has done OK so far and many thought he was ready to start the season in the majors - and working through these issues and be ready for us in 2011.

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