SAN FRANCISCO — Sometimes it’s easy to see the way an injury affected a team. Seven years ago, Buster Posey got run over at the plate, and the Giants lost their most important player in the blink of an eye. But in 2018, it wasn’t nearly as black and white.
Technically, Posey was out there 105 times. But he wasn’t truly Buster Posey.
A hip injury robbed Posey of the ability to consistently use his lower half in his swing, and sapped him of pretty much all of the power that remains after a decade in the squat. There were good days and bad, and through it all, Posey did his best to hide what was really going on. Only when he finally gave in and accepted surgery did it become clear that his whole season had been compromised.
How much did the hip affect his numbers and the Giants? We’ll never know. But it’s clear that Posey wasn’t himself for most of the 2018 season. Here’s a recap of how it all went down …
What Went Right
In casual discussions in September, coaches, teammates and staff members quietly marveled about the numbers Posey was able to put up while dealing with an injury that would require major surgery. He hit .284 in 398 at-bats, with a .359 on-base percentage that ranked second among MLB catchers. Unforgiving AT&T Park actually ended up being kind to Posey, who often couldn’t do much but try to put the ball in play up the middle. He peppered center field with singles, batting .337 at home.
Posey was still the Giant you wanted up in a big spot. He hit .329 with runners in scoring position.
Posey made his sixth All-Star team, although he didn’t make the trip to Washington D.C. His hip might have affected his throws at times, but he was still elite behind the plate, and he is a Gold Glove Award nominee despite making only 85 starts at catcher.
What Went Wrong
Early on, it was clear that something was up. Posey has always shifted over to first base during some of his “rest days” but in 2018, he made just 13 starts away from catcher and Bruce Bochy talked often about how Posey needed a full day off. He didn’t even pinch-hit that often. In late August, the Giants finally admitted how bad the injury was. Posey had surgery Aug. 27 to address a hip impingement and torn labrum, and he underwent a microfracture procedure to promote healing.
Posey played in just 105 games, his fewest since 2011. He led the Giants in Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR (2.9), but this was the first time in seven years that he wasn’t worth at least four Wins Above Replacement.
More than anything, the injury robbed him of his power. He hit five homers and had a .382 slugging percentage, his lowest (if you exclude 2011) by 52 points. His .741 OPS was a career-low and he drove in just 41 runs.
Posey is two years into the portion of his massive extension where he makes $21.4 million per year. He’s due that much in 2019 and each of the next two seasons, with a club option for 2022. He has a full no-trade clause.
As he sat alongside his locker the last weekend of the season, Posey said the rehab process was going well, and he remains on track to return during spring training and be behind the plate on Opening Day. The Giants are optimistic, but this is a major injury and it’s not a guarantee that Posey will be ready for the first game.
What is a guarantee, barring a surprise health issue, is the fact that he’ll be the catcher when he returns. This surgery should clear up some of the issues he has had the last couple of years, and players who have had it before say the power should return. Will he ever get back to that 20-homer range? Maybe not.
The hip was an issue, but Posey is also 1,144 games into his career, with three long postseasons tacked on, and a lot of his peak power is likely lost forever. But he should be pretty close to his old self in 2019, and given how many issues this roster has, the franchise certainly could use that version.