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Buster Posey Making Strong Case For NL MVP

The Giants took it on the chin Tuesday night, losing 14-2 to the Nationals. But that didn’t stop catcher Buster Posey from adding to the spectacular numbers he’s posted since the All-Star break: .457/.531/.787 with seven doubles and eight home runs in 113 plate appearances. His wRC+ over that time is an astounding 248. Simply put, he’s been the best hitter in baseball in the second half, and it’s not particularly close. Mike Trout — regularly regarded as “the best player on the planet” — has accumulated 2.3 WAR to Posey’s 2.6 over the past 30 days, and that’s with Posey’s catchers-legs base running and lower defensive rating.

For the season, Posey’s batting .332/.406/.547 with 19 home runs. His 158 wRC+ ranks fourth in the National League, behind Joey Votto, Andrew McCutchen, and Ryan Braun. He’s accumulated 5.0 WAR, good for fifth in the league, behind McCutchen, David Wright, Braun, and Michael Bourn. And again, Posey takes a hit for his base running.

McCutchen is likely considered the front runner for the National League MVP. His offensive numbers are gaudy: .362/.422/.609 with 23 home runs. His league-leading wRC+ sits at 175. The Pirates’ center fielder has accumulated 5.9 WAR, and that includes a negative defensive rating which is hard to understand if you, like me, regularly watch him roam the outfield for the Bucs. But McCutchen has cooled off a bit in the second half, at the same time Posey has amped it up. McCutchen’s second-half line sits at: .347/.427/.525 with four home runs.

If not for his knee injuries, Votto likely would have battled McCutchen for MVP honors to the end of the season, with their respective teams chasing the same National League Central title. But Votto’s been on the disabled list since just after the All-Star break and may not return until September.

Wright was in the discussion, too, particularly in the first half when the Mets were playing surprisingly competitive baseball. But New York’s season has taken an ugly turn in the second half even though Wright has continued to post very good numbers. Braun is having an almost identical season to 2011, when he beat out Matt Kemp for the National League MVP crown. But like Kemp’s Dodgers last season, Braun’s Brewers are not contenting this year. The seasons McCutchen and Posey are having for contending teams, coupled with his somewhat controversial win last season, likely knocks Braun out of the race.

Posey’s unearthly production in the second half has fueled the Giants’ re-invigorated offense. And that has helped keep San Francisco either tied for, or in sole possession of, first place in the National League West since the end of June. And Posey has done all of this while playing the most demanding defensive position on the field and quarterbacking the Giants’ very good starting rotation.

Posey’s played in 104 games to date. Only 81 of those have been as catcher; he’s played first base in the other games, save for three when he served as the designated hitter during interleague play. We’re likely to see a similar catcher-to-first baseman ratio for the Giants’ final 46 games, as manager Bruce Bochy works to keep Posey’s bat in the lineup while also giving his legs a rest. At this point, it’s easy to forget that Posey’s in his first season back after suffering a brutal and season-ending injury to his left ankle and lower leg last May. And while that’s more of a factor for the Comeback Player of the Year Award, I’d be surprised if some voters didn’t take that into account.

If Posey continues to produce as he has through the Giants’ first 116 games, he’d end the season with 6.94 WAR. That would land him on the list of Top 30 seasons in WAR by a catcher in the last 50 years. Johnny Bench‘s 1972 season with the Reds tops that list at 10.2 WAR. Bench won the MVP that year, as he had in 1970, the third-best season by a catcher since 1962 (8.7 WAR). Bench’s 1974 and 1975 seasons are also on the list, but he didn’t win MVP honors either of those seasons, losing out to Steve Garvey and teammate Joe Morgan, respectively. The Reds were in the postseason in 1970, 1972 and won the World Series in 1975.

Only three other catcher seasons in the Top 30 Since 1962 also resulted in MVP Awards: Joe Mauer with the Twins in 2009; Ivan Rodriguez with the Rangers in 1999, and Elston Howard with the Yankees in 1963. All three of those teams played in the postseason.

Mike Piazza has four seasons on the list (1993, 1996, 1997, and 1998). Gary Carter has three (1982, 1983 and 1984), and Joe Torre has two (1966 and 1970). None of the teams those catchers played for in those years made the postseason. None was awarded the MVP.

With a bit more than 25% of games still to be played, the competition for the 2012 NL MVP Award will be spirited. ¬†Andrew McCutchen is in the lead but Buster Posey is making a strong second-half push. The Pirates and Giants are in a similar position, each vying for their division title, but also competing with each other for one of the two wild cards. Fasten your seat belt. It’s going to be an exciting ride.