Monday, October 31, 2011

Now Catching (Up With) Buster Posey

Been meaning to point out this milestone in Posey's recovery, courtesy of Henry Schulman of the Chronicle:  

Good news from Scottsdale, Ariz., if you’re a fan of the Giants and Buster Posey.
Dave Groeschner, the Giants’ head athletic trainer, just told me that Posey has begun catching live bullpen sessions for pitchers in the instructional league. Groeschner watched Buster catch his second one this morning. The session lasted about 8 minutes.
This is a huge benchmark in Posey’s recovery from devastating injuries to his left leg that occurred in a May 25 home plate collision with Florida’s Scott Cousins, which required two surgeries thus far and ended his 2011 season. With that, the Giants’ hopes for a repeat World Series championship went down the tubes, too.
Though the Giants initially set Nov. 1 as a target date for Posey to catch live bullpen sessions, they hoped he might start a bit earlier, and Groeschner said Posey is about a week ahead of schedule.
“He’s been feeling good and progressing well, so there was no reason to wait,” Groeschner said.
We won’t know if Posey is truly recovered until spring training in February,  when he does all the regular activities with the team and plays in a game, but the fact he’s ahead of schedule raises hopes that he will be ready to hit the ground running when pitchers and catchers report.
This is pretty huge, though as noted, in a long recovery like this, and we won't really know until Spring Training.  But as the saying goes, a journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step.  Keep on, stepping on, Buster!

Then this latest update came along from Schulman again, which reminded me I should put up this post:

Those who saw Posey all summer in a cast, then a boot, tooling around the clubhouse on a wheeled contraption that allowed him to walk on his good leg, would be pleasantly stunned to see him look like abaseball player again, four months before he expects to catch the first pitch of the first Cactus League game not far from this park.
For the last six weeks, Posey has been rehabilitating and strengthening his leg in Scottsdale. He is taking batting practice. He has caught bullpen sessions from instructional-league pitchers. He is running 100-foot sprints, at 90 to 100 percent of full speed, he surmises, with no noticeable discomfort.
Nothing the front office accomplishes this winter will overshadow Posey's labors in Arizona. He was the catcher and cleanup hitter for San Francisco's first World Series championship team, among the strongest links in the chain of players. Nobody can deny the Giants will need a healthy, productive Posey to return to the playoffs in 2012.
He is encouraged by his progress.
"It was a pretty traumatic injury," he said as he rested between his outdoor work (batting practice and running) and an hour in the weight room. "To be five months out, I'm pretty happy where I am.
"When I was in San Francisco thinking about what I'd be doing at this time, I was thinking I'd just start to be running, or start to be hitting off a coach throwing. I've been doing that for four or five weeks now."
On Saturday, Posey will reach an important waypoint in his journey back. He will end his daily workouts in Arizona and go home to Georgia, where, in his mind, he no longer will be rehab guy. Rather, he will be another player preparing for the 2012 season just like any of his teammates.
Giants head trainer Dave Groeschner provided the reality check.
"He'll be in rehab until he plays a major-league game," Groeschner said. "Nov. 5 is the day he'll go home so he can have a little offseason and take a little mental break. He still knows he's got to work on his lower leg and ankle all the way to spring training."
Moreover, Posey and the team will have to remain vigilant because one sprained ankle breeds susceptibility to another. Posey will spend more time in the treatment room, before and after games, than he would prefer. He still has pain at times. Team trainers have warned him it will be a persistent companion.
Posey plans to hire a physical therapist in Georgia to stretch him out before his workouts and has a friend in that line of work, a back therapist. ...

... Perhaps Posey simply understands how much work remains before he can resume his life as a major-league catcher and cleanup hitter.
He can hit 1,000 home runs off Tom Trebelhorn, a 63-year-old coach, on an empty diamond in Scottsdale. Facing Ian Kennedy of the Arizona Diamondbacks on Opening Day 2012, 10 days after his 25th birthday, will be an entirely different story.
Groeschner said Posey's thrice-weekly batting practice has less to do with technique than sending him to Georgia confident that he will be able to hit come spring training, when the real preparations begin.
"The good thing is, you ask him how he is, and he's more frustrated at the way he's swinging his bat than the ankle," Groeschner said. "This is October. We're not worried about his swing much, just that he can do it and he feels good."
Posey confessed he is anxious about playing again, more about running than hitting or catching. When he closes his eyes, he visualizes himself in the squat behind the plate, or standing in the box against a pitcher throwing 95 mph.
So there has been continued progress and no setbacks from the last reported good news (as noted up top), again, another positive step forward in his long journey to resuming his major league career.

I also ran into some interviews that Johnny Bench has given about Posey, and I thought I would capture them together here.  Basically, Bench is a long-time Buster fan, and he thinks that Posey has the stuff to be one of those generational Hall of Fame catchers.  See this interview with Johnny Bench at The XLog.  In it, he notes how few catchers are in the Hall of Fame, only 13, basically one per decade.  Meaning to him that there is about one per generation.  He noted that Buster Posey (as well as Matt Weiters and two Reds prospects) could be that catcher for this generation.

Here are some of Bench's thoughts about how good Buster is, interviewed after the Giants won the World Series last season:

“The thing’s that so impressive, everybody saw in every interview, it was a class act,” Bench said. “He handled himself well. It was like a Tuesday game somewhere else, and he just got four hits. It was about being on the level with the game. He knows as a catcher knows, it’s one game. Then you’ve got to start all over.”
Posey knows Bench, having won the Johnny Bench Award as the best college catcher in 2008.
In their conversation, according to Bench, Posey said, “I asked my mom, ‘Should we call you and talk to you?’ I said, ‘Of course you should.’ “
Bench said Posey has what it takes to be a great catcher.
“He was a shortstop that became a catcher (at Florida State), so every game is still a learning experience for him,” Bench said. “He wasn’t beaten down or anything else. He’s a kid who loves the game. You can tell from his coach and family what a great person he is. And then to move up (to the majors) that quickly is really rare. You’ve got to say he’s a rare example of any phenom that stands up and does the job . He throws well. Calls the game. He’s got it all. And he runs well . . . for a catcher.”
Bench was impressed how Posey, at such a young age, handled pitchers. In this case, perhaps the best staff in the majors.
“There are three types of pitchers you have to deal with,” Bench said. “Some you just have to tell what town they’re in, remind them where they are. Some you remind them about mechanics, and some you have to bust their tail. You have to make them your friend and have them trust you.”
According to the Hall of Famer, the kid pulled it off.
Giants Thoughts

After going through this season, I have come to the conclusion that the Giants rode the back of Buster Posey to win the World Series last season.  He was the leader who got the team moving towards that goal, as evidenced by this quotes before and after winning, "Why not us?" "Let's do it again".   So that leads me to a couple of conclusions.

First, the 2012 Giants with Posey leading the way will be that much more competitive than the 2011 version, no matter who we end up signing as free agents.  I think we can win with the group we have, though I would love any offensive upgrades the team can make via free agency or trades.  And Buster would lead the way for us.

Second, the Giants should be looking into signing Buster to one of those mega-long contracts, like what Evan Longoria from the Rays or that Colorado doled out to their position stars.   As much as we need the pitching to continue to get the opportunities to win it all, I think we need Posey's leadership to push us over the top and achieve that.  I love his "Can Do" attitude and that he wasn't bowed by any high expectations nor questioning that they can't achieve the seemingly impossible.

This and signing Lincecum and Cain to long-term contracts are the key things I want to see from the Giants this off-season.  Sandoval too would be nice.

FYI, I've been spending a lot of my off-season time checking out DrB's blog for interesting discussions, check it out for my thoughts on some of the things happening to the Giants this off-season, like his recent post on the signing of Lopez then picking up Affeldt's option.  (Not too surprising, glad they did it; also, I would love it if the Giants go for it on Grady Sizemore for a one year deal)  Unfortunately, I don't usually remember to re-post my thoughts here, as I usually comment all across the internet on the Giants, though I might recap some of it at some point when the mood strikes me.


  1. Hey, thanks for the shout out, OGC!

    Very encouraging reports on Buster from multiple sources. If he can make it all the way back and then stay healthy, what a huge difference maker that would be!

  2. OGC -
    Been thinking about just how much an impact this can be as well. I totally agree with you that we rode Buster to the post season and won the world series, and his injury is the principle reason for the troubles of 2011. Trying to temper expectations but so far this has been awesome progress. I do think interwebz giants fans are discounting Posey pretty big right now, as everybody bitches about our sub-par offense. His recovery is the single most important part of the offseason. Along the Johnny Bench line, if he does move off of Catcher, it will take away part of what makes him so special. I think that bridge doesn't get crossed for a couple years though.

    Speaking of the DrB post - I do agree with part of your Molina argument - Sabean definitely signed Bengie with the understanding he would trade him when Buster was deemed ready. Sabean also stuck his foot in his mouth with a crack about Triple A not being very good that got people riled up. It could be they had a number of games in mind for Posey, I won't discount that, but where you see a grand plan I see them throwing Posey into the fire due to public outrage overflowing and a need to get our offense going (and having avoided giving him Super2 status). I will admit that Buster's hitting streak right after the Bengie trade might be tempering my view a bit though on the Bochy playing Molina front. I just think the Giants were a bit tardy bringing up Roy Hobbs. But it all worked out in the end, right?

  3. Another tidbit about Buster. There's a column over on Beyond the Boxscore by a dude who has worked out a rating system for catcher defense. For what's it's worth, he rated Chris Stewart #15 and Buster #16 and Eli Whiteside #100!

    With Buster, you get Chris Stewart's D plus you get a middle of the order bat. That difference in the lineup is almost immeasurable.

  4. And of course, replacing Buster with Whitey's horrible bat plus his horrible D is about as bad as it gets.

  5. Shankbone, when has the Giants and particularly Sabean done anything due to public outrage?

    I know, my opinion, but based on what was noted by Sabean and BA during the off-season, Posey needed time to get his defense into shape. In addition, his bat started out cold anyway, the Giants did not bring him up until he started hitting the ball with more authority.

    Would it have been better to bring him up while his bat was struggling and hope that his ego is up for failure as the starting catcher? I don't think so, but that's me.

    I would agree that the Posey era could have started sooner, but to make a good trade, it takes two to tango, and maybe Sabean had to wait for the Rangers to be ready to give up on all their good catching prospects (of which, one is now playing for us, Max Ramirez). And, as you said, it all worked out in the end.

  6. Hey, np, DrB, just love your site!

    Thanks for pointing out BtB's catcher's defense rating ( I had seen that earlier in the season, but had forgotten to check back for the final.

    I would point out that Buster is only 16th because he played about 30% of the PA of the leading players. Not that he would have been the leader, but he would have been a clear second, with around 9-10 runs - though the author did note that it was not a simple matter of adjusting for PA, it would involve normalizing for certain events.

    Still, with Weiters at 15.2 and Montero at 7.8, with Buster pro-rated at roughly 9-10, I think even with normalization, he should still have ended up second, unless there was a huge outlier for him somewhere. Basically, he was very good in the three right metrics, and not so good at the first (left-most).

    That would also have put Stewart near the top as well.

    Ooops, just noticed that both Lou Marson and Kelly Stoppach didn't play that much either. Both pro-rated would be higher than Buster, so push him to 4th in the majors - still pretty damn good. Though also Ramon Hernandez and Nick Hundley were just behind Buster, and who knows how normalization would have adjusted plus once you play more. So I would call them basically tied, to be conservative.

    Mike Napoli too, would be in that group too. Henry Blanco, then we get to Buster. Josh Bard would be in that range as well, Craig Tatum, Chris Gimenez.

    OK, this is going downhill fast. :^)

    Let's put it this way then, when the first installment of this ratings came out, in May (, Buster was still healthy. He was fourth in the rankings at that time, maybe knocked down 2-3 by pro-rating others.

    Or in other words, Posey is already one of the better (and nearing best) defensive catchers in the majors, in only his second season up in the majors.

  7. That is a good point about how they waited on Posey with his hitting, he did start off cold - I think Sabean was leaning towards playing Belt the same way and Bochy jumped the gun and got greedy. You go back to Baggs quotes, there is a whole lot of hesitation from Sabean during spring training, and a ton of enthusiasm from Bochy. Letting Belt get hot and come up with confidence would in hindsight have been a better play. So that might be the best plan for 2012, to let him start in the minors and hit his way up.

    What Sabean said was off the cuff and a bit flustered by public outrage to me. I think what he meant to say is teams put their best prospects in AA ball now, but it came off like he was dumping on AAA players. More important, the offense really needed jump starting, and Posey came through. I agree Posey is right up there with Weiters as one of the top 5 or so catchers in baseball.

    Speaking of trading with Texas, it seems like Sabean has pretty good rap with Jon Daniels, maybe they will want to bolster their pen a little better this year. Some people think Sabean is out of touch, but the other side of the coin is in this hyper stat aware environment, GMs are always asking for exactly what they want and don't back down or compromise. You protect your best prospects, and that leads to more marginal trades. I still think this offseason there is a trade brewing, because the FA market is pretty expensive and overrated.

  8. OGC - so if Sabean sticks to form hopefully there will be some good news about Cain in a bit, then a little shakeup with the arb guys. Then it'll be hunkering down with the negotiation for Beltran - I believe Sabean when he says there might be a special circumstance for Beltran money. So if they can do something like 2/30 or 3/36 great.

    So what if they don't get Beltran, I just decided to look at Michael Cuddyers road splits one more time. Interesting things I found - of the 14 visiting parks he played more than 20 games in, divided by OPS: Greater than 800: BAL, KC, MIL and SEA. Between 750 and 800 OPS: TEX, OAK, CHW and DET. 700-750 OPS: BOS, TOR. Under 700 OPS: LAA, CLE, NYY, TB

    Of the struggles, Cleveland had the most games played (66), and Cuddyer put up terrible numbers in Yankee stadium(s). He has hit well in 3/4 of the AL west parks. I'm still scared of these road splits, but maybe its better than it first appears?

    The only reason to consider it is Cuddyer looks so likely a target. I'm not sure how I feel about that so I'm trying to get a handle. On one hand, 3 years and losing the draft pick would be unfavorable. On the other hand, the position versatility and Freddy Sanchez insurance could be invaluable, and he is a right handed hitter who might be OK at PacBell. (and yes, in his only series there he did quite well, and Sabean tried to trade for him)

    Any thoughts?

  9. Basically, I agree with you that because he was a target during the season, it makes him obvious as a possible free agent signing. I think (OK really really hope) that the Giants are trying not to lose any draft picks for mediocre players (that is where I consider Cuddyer).

    I think that one thing that gives me hope that they won't sign him is that defense is usually a very important thing for the Giants, particularly up the middle defense. I think that they were in on him because he was the best available in the range that they were willing to give up talent. Now that it is free agent season, different factors will be in play and thus they might not necessarily be in on him.

    Still, that sneaky thought in the back of the mind stays there, telling us that they are going to sign him, as he fits particular profile of a Sabean type of player: versatile, vet, shown interest before.

    Yes, nice analysis of the parks he has played in. Good point about that, I normally note stuff like that with regards to the NL West, but forgot to account for that with him as a possibility.

    Parks tough on RHB in 2008-2010 per Bill James book: CHW, MIN, TOR, LAA, MIN, OAK, CLE, TB, SEA. NYY was actually neutral for RHB for BA (but good for HR). BOS good, though.

    BAL, TEX, and DET are the best for RHB in BA. BOS and KC are pretty good too. MIL not so good for RHB though.

    But as you can see, most of the hard parks hurt him offensively and the Giants play a lot of games in parks that hurt RHB: LAD and SD are the worse, NYM, STL, MIL, HOU, FLO, WAS are bad too. SF is actually slightly positive, but I think that there is a learning curve to hitting there, so he'll be behind the 8-ball from the get-go at our park until he figures it out.

    I don't see him getting 3 years though. 2 years (plus option sometimes) appears to be tops for the Giants nowadays, for the older guys, except when owner interferes (Rowand, Zito). Hopefully that is the line and I would expect that because Panik looks like he should not take more than 2 years to make it up, and the way he is hitting in AFL, maybe sooner.

    So I basically see and agree with most of your points on Cuddyer, but I just hope that the Giants don't sign him, and if they do, no more than 2 years.

  10. About Belt, I would have preferred keeping him in the minors but it made too much sense not to bring him up.

    Nobody really knows how a hitter will hit in the majors until you bring him up. You can make your best guesses, but there have been so many "sure-things" that I've seen in the past 5-6 seasons to convince me that while it is better to bet on them, there is still a high enough failure rate to put caution in one's sails.

    So it made sense to do it, in order to get an idea of where he is relative to the majors, to see where he was in terms of handling the majors, plus to give him a taste of it and to start adjusting to life as a major leaguer. A great manager, Earl Weaver, thought the transition was great enough that he preferred to sit his top starting prospects in the bullpen for a year, to help with the transition.

    So it was perfect. There is a set deadline for when he goes back: when Ross comes off the DL. He gets some time to get his feet wet, learn a little about the majors, see where he is against MLB pitchers. And if he makes the decision of who to drop hard, even better.

    So he goes down, gets his stroke and confidence back up, comes up, then gets injured.

    I view the Sabean/Bochy dichotomy to be a case of good cop/bad cop, plus that they are speaking to two different POV. Both views can logically exist. Given the roster situation, Sabean was speaking to the truth of the situation, most of the positions were taken, there was not a starting spot to give to Belt without disrespecting a vet in some way. Bochy, however, spoke to how well Belt played in spring, and really, unless he hits like Barry Bonds in spring, it was very unlikely that he would crack the starting lineup, but that does not mean that one could not gush about his performance in the spring, which, as I recall, was good.

  11. Here is how I viewed the Sabean brouhaha about AAA.

    The way I see it, the top prospects nowadays spend a season in AA, then if they continue doing that in AAA the following year, they get put in the majors by end of May to sometime in June. The best might even bypass AA and AAA for the most part (Lincecum, the pitchers jumping straight to majors). Thus, blended across the leagues, the talent is lesser generally in AAA than AA because the top talents rise so fast through to the majors, but AA is more talented on an aggregate level because most teams still give their prospects a good amount of time in AA.

    I also think that the big money contracts are causing two trends in roster construction. First thing, the middle tier is disappearing, you have the big money guys, you have the cheap guys, then you have the young controlled guys. The need to compete and win is so strong that the best prospects seem to be moved up quickly, as soon as their winning club can handle.

    Second, because of the first factor, big money, that forces teams to play their top prospects sooner, skipping over key development time in the minors.

    That's not a good trend, I think. Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster studied this and found that the likelihood of a player succeeding when promoted is greatly increased when he has spent most of a season in AAA, if not a full season, before getting promoted. The odds are much greater for those who have not seen time in AAA.

    I would attribute that to the problems of analysis with so few ABs to see what the guy can really do, without random noise affecting his performance greatly. Whereas a full season would provide enough statistical significance, the stats that gets a player promoted might have been just randomness (like a very high BABIP that can't be maintained, or high HR/FB rate) that would have regressed to his talent mean had he played more in AAA.

    But these factors would result in AA being more of a challenge for true prospects than AAA.

    And I would say that is more of a problem for hitters than pitchers. Hitters, for whatever reason, just needs more time and development, and there are just certain factors that don't get put into play until the majors, so he could kill in AAA but die in the majors.

    Whereas pitchers who are really good will dominate from the low minors to the top and can jump quicker to the majors (see Cain, Sanchez, Bumgarner), spending less time in the minors. The Giants could be patient with Cain because he wasn't overly dominant, but both Sanchez and Bumgarner were mowing down people coming up the low minors.

    Not that they are sure things by any means, but just that relative to hitters, there appears to a difference in their difficulties in making the jump to the majors. In pitching, it seems like you either have the talent or you don't, whereas with hitters, you could have any number of talents, but for some reason it just don't translate in the majors.

    That is another reason why I liked the Giants philosophy of focusing more on pitchers than hitters in rebuilding.

  12. I agree with you, Cuddyer isn't worth the third year or the draft pick. His defense is pretty iffy, and it is something the Giants really value (on the sly). With the exception of Shortstop, but that might be changing. I'll admit one of the trades I was completely against at the time was Freddy Sanchez - Sabean came out quite well on that one. Sometimes stats don't tell the whole story on a player. I guess I'm wondering if Cuddyer could be that type of guy with intangibles, but the price tag just doesn't look good.

    There has not been a single deal more than 2 years since Rowand signed, that is a good point - I'm almost comfortable to trust that will stay the modus operandi. I think Sabean felt burned by the Roberts & Winn deals as well. I hope Cuddyer and Willingham (who I am much more clearly against signing due to truly poor defense and no position flexability) keep to their 3rd year demand, as that pushes it over the top.

    So we have BJ Upton, Carlos Quentin, Nick Swisher and Adam Jones as possible trade targets. Dr B thinks Upton would be too expensive, I tend to agree it would take Gary Brown and that's too much. Adam Jones would most likely be the same. Swisher might be in the mix due to the Yanks truly not up to par pitching staff, and I think Quentin is the best bet for bang for the buck.

    We've discussed Baer - don't know if you saw the interview, it turned the McCove into a mash pit of angst, but I didn't really mind it. I'm watching that guy with a skeptical eye, but he did say all the right things about signing Cain and Lincecum. So I'm staying open. I did like the signing of Affeldt and Lopez both - a deep pen is really important for postseason.

  13. Here is another interview with Posey:

    Nothing new, but FYI.

  14. Shankbone, I think that the Giants misjudged how bad defensively Tejada and others would be at SS, so I'm hoping that will influence how they act in the future.

    In Sanchez's case, part of it I think a lot of people overvalued Alderson, but he's always been a good defensive player with OK defense, a good combo, plus he doesn't get robbed at the plate, good bat discipline.

    More importantly to me, Alderson appeared to hit his plateau so basically I saw it as taking a flier and see what happens, given all the injuries Sanchez has.

    After learning he had overcome a club foot to become a major leaguer, I just love the heart in the guy and have no doubt he will do all he can to return to the lineup.

    I don't see the Winn deal as being one that burned the Giants, if you include what he did on defense. He was great defensively, which with average offense is valuable.

    What I'm hoping with Cuddyer and Willingham (and others :^) is that they will stick to their 3+ years demands long enough for Sabean to make another move and move on. Also good: Will wants to be near home in Alabama. YEAH!!!

    I have not heard the Swisher rumor. I had heard that the Yanks were looking to sign him long-term. Yeah, I don't see how Upton and Jones not cost us at least Brown and another top prospect (Hembree perhaps). If ChiSox gives up on Quentin for one of our good but lower prospects (Gillaspie and Burriss?), I could go for that.

    I was actually thinking why didn't the Giants try to trade for Swisher back when the Yanks got him. The ChiSox were basically dumping him, it seemed. He's OK in the OF, actually above average so he's actually good, both LF and RF, about average at 1B, and he has a good bat. He wasn't even that expensive either, I recall him signed long-term to $7M a year or something. Depends on what the Yanks want for hi, but he's getting $10.25M per year, so he's not cheap anymore.

    Did not see the MCC Baer implosion. I saw a post somewhere about it, with Baer saying that the Giants are going to try to sign Lincecum long-term, whether this year, next year or once he's free agent. Nothing wrong with that. I would not be adverse to trading him either (see the response some columnist got for suggesting trading Lincecum?)



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