Giants catcher/first baseman Buster Posey had a terrific 2010 debut, collecting six hits in his first nine plate appearances. He hit in 12 of his first 13 games before reentering the Earth’s atmosphere toward the end of June. Through his first 102 plate appearances this year, he collected 28 hits, but just six of them for extra bases. The hits were coming when he pulled the ball – something he was trying to do with frequency. What follows is Posey’s spray chart from Texas Leaguers covering those first 102 plate appearances. Note the cluster of ground balls to the left side, how the majority of his base hits were to the left or up the middle and the high volume of fly balls to right field.
It's easy to see, Posey was trying to pull almost everything. On those occasions where he went opposite field, he was frequently lofting lazy fly balls.
(A quick note about these charts. The plots represent where the ball was fielded and are approximate. The stadium overlay is for visual purposes only. The chart above indicates Posey would have hit two home runs in his first month-plus of the season, but we know he hit only one.)
Everything changed when the calendar flipped to July. Suddenly, those lazy fly balls to the opposite field began to carry and he was also driving the ball to the gaps.
Posey hammered seven home runs in 59 plate appearances from July 1 to July 17 and added three doubles and a triple for good measure. Four of those home runs were opposite field blasts, while three of them were to center field. I mentioned opposite field power in my post last week about Adam Jones, and how when a young player begins to flash this trait it portends well for the future. In the span of about two weeks, Posey joined Ryan Zimmerman and Matt Kemp on the opposite field home run leaderboard by a player under the age of 26. Very exciting.
Then, just as suddenly, Posey endured quite a long ball drought. His power outage lasted 115 plate appearances before he finally cleared the fences against the Padres on Sunday afternoon. Here’s the spray chart representing his HR drought. The greater concentration of balls hit to the opposite field remains. Except they’re no longer clearing the fence.
The good news about this third and final chart: Posey is still hitting to all fields. He’s getting around on some pitches and lining them to left while still trying to take his fair share to the opposite field. During this stretch, he’s posted a .311 BA with a .379 OBP.
Posey’s power is down over his last 100 plate appearances because we can’t count on opposite field power. Studies have shown the average hitter will go to the opposite field (and to center) for a home run about 25% of the time, with the remaining 75% hit to the batter's pull field. This season, the right-handed hitting Posey has hit 88% (eight of nine) of his home runs to center or right field. From Hit Tracker, here is Posey's scatter plot for this season:
Of course, it’s possible Posey is hampered by playing half his home games in the spacious AT&T Park in San Francisco. While the opposite field power may portend well for the future, what about his home and road splits?
That looks like a pretty wide disparity, but it’s one that can be explained. His home and road splits are skewed by that burst of offense he provided in early July. The Giants wrapped up the first half of the season with an 11 game road trip which was exactly when Posey started pounding the ball. He hit .500/.533/1.025 in 47 PA on that trip. Those numbers represent a full one-third of his away split. What do we say about small sample sizes?
As you would expect from any young hitter, Posey is a work in progress. In his first extended look in the majors as a 23 year old, right now it’s all about finding his comfort zone. It’s a zone that will evolve as the pitchers make adjustments, so the results will appear in streaks. For every two weeks where Posey is tearing the cover off the ball, there will be a stretch where he struggles at the plate. He will hit seven home runs in two weeks and then go a month without a single long ball. It can be frustrating to single-season fantasy owners to have to deal with the inconsistency, but that’s what happens with young players.
The next step in Posey's development will come when he begins consistently pulling the ball – and pulling the ball for power. The simple fact he’s been driving the ball to all fields combined with the flash of opposite field power says that future will be bright. Those of you fortunate enough to have Posey on your keeper teams will be reaping some serious benefits over the next several seasons.