MVP or bust? Experts weigh Posey's chances
Giants backstop making push to be first NL catcher since '72 to earn honor
SAN FRANCISCO -- Asked whether he's trying to ignore talk of his legitimacy as a Most Valuable Player Award candidate, Buster Posey responded with typical politeness."You try to, with anything like that," Posey said recently. "The nice thing, as far as that goes, is that we're trying to win the division and get in the playoffs, so that's the main focus." But others are free to discuss Posey's bid for the prestigious honor. Without question, the Giants catcher ranks among the top contenders in the National League's MVP balloting, which will be conducted at the end of the regular season by the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA). Posey's numerous statistical credentials include: Remarkable production since the All-Star break, including a .393 batting average, a .470 on-base percentage and a .658 slugging percentage. Posey leads the Major Leagues in each category during this span. His .408 overall on-base percentage is the league's best, and he ranked third with a .333 batting average and a .949 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) before Thursday's play. Posey also has 21 homers. A .352 batting average with runners in scoring position and 15 game-winning RBIs place him among the NL's most formidable clutch hitters. Other factors put Posey in line to become the first NL catcher to win an MVP award since Cincinnati's Johnny Bench in 1972. He has remained essential to the success of the Giants, who led second-place Los Angeles by seven games in the West standings entering Thursday's scheduled off-day. As San Francisco's primary catcher, he's an integral part of the team's defensive and pitching excellence. His comeback from multiple left leg injuries sustained in last year's home-plate collision with Florida's Scott Cousins on May 25, which sidelined him for the rest of the season, has reflected his competitive spirit. "I like his game. I like his makeup. I like his humility. I like his approach," said Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin, an ESPN studio analyst. Giants manager Bruce Bochy comprehends Posey's value more than anyone. To a small but significant degree, Bochy has helped relieve Posey of the physical rigors of catching by playing him at first base occasionally. This also has kept Posey's bat in the lineup. Posey has started 101 games behind the plate, 22 at first base and three as a designated hitter in Interleague games. "When you talk about the Most Valuable Player, his name has to be mentioned for what he's done for us," Bochy said. BBWAA members are prohibited from publicly discussing their preferences for MVP and other awards during the season. But if the opinions of a handful of national television commentators mirror at all what the writers think, Posey has a strong chance to win the vote -- or, at the very least, become the highest-finishing Giants catcher in the MVP balloting since Harry "The Horse" Danning ranked seventh in 1940. MLB Network analyst Billy Ripken established himself as one of Posey's most ardent believers long ago. Ripken predicted before the season began -- when doubts about Posey's ability to overcome his leg injuries still lingered -- that the 25-year-old would win the MVP award. "I took my fair share of abuse from my colleagues," Ripken said. He didn't care. "I'm not going that much out on a limb," said Ripken, a big league infielder from 1987-98. "He won the Rookie of the Year Award two years ago. You see what he did in the  World Series. You see how he handles himself and how he plays. I love his approach when he's hitting. It looks like he doesn't do anything wrong to where he would ever put himself into a prolonged slump." Larkin also endorsed Posey. "He's certainly the leading candidate in my mind," the recent Cooperstown inductee said. "It's obvious when he's not in the lineup, and it's obvious when he's not behind the plate. For me, I don't know if there's another player in the National League that affects his team in such a profound way. ... It's not like he has Miguel Cabrera or Prince Fielder in that lineup. He's definitely the guy they say at the beginning of a series, 'Don't allow him to beat you,' and he's still doing it." Coincidentally, should Posey win the MVP award, his triumph likely would parallel Larkin's in 1995. Two candidates possess statistics that at least partially eclipse Posey's: Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen (.340 batting average, 26 home runs, .965 OPS) and Milwaukee's Ryan Braun (38 homers, 100 RBIs, .978 OPS). In '95, Larkin (.319, 15 homers, 66 RBIs, 51 stolen bases, 98 runs) didn't lead the league in any major offensive category. His numbers paled alongside those of Colorado's Dante Bichette (.340, 40 homers, 128 RBIs), Los Angeles' Mike Piazza (.346, 32, 93) and Atlanta's Greg Maddux (19-2, 1.63 ERA).
But voters recognized Larkin's all-around contributions, including intangibles such as clubhouse leadership, to a Cincinnati Reds squad that won the NL Central. Larkin received 11 first-place votes and 281 voting points, topping Bichette (six, 251), Maddux (seven, 249) and Piazza (three, 214).Voters judging Posey and his peers with modern metrics certainly will consider WAR (wins above what a replacement-level player at the same spot would generate). According to one current WAR list, McCutchen's at 6.5, barely ahead of Posey (6.1) and Braun (6.0). TBS MLB analyst John Smoltz currently has the same trio on his list of top MVP candidates, but in a different order. Smoltz employed what he called a "quirky system," a formula involving traditional statistics, which resulted in his ranking Braun first, McCutchen second and Posey third. "Braun is arguably having a better year than he did last season when he won the MVP," said Smoltz, the right-hander who amassed 213 victories and 154 saves in a 21-year career. Smoltz pointed out that Braun's .593 slugging percentage entering Thursday, the NL's second-best, was followed by McCutchen's .559. "When you think slugging percentage, you wouldn't think McCutchen is right there with Braun," Smoltz said. "But he is." Smoltz joined the consensus by noting that playing mostly catcher, the game's most grueling position, should improve Posey's chances of winning the award. But, in Smoltz's estimation, Posey must approach Braun's offensive totals. "Based on the position, I could leapfrog him over another guy if it's close," Smoltz said. "But I think in this case it would have to be a little bit closer."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.