Buster Posey’s Case for NL MVP

Others have begun to discuss Buster Posey and his case for the 2012 National League MVP award, and as should surprise nobody (especially since I’ve mentioned this before), I’m also on the “Posey for MVP” bandwagon. The competition for NL MVP is rather tight, with several players standing out as strong candidates. The contenders can reasonably be cut down to the following seven players: Buster Posey, Ryan Braun, Andrew McCutchen, Yadier Molina, David Wright, Jason Heyward and Chase Headley. You could actually make a serious case for a few others (Aaron Hill, even?), but those are probably the big seven.

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Five and a Half Games Up

The Giants caught a huge break when it was announced earlier that Clayton Kershaw would not be making tonight’s start, and that Joe Blanton would be starting in his place. The Giants definitely lucked out in the opposing-team’s-injuries department: not to be forgotten was Matt Kemp‘s absence, which left Hanley Ramirez and number-eight hitter A.J. Ellis as the only legitimate right-handed threats in the Dodgers’ starting lineup. And they took advantage of it.

Barry Zito came up big tonight, giving the Giants six-plus innings’ worth of scoreless work. He wasn’t outright dominant, but he didn’t need to be. He worked his way out of some jams, kept his pitch count from getting out of hand, and by the time he exited the mound in the seventh inning, the Giants had a four-run lead in a crucial game. You really couldn’t have asked more of Zito than what he did tonight. (I was most impressed with how he handled Hanley Ramirez, striking him out twice — both times looking — and yielding a groundout in the other at-bat). Zito’s final line: 6.1 IP, 0 R, 4 K, 3 BB,  4 H.

On the offensive side of things, the Giants wasted no time getting runs up on the board. They nearly batted around in the first inning, the big hit coming off the bat of Hunter Pence, who doubled to drive in a couple runs. There were several great at-bats in that inning, most notably from Pablo Sandoval and Brandon Belt. Sandoval drew a seven-pitch walk, one day after seeing four pitches in four plate appearances (it seemed as though he was making a conscious effort to see more pitches); Belt, too, worked himself a walk, after an eleven-pitch battle against Blanton (although it didn’t end up being significant, as Gregor Blanco then struck out to end the inning). Anyway, these were particularly impressive considering that Blanton entered this game with a BB/9 of 1.6; he’s stingy when it comes to allowing free passes.

Those two first-inning runs were all the Giants really needed, but they padded their lead as the game went on. Angel Pagan tripled for the 11th time this season and came around to score on a sac fly; he’s got a pretty good shot at breaking the San Francisco Giants record for triples (12). And Buster Posey added a fourth run by homering to lead off the sixth inning.

Posey, if I may go off on a tangent now, has built himself a pretty strong MVP case this season. I’m biased, of course, but I think the objective case holds up under scrutiny. Posey has now hit .327/.402/.531 in 527 plate appearances this season, all while playing good defense at the toughest position on the field. He’s hit very well with runners in scoring position, and in the situations that matter most. And he just so happens to lead the National League in TAv (a stat that accounts for some of the important stuff that wOBA ignores). Accurately assessing catcher defense is pretty tough, given the intricacies of catching, but it’s pretty clear to me that Posey is an above-average defender.

Anyhow, there will be much more time to discuss this as the season draws to a close. The main focus right now: the first place Giants. They salvaged the series win, extending their division lead to five and a half games. With 22 games remaining on the schedule (and just 21 for the Dodgers), that’s huge. Not that you needed me to tell you that. The Giants’ magic number is down to 17, and at this point, they’re all but guaranteed to make the playoffs. I’d really like to see them wrap it up before that final three-game series in Los Angeles, and it looks like they’re well on their way toward doing that. I’m nothing but pleased with how this team has performed.

August Has Been Kind

Last night, it looked like the Giants were going to waste yet another strong outing from Matt Cain. With the game tied 1-1 in the eighth, Cain surrendered a run, giving the Astros the lead. The Giants entered the ninth with a one-run deficit to overcome and the bottom of the order taking on the task; the odds weren’t promising. But four pitches later, Brandon Belt had singled to lead off the inning, and Joaquin Arias had ripped a double down the left field line to drive him in. A couple batters later, Hector Sanchez blooped a single into shallow center field, and the Giants took a 3-2 lead. It was the kind of game the Giants have lost hundreds of times over the past several years; except they didn’t lose last night.

August sure has been kind to the Giants. Well, in the win-loss column, at least. The Giants are now 16-10 on the month, good for a .615 winning percentage. That makes this their best month so far, which is somewhat odd considering that they’ve gone Melky-less since the 15th. But that’s the thing — others have been picking up the slack. Buster Posey should win NL Player of the Month at this point, as nobody in the majors has had a better August. In fact, this month has firmly placed Posey in the MVP race, and assuming he can finish the season well, he’ll have a strong case come voting time. If Posey weren’t putting up otherworldly numbers this month, Angel Pagan (.353/.422/.608) would probably be deserving of player-of-the-month honors. Given his extended struggles, it’s been especially refreshing to see Pagan hit a stride. In the month of August, he’s actually surpassed his combined June/July totals for walks and total bases. And then there’s Joaquin Arias, who’s posted a 200 wRC+ in 54 plate appearances. His 2012 offensive numbers are now somehow better than Carlos Pena‘s.

And like that, the Giants now have a 3.5 game lead in the NL West. It’s not huge, and it’s certainly close enough to make things interesting, but it affords the Giants some breathing room. The Dodgers have made some big splashes, most notably the recent mega-trade for Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Nick Punto. While I’m confident that the trade hurts — maybe even cripples — the Dodgers in the long-term, it’s very difficult to write them off in the short-term. There’s no denying the collection of talent on the Dodgers’ current roster. But the Giants are starting to pad onto their division lead, and with 33 games to go, things are looking good.

Buster Posey and the Plate Appearance of the Season

Fast-forward to the eighth inning. Buster Posey is up. The bases are loaded, with one out. The Giants are down by one run. The game is essentially in Posey’s hands. The leverage index (LI) of the situation is 7.59, the second-highest it’s been for any Giants batter at any point this season. And Rafael Betancourt, who has held right-handed hitters to a .196 wOBA this season, is on the mound.

This was, as I noted, the second-highest LI of a Giants plate appearance this season. The highest was an at-bat by Gregor Blanco. That at-bat lasted one pitch. Posey’s lasted ten pitches. This was tense, folks.

The sequence: ball, taken strike, ball, ball, foul, foul, foul, foul, foul, and then…a sacrifice fly to tie the game. And you can bet Posey had at least something to do with how the rest of the inning went. Following that ten-pitch adventure, Betancourt served up a three-run homer to Hunter Pence — which ended up being the difference in the game — and to top it all off, a double to Brandon Belt.

How about that Posey? He’s sure something, eh? This was his most important contribution at the plate today, and arguably the plate appearance of the season, but he actually reached base the other four times he came to bat. An update on his numbers: .332/.406/.547, .404 wOBA, 158 wRC+. Wowza.

There were lots of stories today. Among them: Hunter Pence’s first homer in a Giants uniform, which couldn’t have come at a better time. Angel Pagan, who has continued to put together a strong August, after looking lost at the plate for a couple months. And Pablo Sandoval, who I believe is set to return tomorrow.

But you know who I’m actually going to talk about. I’m going to talk about Brandon Belt.

Brandon Belt came to the plate five times today. He reached base every time. Twice via the double, twice via the single, and once via the walk. When he was struggling in July, I’d have to dig deep for positives. I’ve remained cautiously optimistic about Belt all season long, but when he was struggling, I’d have to cling to the little stuff. “He made hard contact on this pitch.” “He looked patient in this at-bat.” I haven’t had to do that this month. Belt is swinging a hot bat, and the results are there.

And here’s where I digress. Today was my sixth time in the press box. Either my fifth or sixth, actually — I can’t remember for sure, and I’m too lazy to confirm. I’m going to be there on Tuesday and Wednesday as well. Anyway, the whole “bloggers getting access” thing seems to be a hot topic these days, so I feel obligated to chime in — especially since I’m one of the lucky ones. As I understand it, very few teams do this. I’ve given all of this a lot of thought, and…well…I don’t really have anything substantial to contribute to the discussion; but I will say, having media credentials has been an overwhelmingly positive experience.

A recap of my day: This morning, right down the hall from the Giants’ broadcast booth, I sat down to a brunch buffet with Steve Berman (Bay Area Sports Guy) and Alex Pavlovic. We discussed — you guessed it — the San Francisco Giants, and the food (eggs, sausage, oatmeal) was delicious.

After that, I went back down to the press box where I sat — for the majority of the game — next to Steve, a guy I really admire. I struggle to produce insightful commentary on the Giants. He manages to do it while staying on top of 19 other sports as well. I owe a debt of gratitude to him, too — not only has he constantly helped me with things, but he’s also put up with hours upon hours of my boring, pointless observations as he’s sitting there next to me. If you think this blog is boring, keep in mind that you don’t get the stuff that I filter out.

(With all these positive comments about BASG, I don’t want you to get the wrong impression; he’s not perfect. He went 0-for-4 on Brandon Belt home run predictions today).

Anyhow, I enjoyed my Sunday. It’s been cool hanging out with Steve, and getting to know Pavlovic.

At some point in the game, I began to wonder what the return of Pablo Sandoval would mean for others’ playing time. And so at the post-game press conference, I asked Bruce Bochy that very question (to which he responded that he’d be mixing it up a lot). It occurred to me that this is the real luxury of having this kind of access, at least for me: I’m curious about something, and I have the opportunity to simply ask Bochy myself.

After I left the press conference room, I headed back up to the press box. As I walked down the hall, Brian Sabean and his little kid walked by. I waved hello. They waved back. This has all been quite surreal.

Giants Defeat Rockies, 9-3

The Giants, at least for now, have regained sole possession of first place, thanks to — well, everybody…

Matt Cain, in the nine-game stretch between his perfect game and today’s start: 57.1 innings, 46 K, 16 BB, 10 HR, 4.40 ERA. He hadn’t been awful. He hadn’t even been bad, really, by normal standards. By Cain standards, of course, he’d been a disappointment. The glaring problem: those ten home runs; he allowed nine in all of 2011.

But anyway, in six of those nine starts, he allowed three earned runs or fewer. In each of those nine starts, he lasted 5+ innings. His average game score over that span: 51, where a 50 is generally considered average. You could say he’d been really good in a couple of those outings, even — the Oakland and Houston starts, specifically.

But never was he outstanding. He had ventured past the seventh inning just once, and even in that start, he surrendered five runs.

For five innings today, Cain finally looked outstanding. No walks. Just a few hits. Three swinging strikeouts in the third. Lots of flyballs scattered around the outfield — most of them routine flyouts, a few hit well; none was hit well enough, though. Through five, Cain had faced 16 batters and recorded 15 outs.

And that was the story…until Cain found himself in a no-outs bases-loaded jam. With the heart of the Rockies’ order set to bat, no less. But he pitched through it. After a fielder’s choice at third and a lineout that was fortunately hit right at Brett Pill (and frankly, should have been ruled an inning-ending double play, as Pill beat Carlos Gonzalez to the bag), Cain struck out Ramon Hernandez to end the threat.

Cain went out for the seventh, and had a pretty quick 1-2-3 inning. Then the eighth came, and he sort of lost his rhythm, despite a relatively low pitch count. D.J. LeMahieu hit his first career homer, and the Rockies’ 1-2 hitters each collected singles. That was it for Cain.

The final line: 7.1 IP, 2 ER, 6 K, 1 BB, 7 H, 1 HR. Perhaps not his best start since the perfect game, but a very good outing nonetheless. Oh, and he just so happened to drive in the second run of the game.

Alas, the Giants didn’t even end up needing that much out of Cain, as the offense exploded for nine runs. Every player who batted for the Giants in this game collected a hit…except for Brandon Belt — who walked in his lone at-bat.

Notes:

  • Buster Posey’s day: 2 for 5 with a single, an intentional walk, and a two-run homer (following a bunt single by Melky Cabrera); and to top it all off, he gunned down a runner at second.
  • On a similar note, is there a better 1-2 punch against left-handed pitching  than Buster Posey and Melky Cabrera? Before today, they stood at a 228 wRC+ and 207 wRC+ against southpaws, respectively.
  • As much as I complain about Joaquin Arias, he’s done a bang up job as Brandon Crawford’s platoon partner. Would you believe that he came into today with a .313/.349/.384 line against left-handers?

Splash Hits: The Giants Are 61-50

Scouting Report Giants Prospect Kyle Crick | Bullpen Banter
A comprehensive scouting report on Giants prospect and Augusta GreenJackets pitcher Kyle Crick.

Bonds is right: No-doubt Hall of Famer – SweetSpot Blog – ESPN
It almost goes without saying, but Barry Bonds is deserving of Hall of Fame induction, and there’s no doubt about it.

2012: Year of the Catcher? – Beyond the Box Score
A brief piece I wrote on the strong showing that 2012 catchers have put together. Buster Posey, along with Carlos Ruiz, leads the way.

In (Almost) Support of Lyle Overbay – McCovey Chronicles
Should the Giants sign Lyle Overbay? At first glance, no. At second glance, maybe. At third glance, no.

New Theory: Ryan Vogelsong is a wizard « Bay City Ball – A Giants Blog
Go for the Ryan Vogelsong analysis. Stay for the Brandon Crawford GIF.

Emerging star Melky and Giants agree to pick up contract talks after the year – CBSSports.com
Melky Cabrera and the Giants will put aside contract discussions for now, reports Jon Heyman.

Buster Posey, Barry Zito Help Giants Even Series

Well, that went better than I’d expected. With Barry Zito going up against a tremendous offense, I wasn’t exactly confident about the Giants’ odds in this game. Zito got off to a good start earlier in the season, but he’s quietly lost a lot of steam, and entering today’s start, he had a career-worst 81 ERA+ (that is, if you don’t count last year’s 54 innings).

But as Zito is wont to do, just as I had lost almost every ounce of faith in his ability to give the Giants something better than replacement level pitching, he came out and pitched well — and he did so against the National League’s best offense. Nothing fancy, but 6.1 innings of two-run ball — the only damage having come off the bat of the absurdly powerful Allen Craig on a pair of solo shots. Perhaps the best part? Zero walks, something that you don’t often see out of Zito.

And on another promising note, a bullpen that has been disappointing of late managed to shut the Cards down. (Actually, to say they’ve disappointed recently is probably an understatement — this is a team that’s supposed to get top-notch pitching from their ‘pen, and instead they’ve been mostly run-of-the-mill).

Anyway, Buster Posey provided the Giants with all the run support they’d need, knocking a three-run blast in the first inning off of Lance Lynn. His scorching hot second half continues…

Notes:

  •  In order to clear room for the newest bullpen addition, Jose Mijares, the Giants placed Shane Loux on the DL with a neck strain. Not sure if it’s a phantom injury or not, and I’m not sure if it really matters anyway. The bullpen just got better.
  • According to Hank Schulman, the Giants have looked into signing Lyle Overbay. In terms of what we should expect over the rest of the season, there’s not much of a difference between Overbay and Aubrey Huff.
  • I neglected to mention this, but the Giants signed Xavier Nady to a minor-league contract a few days ago. I doubt Nady will play much of any role with the Giants this season, nor should he — he’s been all sorts of horrible this season: .157/.211/.275, 31 OPS+.
  • Angel Pagan continues to heat up. He reached base a couple more times today, and if it weren’t for a nice play by Jon Jay, Pagan could’ve added an extra-base hit. Even so, he’s raised his OPS a good 40 points in the past five days.

Buster Posey’s Having A Really Good Season

…and with that, I’ve fulfilled my obvious headline quota for the week. Buster Posey put up a strong first half, hitting .289/.362/.458 across 312 plate appearances. His performance was good enough to earn him his first career all-star nod. But Buster Posey has been on an absolute tear in the second half of the season. Among players with at least 30 at-bats since the all-star break, Posey’s 1.287 OPS leads the majors. After yesterday’s two-hit performance, Posey has now raised his season OPS by exactly 100 points; he currently boasts an overall line of .325/.391/.529, which is good for a 149 wRC+ and 161 OPS+. If the season ended today, that OPS+ would rank as the 11th highest single-season mark ever by a catcher. After missing most of 2011 following that devastating ankle injury — which, for all we know has had pretty substantial lingering effects, Posey is having a season of historically good proportions.

San Francisco Giants history isn’t exactly rife with great catchers. There’s no Johnny Bench, or Carlton Fisk, or Yogi Berra. Instead, there’s Dick Dietz, Tom Haller, and Bob Brenly — that’s probably the big three. Then again, the Giants have been playing in San Francisco for more than fifty years now, and they’ve cycled through countless catchers in that time. In that context, Posey’s season is even more impressive. Through 96 games, Posey has tallied 4.1 rWAR. Even though there are still 55 games left to play, Posey is already within a fraction of a win of the best season ever by a San Francisco Giants catcher:

Rk Player WAR/pos Year Age G PA AB HR BA OBP SLG OPS Pos
1 Dick Dietz 4.2 1970 28 148 612 493 22 .300 .426 .515 .941 *2
2 Buster Posey 4.1 2012 25 96 396 348 16 .325 .391 .529 .920 *23/D
3 Buster Posey 3.7 2010 23 108 443 406 18 .305 .357 .505 .862 *23
4 Tom Haller 3.7 1967 30 141 528 455 14 .251 .344 .415 .759 *2/9
5 Bob Brenly 3.5 1984 30 145 567 506 20 .291 .352 .464 .816 *23/97
6 Dick Dietz 3.5 1971 29 142 558 453 19 .252 .387 .419 .806 *2
7 Tom Haller 3.4 1962 25 99 332 272 18 .261 .384 .515 .899 *2
8 Tom Haller 3.2 1966 29 142 536 471 27 .240 .323 .461 .783 *2/3
9 Ed Bailey 3.2 1963 32 105 361 308 21 .263 .366 .494 .859 *2
10 Kirt Manwaring 3.0 1992 26 109 389 349 4 .244 .311 .335 .646 *2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/5/2012.

Reminder: this is Buster Posey’s first full season in the majors.

Giants Beat Padres 7-1, Improve to 54-42

The Giants tagged Clayton Richard for four runs in the first inning of tonight’s game and it was cruise control the rest of the way, as Ryan Vogelsong held the Padres to one run over seven innings, and Buster Posey added a three-run blast in the fifth inning for good measure. Pretty much everything went right — or at least, everything that needed to go right. The Giants’ 2-3-4 hitters each went three for four, and Clay Hensley and George Kontos combined for two perfect innings of relief. And now the Giants sit at 54-42, still 1.5 games ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Notes…

Ryan Vogelsong

Ryan Vogelsong: 7 IP, 6 K, 3 BB, 4 H, 1 R.

Here’s what I wrote about Ryan Vogelsong’s first half, a couple weeks ago:

To say he’s exceeded expectations would be an understatement. Through 16 starts (110.2 innings), Vogelsong has actually managed to post a lower ERA (2.36) than he had in 2011 (his FIP, 3.72, while less incredible, is still good). The term “consistent” is often bandied about meaninglessly when discussing baseball players, but I can’t seem to avoid it in writing about Vogelsong. He’s epitomized consistency this season. Here are his innings pitched by start this season: 6.1, 7, 6, 7, 7.1, 7, 7, 6.1, 7, 7, 7.2, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7. Fifteen of those were quality starts.

And it continues…In his first start of the second half, he allowed one run across six innings in Atlanta. Tonight — his second start of the half, he made his fifteenth consecutive quality start. That puts him in company with Gaylord Perry, Tim Lincecum, and Juan Marichal. His ERA now stands at 2.26; he’s unbelievable.

Buster Posey

After today, Buster Posey has collected 3+ hits in five of his last eight games (seven extra-base hits over that span), and is now hitting .317/.383/.506 (142 wRC+) through 355 plate appearances on the season. In other words, he’s more productive than he’s ever been, which is typical for a 25-year-old star. But he missed most of last season with an ankle injury, and his health was a giant question mark coming into this year. It’s easy to take this stuff for granted. Man, is it wonderful to have him healthy and contributing like this.

And that home run he hit — ’twas no cheapie. It’s rare to see a right-handed hitter go opposite field for a homer at AT&T Park. Speaking of which, according to Baseball-Reference, the Giants had one opposite-field home run before tonight’s game. Guess who hit it?

Brandon Belt

I’m kind of sick of talking about Brandon Belt at this point, but Belt’s a pretty important topic right now, so I feel obligated to address this — especially since I’ve been one of his more ardent supporters. After Sunday’s ugly game — in which Belt went 0 for 5 with three strikeouts, I’ve moved past the “it’s just a slump” stage. I’m convinced there’s a deeper underlying problem with Belt, and I have no idea what it is. I’m clueless when it comes to hitting mechanics and the like, so I won’t bother speculating on that front. But I know a few things:

  • Brandon Belt needs to play every day
  • The Giants need production out of their first basemen
  • The Giants’ in-house options are not acceptable

I think the best option right now is just to keep playing Belt until things get really bad.

Chris Perez

With the trade deadline fast approaching, rumor season has arrived. Via Ken Rosenthal and Jon Morosi (FOX Sports) comes word that the Giants are interested in Indians reliever Chris Perez:

The San Francisco Giants, seeking late-inning help, are interested in Perez, according to major-league sources. The Indians could entertain moving Perez for two reasons – they are deep in relievers, and Perez likely will earn about $7 million next season in his second year of arbitration.

The Giants definitely stand to benefit from some relief help, but I’m not sure Chris Perez is the answer. He’s a “two-time all-star” and he’s under control through 2014, so he’ll inevitably get expensive over the next few years. The extra years of team control also mean he’s got relatively high trade value. He’s a pretty good reliever (150 ERA+ over the past three seasons), and he’s improved his peripherals this season (2.08 FIP constitutes a career-low — his previous best being 3.54), but the Giants would probably be wise to hold on to whatever trade chips it would take to acquire Perez.