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Friday, May 13, 2011

Buster has been a Bust at cleanup

Wins always camouflage a team's weaknesses. The good feeling of that final out washes away the frustrations built up in a game. For the Giants, that's been the continued lackluster offense propped up by stifling pitching.

In 38 games, the Giants have scored 132 runs, a 3.47 average, which is tied for 28th in the major leagues. They're hitting .237; their leading hitter among qualified hitters, for crissakes, is Aaron Rowand, at .260!

In their recent six-game streak, the Giants scored 18 runs -- three a game. And in the nine-game period in which they won eight games, they'd scored 29 -- 3.22 a game. But, remember, they'd gone through a 3-8 dry spell just preceding their streak, scoring 23 runs -- a 2.09 per-game pace.

Oh, our hitless wonders, we all marvel as Brian Wilson crosses his forearms and looks to the skies.

One festering issue that continued to grow even as the Giants built their positive vibes: Buster Posey's production as cleanup hitter. To put it plainly -- and this is hard because he's such a likable fellow and has such great potential -- he is not cutting it.

Now, this isn't a curt or glib position taken on a whim. It's one that I've held for some time.

Earlier this season, I questioned Boss Bochy's decision to hit Posey cleanup, saying this on April 3:
It's early, but it may be time to rethink Buster Posey as cleanup hitter for the Giants. ... Posey seems jumpy at the plate, as if he's trying to live up to all the expectations of a returning champion/rookie of the year rather than letting his smooth stroke work itself out. ... He has admitted to early-season jitters. Maybe it's too much to have him in the four-hole, in the same way Pablo Sandoval was asked to take up a leadership role as the No. 3 hitter last year.

I'm even firmer in my belief six full weeks later, and with too much evidence to ignore. Buster has been a Bust at cleanup.

Bochy appears to be stubbornly clinging to his view that Posey is a natural cleanup hitter. Even as he has tinkered with the rest of the lineup, Bochy's one constant has been Posey in the four-hole. The thinking seems to be that since Posey carried the Giants to a world championship as a cleanup hitter in his rookie season, he is built to carry the mantle in his second year.

But dynamics shift. It may be counterintuitive to say this, but Posey performed last year under fewer expectations: he was a rookie with talent, and they rode it happily all the way. He showed exceptional leadership ability in handling the pitching staff and in coming through with so many big hits. But it was all gravy. Bochy gladly accepted Posey's performance, but he couldn't expect it.

Now, with all that he achieved, Posey has come into his second year under the burden of expectation. And, as we saw with Sandoval -- and many others in their sophomore years -- high hopes have been at the root of many a failure.

I'm afraid that Bochy will continue to write in Posey's name in the four-hole, especially after he collected two hits Friday in the Giants' 11-4 loss and is now 4-for-11 in his last three games.

But both hits Friday were with no one on base. In his two  opportunities with runners on base, Posey went down: striking out in the first inning after Aubrey Huff singled home Andres Torres; and striking out after Huff had doubled home Torres.

Unfortunately, this has been a pattern for a long time. In Posey's last 42 at bats, dating back to April 26, he's had three RBI -- two on ground outs and one on a sacrifice fly. His last RBI on a hit came on April 24, on a two-run home run against Atlanta.

He has been in an 11-for-58 (.189) funk, though he seems to be stringing some hits together recently and has been getting on base frequently: he's been on base 11 times in his last 24 plate appearances (a .458 on base percentage).

But with runners on base, he has simply frozen up -- at least lately. Though he piled up 16 RBI in his first 20 games, over his last 15 games, Posey has stranded 20 runners, and has not produced a single base hit with a runner on base in that time.

In 35 games, Posey has collected RBI in only 11. The leading RBI man in the N.L., Ryan Howard, has 35 RBI and has had RBI in 21 games. To be fair, another cleanup-hitting catcher, Brian McCann, has only one more RBI than Posey (20 to 19), though McCann is hitting .300 with an on base percentage of .370, compared to Posey's .252/.340.

It could be that Posey is feeling the heat of the cleanup role, especially as the rest of the lineup struggles to come through in the clutch. Posey has also had to deal with a series of hard shots behind the plate this year. Foul balls have rung his bell and clanged off unprotected body parts from toe to shoulder; he even took a backswing off the back of his hand.

Posey has been worn down, having caught the second most games among catchers in the major leagues (one game less than McCann), he's been hampered by an inordinate amount of shots taken behind the plate, and he's taken on a pressure-packed load unfair for a second-year player.

Drop Posey down in the lineup, say to No. 6, put a veteran in at cleanup (Huff? Pat Burrell? Cody Ross?), and watch the reigning rookie of the year regain his confidence in a less pressurized role.


  1. I say "Amen!" to your observations. I'm leary when managers go with the hot hand, not realizing it takes awhile for a person to grow as a leader. Leadership doesn't happen overnight.

    Undue pressure takes a toll on anyone, especially a person like Posey who's only been in the major leagues since last year. I wish you could forward your perspective to Bochy. A myopic managerial perspective can sabotage long-term, steady, confidence-inspiring development of a gifted athlete like Buster.

    Look at Joe Montana, they didn't throw him to the wolves, when he first started out. He was gradually broken in to the quarterback position, gifted as he was.

    Seriously, is there any way Bochy can be reached and cautioned? I'm not certain he reads blog posts. I wish he did. Anyway, keep up your insights. I appreciate your perspective.

  2. I agree with you. there is tremendous pressure on the #4 hitter, and Posey is definitely out of whack. Now, how come we're not managing?

  3. Alright, maybe the pressure is too much for young B.P. However,I don't want to see less at-bats from him.

    Posey is a natural opposite field hitter. Perhaps he'd do well as a #2 hitter until he's mature enough for the #3 or #4 slots. I'd rather see more at-bats out of Buster than Sanchez so move Sanchez down to 6th or 8th.

  4. Yeah, Dan, I don't mean to come down too hard on Buster. He is a favorite of mine. I just think the task is too big for him now, and I'd rather see him thrive under less pressure. Problem is they don't have much else to fill it. Burrell would be the only natural cleanup hitter, but it looks like he's being pushed into a less-regular role (he didn't help his case with his own struggles). Of the others, Huff should be there, and he's shown signs of life in his recent at bats.

    Paul and Lil Gluckstern: it's easy to manage from the sidelines! I respect Bochy, and wouldn't presume to have the same handle on the players as he does. For all I know, Bochy is checking in with Buster, asking if he's ok, encouraging him. But if would be interesting to hear from Buster (if one of the beat writers would actually approach him and ask!) on whether he feels the heat.