Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Best 1st or 2nd Seasons by a Catcher

Buster Posey recently enjoyed quite a rookie season, taking home the 2010 ROY and becoming entrenched in the middle of the Giants lineup for what is hopefully years to come. I'd like to try to put Posey's season in context, and do a little bit of projecting towards the future for his career. He is good enough defensively to be a catcher for a prolonged period of time, but his bat may move him out from behind the plate sooner rather than later, which could improve his totals due to playing more games.

Anyway, here is a breakdown:
Using the batting season finder at baseballreference.com I compared all seasons since 1920 by catchers 24 or under in their first or second season who played at least 70% of their games at catcher in that season. I set the cutoff for WAR at 2.9 or greater and got 15 seasons, all by different players.

Here are the results:
Player OPS+ Year Age PA AB R H 2B HR RBI BA OBP SLG
Mike Piazza 151 1993 24 602 547 81 174 24 35 112 .318 .370 .561
Brian McCann 143 2006 22 492 442 61 147 34 24 93 .333 .388 .572
Buster Posey 129 2010 23 443 406 58 124 23 18 67 .305 .357 .505
Thurman Munson 126 1970 23 526 453 59 137 25 6 53 .302 .386 .415
Bill Dickey 117 1929 22 473 447 60 145 30 10 65 .324 .346 .485
Russell Martin 116 2007 24 620 540 87 158 32 19 87 .293 .374 .469
Johnny Bench 116 1968 20 607 564 67 155 40 15 82 .275 .311 .433
Jason Kendall 114 1997 23 572 486 71 143 36 8 49 .294 .391 .434
Craig Biggio 114 1989 23 509 443 64 114 21 13 60 .257 .336 .402
Benito Santiago 111 1987 22 572 546 64 164 33 18 79 .300 .324 .467
Butch Wynegar 109 1976 20 622 534 58 139 21 10 69 .260 .356 .363
Joe Mauer 107 2005 22 554 489 61 144 26 9 55 .294 .372 .411
Jim Sundberg 99 1974 23 449 368 45 91 13 3 36 .247 .354 .323
Butch Wynegar 96 1977 21 617 532 76 139 22 10 79 .261 .344 .370
Kurt Suzuki 95 2008 24 588 530 54 148 25 7 42 .279 .346 .370
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/1/2010.

Not a bad list of players to be compared to, all of the players to make the cut since 1989 have had pretty good careers (K. Suzuki is the only one to not make an All-Star team). Posey's season in terms of OPS+ (OPS relative to the league, adjusted for ballpark) is the third best among a 1st or 2nd year catcher. For the sake of brevity, lets compare Posey to what are in my opinion, the three best well rounded (sorry Piazza) catchers on the list; Bench, Mauer and McCann. One thing that does stand out to me is the relative youth of Bench, Mauer and McCann. While McCann had a better 2nd than 3rd year, Mauer had a much improved third season, and Bench improved slightly in his third season before winning NL MVP and hitting 45 HR in his 4th. Let's look at the age 22 and 23 seasons for Mauer, Bench and McCann compared to Posey's age 23 season.

Player HR OPS+ G Year Age PA AB R H 2B RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG
Joe Mauer 13 144 140 2006 23 608 521 86 181 36 84 79 54 .347 .429 .507
Brian McCann 24 143 130 2006 22 492 442 61 147 34 93 41 54 .333 .388 .572
Johnny Bench 45 141 158 1970 22 671 605 97 177 35 148 54 102 .293 .345 .587
Buster Posey 18 129 108 2010 23 443 406 58 124 23 67 30 55 .305 .357 .505
Joe Mauer 9 107 131 2005 22 554 489 61 144 26 55 61 64 .294 .372 .411
Johnny Bench 27 107 149 1971 23 613 562 80 134 19 61 49 83 .238 .299 .423
Brian McCann 18 99 139 2007 23 552 504 51 136 38 92 35 74 .270 .320 .452
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/1/2010.

You can see that while Posey's numbers don't quite match up to the 140+ OPS+ seasons had by Bench in 1970, and McCann and Mauer in 2006, Posey does compare favorably to the other season listed included here. And at second glance, McCann played 130 games in 2006 to 108 for Posey in 2010. 108*1.2=130, so we should be able to multiply Posey's totals by 1.2 for comparison with McCann in 2006. If we do that we get 21 HR, 80 RBI, 36 BB and 66 K's which are very similar to McCann's numbers while playing on a markedly weaker offensive team.

What does all this mean? Well, nothing if Posey doesn't make the adjustments necessary to stay one step ahead of big league pitching. It does imply however, that Posey has the tools to be a Brian McCann type player for years to come. If his skills improve from his rookie to sophomore campaign, then that possibility becomes all the more likely. Either way, the future looks bright behind the dish in SF.

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