Of the many prominent players to hang up their cleats since the conclusion of the 2021 season, no player was still as effective as Buster Posey. In five more offseasons, the major group of BBWAA writers will gather to decide on entry into Cooperstown. As a player with barely over a decade of MLB experience, how will Posey fare?
As the best catcher of his generation, Posey spent his entire career with the San Francisco Giants, helping them win three World Series championships. After years of dominance, Posey seemed to fall off in 2019 but roared back to an amazing 2021 season, setting himself up nicely for the future. However, Posey decided to retire at the top of his game at the age of 34.
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Drafted fifth overall in 2008, Gerald Dempsey Posey has by far the highest career bWAR of his draft class. The only players within 20 of him are pitchers Gerrit Cole (who did not sign following this draft) and Lance Lynn. He played in seven games in 2009, then came back the next year and won NL Rookie of the Year honors by hitting 18 home runs with a .305 average and a .862 OPS.
His best season was 2012, which was the year he took home the MVP award. Posey’s 24 home runs, 103 RBIs, .336 average, .957 OPS, and 171 OPS+ were all career highs. Over the following six seasons, he would make five all-star teams, while hitting .303 with an OPS of .824. His OPS+ dipped to 83 in 2019. He then opted out of the 2020 shortened season. With former second-overall pick Joey Bart in the wings, the Giants easily could have moved on. Instead, Posey returned to win the 2021 NL Comeback Player of the Year Award, hitting 18 home runs with a .304 average and a .889 OPS.
Posey just retired with an fWAR of 57.6. Yes, that may be below the 60.0 mark that can be seen as a benchmark for Hall-of-Fame status but context matters. Posey played in just 1,371 games. He has an fWAR/162 of 6.8, which is well above an all-star level performance. To put that into comparison, only Shohei Ohtani, Zack Wheeler, Corbin Burnes, and Trea Turner had an fWAR above 6.8 in 2021. Here’s the real headline: that is the highest WAR/162 for a catcher. EVER! Sure, Posey did retire early, thus skipping out on the poor years at the backend of his career.
Posey even has some of the traditional accolades. Of course, he won three World Series rings with San Francisco. He was a seven-time all-star, a five-time Silver Slugger winner, with a Gold Glove as well. He is on the shortlist of eleven catchers to win MVP. Only Gabby Hartnett, Ernie Lombardi, Roy Campanella, and Johnny Bench also did it in the National League. His career batting average is .302, second to just Mike Piazza among catchers since integration. He also trails only Piazza in OBP, and just Piazza, Campanella, and Jorge Posada in OPS (minimum 1,000 games played).
That fWAR/162 stat is crazy. However, fWAR does use a lot of framing in its calculations for catchers, something that was not around when the likes of Campanella or Bench played. That is made even clearer by the second-place player in that stat, Yasmani Grandal. Also, Baseball-Reference is not as bullish on Posey compared to FanGraphs. There, his career WAR is 44.9. That is incredibly impressive. But not Hall-of-Fame level.
Posey’s high ranks among the top catchers in batting average and OPS is buoyed by his early retirement. It is hard to believe that he would remain above a .300 average had he played past the age of, say, 37 or 38. His career slugging of .460 is also not spectacular. As well, his 1,500 hits and 158 career home runs are nothing extraordinary for the Hall-of-Fame. Posey has fewer career home runs and RBIs than catchers like Russell Martin, A.J. Pierzynski, Benito Santiago, and Ramon Hernandez, to name a few.
Posey should get into the Hall one day. Even though he has a low bWAR, his bWAR/162 is still higher than Gary Carter, who has the second-most WAR by a catcher. It would be hard to see Posey not get elected after ten seasons on the ballot. Will he get in after just one season? That could also be hard to see, thanks to how stiff the voters can be and his lack of longevity. Giants fans will be able to see his plaque one day. The question is, when?
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