Buster Posey won the National League MVP Award on Thursday and took his place in history alongside the best catchers in the last 50 years and also the biggest Giant of all, Willie Mays.
Like Mays, who was NL Rookie of the Year in 1951 and then the MVP in 1954a nd 1965, Posey was Rookie of the Year in 2010 and now MVP. More importantly, both Mays and Posey played on teams which swept the World Series.
Posey led the National League in hitting with a .336 average, with 24 home runs and 103 RBIs. Because of the injury which ended his 2011 season, manager Bruce Bochy limited him to 111 games as a catcher, playing him at first base for 29 games when he wasn’t catching to keep his bat in the lineup.
Posey said that regiment kept him fresher down the stretch, and when Melky Cabrera was suspended for testing positive for PEDs, Posey stepped up, hitting .385 for the rest of the season. The Giants, tied for the NL West lead when Cabrera was suspended, responded to Posey’s leadership and won the division by eight games.
That earned Posey an easy win over the Milwaukee Brewers’ Ryan Braun and Pittsburgh Pirates’ Andrew McCutcheon. Posey had 27 first-place votes and scored 422 points overall in the voting by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Braun, the 2011 MVP, had three first-place votes and 285 points overall.
Though he isn’t quite as good defensively as the St. Louis Cardinals’ Yadier Molina, Posey is solid behind the plate with a strong arm.
Overall, he ranks with what I regard as the three best catchers of the last 50 years: Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk and Gary Carter, all of whom are in the baseball Hall of Fame.
Bench is unquestionably the best of the group. He came up at 19 and by the time he was 22, he hit 45 homers with 148 RBIs in 1970, an unprecedented power production for a catcher. He was also an outstanding defensive catcher with a cannon for a throwing arm.
Posey is more like Carlton Fisk, who had a 1977 season that nearly duplicated Posey’s 2012 power numbers, with 28 homers and 102 RBIs, while hitting a solid .315. But Fisk was 30 at the time. Posey is just 26. Since the peak years for baseball players are usually between 27 and 32, it is not unreasonable to expect him to put up even better numbers in the near future.
And that production should come primarily when he’s behind the plate. There is no need to protect him any more after the way he bounced back this year. And there is no reason to continue this pattern of Hector Sanchez catching Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito. If you have a premier catcher, you don’t waste him at first base.
Because managers will often sacrifice offense for defense at catcher, the typical catcher is slow-footed, hitting for occasional power but a low average. Posey is a different animal, a very good athlete who is also an outstanding hitter with good power. That’s the reason he was the MVP this year — and probably will win multiple awards before he’s through.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.