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Saturday, May 26, 2012
A year later, Buster Posey's back in action

By Christina Kahrl



Exactly one year ago, Buster Posey went from sure thing to question mark. It wasn’t because of anything he failed to do, it wasn’t because he hadn’t fulfilled every expectation for his greatness. If anything, it was a matter of professional hazard: He was a catcher protecting home plate, and when Scott Cousins took his shot at scoring, Posey was there, trying to make a play. Instants later, Posey went from the best young catcher in baseball to a young man in agony at home plate.

Giants fans were understandably devastated. Posey was the best thing to happen to catcher offense since Mike Piazza. His rookie-season performance -- hitting .305/.357/.505 with 18 home runs, gunning down 29 percent of stolen-base attempts and winning the National League Rookie of the Year award -- created a heightened expectation of what was to come. He was the new bright light on a defending champion; a first-rounder who hadn’t just lived up to his promise, he’d taken the Giants to the promised land. And then, one play at the plate later, Posey was dealing with a case of career, interrupted.

Now, one year later, we can say that interruption, however avoidable, however unfortunate, has cost Posey little in terms of what he’s able to do. One year later, and he’s hitting like the same kid catcher who provided so much joy in 2010: .297/.364/.473, not very different from the .297/.366/.479 line that ESPN Insider’s Dan Szymborski projected for him via ZiPS before the season. Posey is fourth in OPS+ and OBP among regular receivers, sixth in slugging, seventh in homers. Quibblers might note that Posey is throwing out just 22 percent of stolen-base attempts, but when people are testing you scarcely more often (0.77 attempts per nine innings) than they do Yadier Molina (0.69), that’s a sign of respect of what Posey is to this day: A big-league catcher.

Losing sight of Posey’s comeback might be easy, especially after the Dodgers’ torrid start. The Giants have had more than their share of problems beyond that: Brian Wilson’s broken beyond repair this season and Pablo Sandoval’s out with a broken hand for a few more weeks yet. Tim Lincecum has delivered just one quality start in 10 this season, and took another beating at the hands of the Fish Friday night. The long-standing Aubrey Huff versus Brandon Belt debate over who should be playing first base has been fairly pointless with both men’s bats missing in action.

But in the big picture, Posey is just the leading example of how much is going right for the Giants already. He joins Melky Cabrera’s crazy-good start, and Posey’s handling a pitching staff that, outside of Lincecum’s woes, may very well be the league’s best. In the two wild-card-team era, that’s something any skipper could work and win with.

You can consider me an interested party as an observer to Posey’s misfortune because, this time last year, I’d selected Posey in ESPN’s franchise player draft. I’d picked Posey before he suffered the injury, but the horror of this play at the plate came before we went to press. In an act of generosity, I was asked if I wanted to change my pick from Posey, taking anyone left on the board. I thought about it … and I said no.

I said no because I believed, or because I wanted to believe, not just in Posey’s promise of what could be, of what was supposed to be, but because I wanted to believe that he’d be back, that he would be every bit the player he’d already been and was always meant to be. I believed because I’m a fan, and in the way that every fan wants to see players play, I wanted to see Posey play again. Call it faith if you want, faith in a player, faith in the miracle of modern orthopedics, but I believed Posey would be back.

It wasn’t simple fandom on my part, and I don’t think any of us kid ourselves over the amount of work that went into his getting back on the field. Frankly, as a Northern Californian and an A’s fan in the late ’70s, I grew up hating the Giants, resenting the affection they received from a fawning press still buzzing off a contact high from Willie Mays, where Charley Finley’s franchise received -- and deserved -- derision. No, if I was a fan of anything, it was Posey’s game, a fan of what baseball deserves, of what he deserves.

So, seeing Posey take the field in Florida to face the Marlins on this unhappy anniversary, you can consider me guilty of a contact high of my own, one that comes from getting to say that this is one of those happy non-news stories: That Buster Posey remains the player he’s supposed to be. And whether you root for the Giants or against them, that’s a beautiful thing, all by itself.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Hunter Pence
Hunter Pence does a little dance with Shane Victorino, but nobody was the worse for wear.
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.