In 1946, Johnny Mize, immediately after returning from military service in World War II, resumed his job as the first baseman for the New York Giants where he put together a great season, hitting .337/.437/.576 with an OPS+ of 186, good for 6.2 WAR. Fifteen years later, another Giant star, Willie Mays posted what by his extraordinary standards was a good, but not great, season, hitting .333/.407/.626 with an OPS+ of 173 and 8.4 WAR. Forty years after that, Jeff Kent followed up his 2000 MVP season by hitting .298/.369/.507 for an OPS+ of 131 and 5 WAR.
These seasons are all significant because, based solely on WAR, they are the tenth best season for a Giant at first base, centerfield and second base. Obviously, there is room for debate on this, but these seasons all capture how well a Giant had to play to make it to the top ten single seasons at his position. The names of the players in the 1-9 slots include greats like Will Clark, Willie McCovey, Bill Terry, Rogers Hornsby and Frankie Frisch. Not surprisingly, the top ten — actually top 13 — seasons by a Giants center fielder were all recorded by Willie Mays.
For Giants catchers, however, the story is different. The best season ever by a Giants catcher, based on WAR, was 5.6 by Roger Breshnahan in 1908, the same year the team lost the pennant because of Fred Merkle’s failure to touch second base. Breshnahan was a good player, and a Hall of Famer, but not comparable to some of the men who starred at other positions for the Giants. Significantly, with almost a third of the season remaining, Buster Posey, who has already accumulated 4.6 WAR, is poised to have the greatest season ever by a Giants catcher.
Posey, only about fifteen months removed from a horrific injury which caused him to miss most of 2011, is hitting .329/.394/.541 for an OPS+ of 167. It is unlikely he can continue that pace, but he will not need to do that to accumulate 1.6 more WAR and break Breshnahan’s record. Posey is likely to record the greatest season ever by a Giants catcher, to some degree because catcher has been a weak position for the Giants throughout most of their history. Posey is, despite that context, still having a great season for a catcher. If he continues at this pace, he will have 6.6 WAR by the end of the season, good enough for a tie for 17th best season for a catcher and eighth best ever for a catcher under 26 years old.
Posey has already earned a place in Giants history if only for his work behind the plate during 2010 when the team won its first World Series since moving to San Francisco, and Posey caught the last strike of the last game. Moreover, in only his third year in the big leagues, Posey is well on his way to having the greatest season by a catcher in his franchise’s history going back for more than a century and is only a few seasons away from becoming the greatest catcher in Giants history. Again, this is largely due to the odd inability of the Giants to have strong catchers over the years, but it also is further evidence that Posey is a very valuable ballplayer.
Posey’s strong year with the bat, particularly for a Giants team that has struggled to generate runs in recent seasons, is only one of the reasons 2012 has been such a great year for Posey. This season the young catcher has also shown that, following his injury last season, he can catch again. Posey did not move to first base or some other position, but has played primarily as a catcher, playing there in 78 of his team’s 111 games. Posey may not be ready to play 140 games behind the plate, but 110-120 a season with a few appearances at first base and DH is better than many Giants fans expected and enough to make Posey one of the league’s premier players.
This year, Posey is hitting well enough to be a full time first baseman, but that is not going to happen every year. By putting him back behind the plate, rather than moving Posey to first base, the Giants substantially helped themselves remain a contender in 2012 and made it possible for Posey to become what he is. It was a high risk move, as Posey might have broken down and been unable to catch a full season, but so far that decision, more than Melky Cabrera’s great year, Ryan Vogelsong’s second unexpected great year in a row, or anything else, is the reason why in mid-August the Giants are still in first place.