Can Buster Posey Be a Top Fantasy Baseball Catcher in 2017?
Not only is he an elite defender behind the plate, but he's also consistently been one of the league's top hitters at a position that historically values defense over offense. Posey's consistent production throughout the years makes it an easy choice for him to typically be one of the first catchers off fantasy baseball draft boards, but there are some question marks about the backstop heading into his age-30 season.
Like every player, he does have some limitations based off his 2016 performance. A nagging thumb injury could've been the real reason why some of these limitations were so glaring last year, but it's good to investigate to see whether or not he can get back to what we've normally been accustomed to seeing from him.
Down for the Count
The 2012 NL MVP took a step back in 2016, but still had a productive campaign. Certain offensive numbers didn't have him at the top of the position, though.
Among players with at least 300 plate appearances last year, Posey's .303 BABIP -- which was a career low -- ranked 131st overall and 6th among catchers. His Isolated Power (ISO) of .147 ranked 15th among catchers with at least 300 plate appearances, and he finished behind players like Tyler Flowers, Stephen Vogt and Welington Castillo. They're solid players, but they're also not offensive powerhouses worthy of being lumped into the game's top catchers.
All this can also be attributed to a career-low 14 home runs, which can be engineered by the fact that he's not getting the ball up in the air enough. After producing a ground-ball rate of 43.9% in 2015, that percentage rose to 48.6% last year. Meanwhile, his fly-ball rate went from 33.8% in 2015 to 29.9% in 2016.
Right Off the Bat
When looking at Posey's splits from 2013 through 2016, it's easy to see he didn't produce like he normally does against right-handed pitching a season ago. He's shown solid plate discipline throughout his career, which allows him to put swings on better pitches, giving him a better chance at finding success.
However, his walk rate (BB%) decreased and his strikeout rate (K%) increased, leading to decreased overall production despite his hard-hit rate (Hard%) actually going up. Clearly, a spike in his ground-ball rate (GB%) -- which is even greater against righties than it was overall last year -- is the main culprit.
The below table shows his production against right-handed pitchers over the past four seasons.
What makes this even more concerning is that although he's hitting more ground balls than in recent years, he's doing so with much less power. His hard-hit rate on ground balls specifically dropped from 27.1% in 2015 to just 21.5% in 2016.
So, what could be the issue with all these ground balls? It appears that it could go hand-in-hand with opposing pitchers attacking the outer third of the strike zone against Posey.
If we compare his zone chart from 2015 to his zone chart from 2016 (courtesy of Baseball Savant), he did face a comparable number of pitchers in this area. While he did see his batting average increase from .350 in 2015 to .516 last year on pitches in the high outer-third of the strike zone, that's where the improvements stopped.
Posey's BABIP on balls thrown in the middle outer-third dropped from .444 with an average exit velocity of 93.6 miles per hour in 2016 to just .263 and 92.1 mph last year, respectively. In the bottom outer-third -- where he saw 6.2% of pitches (the highest percentage of pitches in the strike zone) -- his batting average settled in at .204. That's quite a huge difference from the .377 average he produced in that area during 2015.
Rebound Season in the Works?
One of the conclusions many could jump to for this slip in production would be the fact that he plays half his games at AT&T Park in San Francisco, which is just terrible for right-handed hitters. That's not the case, though -- Posey posted a .304/.391/.440 triple slash with 7 of his homers coming by the Bay.
The thumb injury seems as if it could've been more of an issue, and there needs to be more of a focus on getting the ball in the air in 2017. Producing a ground-ball rate over 47% has led to two of Posey's worst years in the big leagues (2013 and 2016), even if they're still considered relatively good compared to the rest of baseball. If he can limit the grounders in favor of more fly balls and line drives, he should return to being the hitter we've gotten used to.
If a turnaround is indeed in store for the newly-crowned World Baseball Classic champion, the stats from that very tournament could be considered a precursor -- he went 4-for-15 with 2 home runs. He kept it up upon returning to Cactus League action with the Giants, hitting 2 doubles and 1 home run in 24 plate appearances, leading to a .988 OPS.
Our projections are also expecting a rebound for Posey, tabbing him to hit 18 home runs and produce an .849 OPS, which are much more in line with what he's done throughout his career.
While his fantasy draft stock has gone down a bit and other young backstops -- like Gary Sanchez -- are grabbing the headlines at catcher, he's still the most dependable option out there.