“He has the flu. Be nice!”
Such was the admonishment I received from a rabid San Francisco Giants fan after I critiqued Madison Bumgarner's Opening Day start. That could have been further extended to include catcher Buster Posey, whose early-season catching issues I documented a couple of weeks ago.
Posey’s pitch-framing wasn’t up to his usual standards, and we imagine the flu had a pretty significant impact on that.
But now, fully healthy, Posey has returned to form as the best in the game at getting called strikes for his pitchers. In fact, he’s in the midst of an amazing run of success.
Over his last 10 games, our data shows that Posey has gotten 41 more called strikes than the average catcher would have gotten had that catcher handled the same pitches (this is based on the count on the batter and the location of the pitch).
That’s nearly double the number that the second-best catcher, Caleb Joseph of the Orioles, has gotten in that same span (21).
It’s reasonable to consider it a good game for a catcher if he gets two more called strikes than the average catcher would have gotten. Posey has 10 straight games of 1.9 or better.
And this isn’t just because Posey has caught a lot of pitches of late. He’s the best by far on a per-pitch basis as well.
What’s the practical application of this? Take a look at these images.
In these 10 games, Posey has gotten 66 called strikes for his pitchers on pitches deemed by Pitch F/X to be out of the strike zone. That includes 22 with a “strike probability” of 0 to 25 percent.
For the purpose of making a point, let’s call those 22 “stolen strikes.”
The other thing that pushes Posey’s rating up is that he doesn’t mess things up for his pitchers when they put the ball over the plate. In those 10 games, Giants pitchers had balls called only four times when the pitch had a 75 to 100 percent chance of being called a strike. Let’s call those four “missed strikes.”
The average catcher has a ratio of about 1:1 when comparing their “stolen strikes” to “missed strikes.” Posey’s ratio in this time frame is 11-to-2.
Jason Castro of the Astros is the only catcher with more “stolen strikes” than Posey in these last 10 games. But his ratio of stolen-to-missed is 27-to-15.
How does Posey specifically impact games? Take a start like Jeff Samardzija's against the Reds a couple of days ago. Samardzija allowed one run and three hits in eight innings. Posey got him four strikes more than the average catcher would have gotten and a pair of strikeouts on pitches off the outside corner. One left Reds first baseman Joey Votto shaking his head and muttering as he walked away
“Votto’s thinking no, that’s not a strike,” said Giants TV play-by-play announcer Duane Kuiper.
And we’re thinking we’re sorry we didn't think more kindly of Posey when he was battling the flu. It’s clear he’s still got the magic touch behind the plate.