Buster Posey was the fifth pick in the first round in 2008, with several evaluators rating him as the best available player in the draft. He made it to the majors with the Giants the next season, playing seven games in the majors in 2009 as a 22-year-old. He made it to the majors for good in 2010, playing 108 games and hitting .305/.357/.505 while playing above average defense behind the plate, winning NL Rookie of the Year and finishing 11th in the NL MVP race. He only played in 45 games in 2011 due to a catastrophic leg injury but came back strong, playing a minimum if 146 games each season since then.
At the plate, he combines the ability to hit for average with good plate discipline and moderate power, making him the best catcher-eligible player in fantasy baseball over the last five years. The Giants don’t like to take his bat out of their lineup, so they start him at first base a dozen times or more each season, getting him multi-position eligibility and more games and plate appearances than most catchers. He’ll be 30 years old in 2017, so he’s no spring chicken, but still close enough to his physical prime that there’s no reason to expect a significant drop-off in performance.
What Went Right in 2016
A lot went right in 2016 as the former Florida State player posted a .288/.362/.434 line in 614 plate appearances with 14 home runs, 80 RBI, 82 runs, and six steals. That was good enough to make him the second-best catcher in standard leagues behind Jonathan Lucroy and his .292/.355/.500 line with 24 home runs, 84 RBI, 67 runs, and five steals. Posey is the only catcher to finish among the top three at the position in each of the last five years, finishing in the top spot in three of those five seasons. He’s been as reliable as he has been productive, and that’s saying something.
What Went Wrong in 2016
While his .288/.362/.434 line in 2016 is good for anyone and especially good for a catcher, each component of that line set a career low for Posey in a full season, albeit by slim margins. His three-year trend in home runs shows a drop from 22 in 2014 to 19 in 2015 to 14 in 2016, a season when seemingly every 180-pound middle infielder hit at least 20 home runs. Stated differently, Freddy Galvis went deep six more times than Posey last year. If Posey is truly entering his decline phase, he’s doing it very gently, as his .307/.373/.476 career line isn’t that different from his 2016 line.
One thing to note is that as Brandon Belt came into his own and earned the trust of Giants management at first base, Posey played there less. In 2016, Posey played 15 games at first, a career low (excluding partial seasons) while playing 123 games behind the plate. If Belt continues to play nearly every day, there will be fewer opportunities for Posey to log plate appearances on days when he gets a break from the tools of ignorance. Bigger workloads behind the plate could also take more of a toll on his body, dampening his offensive production, especially as he enters his thirties.
What to Expect in 2017
Expect more of the same from San Francisco’s backstop in 2017. Even if his triple-slash stats continue their gentle backwards slide, he should be one of the top three catchers in fantasy for the sixth straight season. While his 14 home runs in 2016 were mildly disappointing considering the league-wide spike in homers, there isn’t anything in the rest of his line that points to a culprit. His ten percent HR/FB rate comes closest, as it’s three percentage points lower than his career mark, but that’s less of an explanation and more of an identity since it’s saying that he hit less home runs because he hit less home runs on the types of balls that can become home runs. His contact rate, walk rate, and swing rates in 2016 were all in line with his career norms. No obvious alarm bells are ringing aside from the fact that he’ll be another year older with another year’s worth of games behind the plate on his odometer.
The Great Beyond
A lot of people will draft Gary Sanchez and maybe Jonathan Lucroy ahead of Buster Posey in 2017. There are arguments for these decisions, but they come with a fair amount of downside risk as well. Posey is the best combination of performance and reliability at the catcher position in fantasy right now, playing 146 games in each of the last five seasons and avoiding the DL while posting elite offensive numbers for his position.
However, as he ages, his team might choose to preserve his body and his bat at some point over the next few years by finding more time for him at places other than behind the plate. He does more than enough with the bat to deserve playing time at other positions, even if those positions are at the opposite end of the defensive spectrum. If that eventually happens, he’ll lose a lot of the positional value that comes with catcher eligibility.
The good news for Posey owners in keeper leagues is that it doesn’t look like a position switch is on the horizon any time soon. He is still an asset defensively behind the plate, and the Giants were so worried about the wear and tear of catching on his body that they let him set a career high in games started at the position last year. He probably won’t be a top-three option at catcher five or six years down the road, but for the next couple of years, he’s as good a bet to finish in the top three at the position in roto as anyone.
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