I imagine it’s not all that much fun being a San Francisco Giants fan right now. They’re engaged in the biggest full-body dry heave any team with the best record at the All-Star Break has ever pulled off. The late-inning collapse against the Cardinals on Saturday was probably bad enough to send everyone off to find a Racer 5 immediately.
Throw in the ninth-inning what-have-ya at their fiercest rival who have left them in the dust on Monday and you might find a few hanging from the cable car wires on Market St. It may sound silly to say, because no one ever expects their team to win three of five World Series (at least outside of the Bronx), but what might really scare the ‘Orange and Black’ is this might be as good as it gets for the Giants.
And one big reason is that as good as Buster Posey is, he can’t escape the accelerated aging curve for catchers.
29 sure doesn’t sound old, except in San Francisco where as soon as you turn 30 they either punt you to Oakland, or other outlying regions, or chop you up and feed you to Google. But for a catcher, it’s getting up there, especially when you’ve started as a catcher regularly as young as Posey did.
Posey took over as San Francisco’s every day catcher at age 23, and in 2010 that would see him claim the Rookie of the Year award and his first championship ring. Six seasons later, and the only significant time Posey has missed is when he busted his ankle in 2011 on a play that necessitated a rule change.
But looking at it, one wonders if Posey isn’t starting to lose something on the bat-speed. Posey bested a .490 slugging-percentage three times in his first five seasons. It slipped to .470 last year, and is .443 this year. To be fair to Buster, that’s third best among qualifying catchers this season, but there’s only eight catchers who qualify. Still, sixth among those catchers with 300 PA is an antihistamine placing (not to be sneezed at).
Posey’s overall offensive contribution is starting down a path as well. His wRC+ has gone from 143 to 136 to 119 this season. Again, 119 from your catcher is hardly worth complaining about, but it’s our mission to wonder if this isn’t the start of a trend.
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Some contemporaries tell a tale. It’s long been a debate whether the best catcher in the National League is Posey or St. Louis Cardinals veteran Yadier Molina (well, that debate has only taken place in the addled minds of Cardinals fans). Molina also became the Cardinals’ every day catcher at age 23, and while he has never quite hit the offensive heights that Posey has, it was at age 31 that Molina had his last dominant offensive season. He’s been merely average since, now at 34.
Of course, the first name that probably popped out at you when discussing this was Joe Mauer. Mauer took over the tools of ignorance in Minneapolis at 22. His age 30 season saw his last superb offensive season, a wRC+ of 143. He hasn’t been over 105 in the three seasons since.
Brian McCann is another. He took over catching duties in Atlanta at 22. He put up five seasons of a wRC+ of 119 or more. Since turning 30 he hasn’t bested 106 in three seasons, and a lot of that is coming at DH now.
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What’s a little more worrying for Posey is something of a fade the past two seasons. Posey’s slugging has gone from .462 in July to .407 in August to .382. He saw a similar slip last season along the same timeline. Insert joke about amphetamines here.
This presents something of a puzzle for the Giants, who would probably love nothing better than to get Posey to first base full-time. But that’s where Brandon Belt lives. Could Posey play third? Never has before. This also adds to to the general aging curve of the Giants. Crawford and Belt are 28. Their outfield is bordering on ancient.
But when you’ve got the three rings, are you really so concerned with what the near future might bring?