Buster Posey Fights for His Pitch

There was a handful of crucially important series over this past weekend, and among them was Dodgers vs. Giants in San Francisco. The Dodgers came in four and a half games behind the Giants for first place in the NL West, and they were looking to make up ground in a hurry. They emerged five and a half games behind the Giants for first place, and according to Cool Standings, the Dodgers’ playoff odds dropped from about 23 percent to about 22 percent. That isn’t a very powerful sentence, let’s try again. According to Cool Standings, the Dodgers’ odds of winning the division dropped from about 12 percent to about four percent. Yes, that’s much better.

Plenty of things happened in the three-game series between rivals, as tends to be the case when you’re talking about three games. Some of them were a lot more significant than others. At one point, on Sunday, Buster Posey hit a home run off of Joe Blanton. The home run meant little at the time, and it meant next to nothing in hindsight. Posey batted with the Giants up 3-0 in the sixth, and he put the Giants up 4-0. The Giants won 4-0, and Posey’s dinger had a win probability added of about three percent. In many of the game recaps, Posey’s homer was given just a passing mention.

Yet what I want to talk about here is Posey’s homer. It wasn’t the homer itself that was the most impressive homer, although it did fly out to straightaway center field. It was more about the process that led up to the homer. I’ll let Joe Blanton explain before I start to explain.

Here’s a game recap that gave Posey’s home run more than just a passing mention. Leading off the bottom of the sixth, Posey homered on the tenth pitch of his at-bat. The count was 2-and-2, and after the first three pitches, the count was 1-and-2. Posey fought back, and here’s what Blanton had to say about the showdown:

”That’s one of the best at-bats I’ve ever had off of me,” Blanton said. ”I threw him at least five put-away pitches, I thought, and he just kept fouling them off.”

When players throw around words like “best” and “ever”, whatever happened is worthy of closer examination, which is what we’re doing here. We’ll pick things up with Posey behind 1-and-2 after three pitches, the third being an outside slider that Posey fouled off. Know that, in his first at-bat, Posey struck out looking on three pitches, the third being a fastball on the outer edge. In his second at-bat, Posey singled on the fifth pitch, which was a two-strike fastball just off the outer edge. Through two at-bats, Posey had seen only fastballs and sliders.

Okay, it’s 1-and-2. Blanton has thrown a first-pitch curve for a strike, a low changeup for a ball, and a slider for a strike. Already he’s given Posey a different look.

It’s hard to tell from the camera angle, but this is a fastball down and in, tucked just inside the corner of the zone. It looks like the pitch was supposed to be just a little more inside, to tie Posey up, but it wasn’t in a bad spot, and a foul was about the best Posey could’ve hoped for in a defensive situation. Posey couldn’t cheat by sitting on a fastball while behind in the count.

The thing about most curveballs is that they aren’t really swing-and-miss pitches, like you’d think they might be. They disrupt timing and frequently catch hitters looking. From his body language, Blanton probably hoped this was a swing-and-miss curveball. It was perfectly located, low, and just off the plate. Posey wound up ahead of it and barely got a piece. A piece was all that he needed to get to keep himself alive.

This is a pitch that was quickly forgotten, given the way the at-bat wound up. Ahead 1-and-2, Blanton missed with a fastball and gave Posey a heater right down the middle of the zone. This was presumably not one of the put-away pitches to which Blanton was referring. This was a mistake, but because Posey probably still had offspeed pitches in his mind, he couldn’t get the swing he’d like to get on this pitch. He stayed alive, though.

When a hitter gets into a two-strike count, his mission is to protect the plate. The expectation is that he’ll swing at anything close, so that he doesn’t strike out looking. You look stupid when you strike out looking and nobody likes it. This outside fastball was very close and Posey didn’t swing at it. It was a ball, it was definitely a ball, but it was almost a borderline strike, and there have been worse strikes before, probably even called by this very umpire. Posey didn’t swing at it. Had this pitch been called a strike, some fans might’ve been upset at Posey for not protecting. This pitch was called a ball and we wonder instead if Posey has just the most amazing eye in the universe. Results-based analysis allows us to label this a spectacular take. Blanton executed perfectly. Posey did the right thing, probably. Posey definitely did the right thing in hindsight.

Back to work. Blanton throws Posey a fastball tucked into the low-away corner. Maybe a little too over the plate, but not that badly over the plate. Posey knows to protect this time, because the pitch looks like a strike, or it looks like it could be called a strike. Foul ball. Tough pitch to hit; maybe the next one will be better. That’s the idea of the whole at-bat, basically. Tough pitch to hit; maybe the next one will be better.

I still can’t quite figure out how the at-bat didn’t end with a strikeout right here. This is a changeup, low, out of the zone, just over the outer half. It begins away and tails back over the plate, like a backdoor changeup, and also there’s the part where it was low and out of the zone. This is a strikeout pitch. I suppose it could’ve been more low, but it was sufficiently low to generate a swing and miss. Posey gets out in front and gets a piece. Tough pitch to hit; maybe the next one will be better.

Kablammo! “M-V-P” chants. “Beat L-A” chants. Starting to think that Blanton doesn’t only do the little hop when he thinks he’s getting a swing and miss. This is the very definition of a hanging slider. Instead of being thrown to a good spot, this slider is thrown to pretty much the worst possible spot, up and over the middle of the plate. I wouldn’t say it looks like a homer off the bat, but it looks like it might be a homer, and indeed it was a homer. Posey was working toward this, and after fighting off a bunch of pitcher’s pitches, he took advantage of a hitter’s pitch.

To review:

Old-timey baseball wisdom asserts that a hitter gets one pitch to hit in any given at-bat. Of course that isn’t always true, and it would be outrageously bizarre if that were always true, and here you could say that Posey got two good pitches to hit, even after falling into a two-strike count. The second pitch to hit was much much more hittable than the first one and Posey made no mistake. It was Blanton who made the mistake, after having executed so effectively before.

The temptation is to believe that Posey did this on purpose. That he kept fighting pitches off so he could live to see another. I’m guessing Posey wasn’t trying to just foul off all those pitches, but it’s to his credit that he could anyway. For the most part Blanton did what he wanted and he couldn’t make Posey go away until Posey made himself go away after jogging in a circle. Buster Posey kept himself from striking out when he easily could’ve struck out, and eventually, a pitcher will make a bad mistake. No pitcher can hit his spot every single time. Sometimes even the best command pitchers will miss by a foot, or more.

And that’s the story of how Buster Posey hit his 20th home run of the season. Draw all the parallels to the NL West race that you like. The Dodgers got off to a quick start, but they couldn’t put the Giants away, and the Giants ultimately vaulted ahead. I’ve said before that everything is something else in a nutshell, and this Blanton vs. Posey at-bat is most certainly included in everything.

Great at-bat by Posey. He seems to have a lot of those.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

31 Responses to “Buster Posey Fights for His Pitch”

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  1. OtherSideoftheCoin says:

    When (pitchers with career ERA around 4.5) throw around words like “best” and “ever”, whatever happened (probably happens a lot).

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  2. BillWallace says:

    Cool Story Bro

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  3. Sir Dave says:

    Impressive. But it’s got nothing on <a href="that Braun at bat..

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  4. channelclemente says:

    Posey being Posey. What’s left to say.

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  5. Brian Domingo says:

    Comparing Braun to Posey is ridiculous. Braun is nothing without Prince Fielder. The Giants were nothing without Posey. Posey is the young leader of the Giants. For Posey to be able to do what he has in just his first full season in the majors is amazing. Buster by far is the MVP of the NL.

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  6. Robbie G. says:

    It appears that Buster Posey continues to separate himself from the pack in the NL MVP race, for the following reasons:

    1) Posey’s play in the second half;

    2) The Giants’ play down the stretch, as they pull away from the Dodgers;

    3) An obvious refusal by voters to give Ryan Braun any consideration whatsoever after the PED fiasco from this past offseason (it will be interesting to see how many voters leave him off of their ballots altogether);

    4) The Mets’ non-contention, which (stupidly) kills David Wright’s candidacy;

    5) The Pirates’ collapse down the stretch (10-21 since 8/7), which (stupidly) kills Andrew McCutchen’s candidacy;

    6) The Padres’ non-contention, which (stupidly) kills Chase Headley’s candidacy.

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  7. James says:

    This post was worth it just to analyze Blanton’s various hops.

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    • Krog says:

      I don’t remember Blanton hopping around as much when he was with the Athletics, but he isn’t a very memorable pitcher to begin with. It would be fun to compare the best pitcher hops around the league!

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  8. Hamhawk says:

    As much as I want posey to win the MVP I still feel that mcCutchen may pull it off. But who knows my beloved giants are in first place an in the eyes of voters that has weight. Seems unfair to the other awesome candidates in the NL. Go giants!

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  9. Wat says:

    Lol it didn’t mean little at the time with Barry Zito on the hill.

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  10. AustinRHL says:

    I really enjoyed this article. Through this lens, Posey looks like a hell of a hitter.

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  11. Balthazar says:

    So Jeff, that’s a great breakdown to show what a batter’s job is. From your description, it looks like Posey had a good read on how he was being pitched, too: offspeed stuff down and away. He wasn’t looking for any of the fastballs he got, and just barely fouled off the ones in the zone. You can see him diggintg and reaching to protect the low outside corner with his swings. Hanging slider was a gift to him; but he earned it, Blanton had thrown everything he had by then. It’s happy-making to watch Posey’s bat speed where he’s able to wait to read the pitch and still make contact rather than have to start early and pray. It’s easy to see why fans adore Posey seeing the video..

    . . . I haven’t seen _one_ at-bat like that from Dustin Ackley in a year and a half. Ackely’s waiting for the one pitch he likes rather than controlling the zone against what he gets. But we can hope, right??

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  12. seth says:

    I am a giants fan and i get to watch Buster pretty much daily. He is a really special hitter. He is still getting better. Remember this is his first full year so expectations have gotten out of control. But as far as MVP i dont believe him being a catcher should have that much of an effect. When given a chance he will throw runners out. But he doesnt handle the staff very well. He has a lot to learn in my opinon about pitch calling framing and just understanding his pitchers. It hasnt been as strong a year for giants pitchers this year for the most part and you really get to realize that if you watch them daily. THings seem like more of a struggle. So i will be happy if he does win it but i just find it hard to believe that he is the most valuable player in the league. It is impressive from the standpoint that he gets beat up a lot behind the plate and that should affect his hitting but he doesnt really grind it out with the pitchers and that is always going to bother me a little bit. Another thing is he is still getting better at these things and has gotten better already this year. Maybe in the future he will be able to be better with the staff. But in my opinion the reason Buster is special is because he can hit. period. So to me it makes sense to move him away from catcher to another position so it doesnt hurt his hitting when he gets older. But i guess he wants to catch right now and with his ankle he can only play first. It will be interesting to see but to me he is an average or probably below average catcher and an extremely above average potential hitter.

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    • seth says:

      Also at the same time Buster deserves a lot of credit but Angel Pagan has had big hit after big hit for this team after Melky went down. He gets on base at the most oppurtune times, he gets extra base hits and scores extremely important runs. Its been a total team effort with Scutaro helping also, so i guess it does make sense to acknowledge Buster because of his numbers but Pagan has been clutch as hell for the giants.

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      • seth says:

        Also if you look at the clutch stats in high leverage situations Posey has a below average rating in high leverage situations and watching him on a daily basis that sounds about right. For the most part in big situations the whole team has contributed but Pagan and Scutaro have really come up with the game changing hits and runs scored in game changing situations. Buster is still young so hopefully he just improves in those situations and slows the game down.

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    • The stats don’t quite agree, though obviously says nothing about his handling of the pitching staff.

      The Fielding Bible had him at +8 DRS in 2010, good for a tie for 3rd, even though he caught only a little more than 50% of the IP that the leaders had. He was at roughly the same rate in 2011, though only +3 DRS because he was knocked out so early in the season. He is at a -2 DRS this season, so it appears that his injury or perhaps the long layoff did affect his measurable defensive abilities.

      But I’m all for switching him to a new position in a couple of years when either Hector or Susac is ready to take over as starting catcher.

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      • In any case, I’ve always envisioned that he would have a Biggio type of career where he switches position to save his body and allow him to continue to hit well. 1B, I believe, was only to make it easy for him to switch back and forth. I always thought that 2B was his eventually spot, but 3B is making some sense because Pablo clearly has weight issues and will have to move off 3B at some point, most probably to 1B, which would push Belt to LF.

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      • seth says:

        Yes i agree completely with moving Buster. When his ankle is healthy moving him to 2nd base makes a lot of sense to me. Belt is such a good defensive 1b you hate to move him but it looks like he can handle LF. I really dont buy into the statistics for defense for catcher. There is just too much to that position. A lot of it is mental and psychological. You have to be able to go out to the mound and yell at a guy if he needs it or if he needs it tell him he is the best in the world. Buster has been getting better and better but still does not really go to the mound much. Our pitchers are struggling this year like never before. Just look at our road ERA and where we usually are with our pitching stats. We are making up for it with offense. Earlier in the year Buster was not even framing balls well and it made me think it was because of his ankle he couldnt. Well he has gotten much better as the year has gone on. Maybe he will continue to get better at all of the mental aspects of catching as he gets more experience. But to me it doesnt make sense to put your best hitter in the toughest physical and mental grind of a position unless is that great defensively and Buster isnt right now. So moving him makes sense to me to preserve his bat for the long haul. Kind of a long ramble but basically i dont really think he is above average handling the staff although he has gotten better. He is great at throwing guys out if he has time but rarely does because of our pitchers.

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      • seth says:

        But from everything i have heard right now Buster wants to catch and that is why he is catching. So as long as that is the case he wont be moved.

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