At 34 years old, there is a lot new in Buster Posey’s game. The most obvious place to start is the mere fact he is playing again after caring for his family and adopted twins during the pandemic in 2020.
He has returned with an occasional new setup behind the plate, sometimes placing a knee in the dirt, as Giants catchers did last year. It’s designed to help him frame pitches at the bottom of the zone, and it’s also a bit easier on his body than the full crouch, which wears on a catcher. His pop time and arm from the setup, judging from his pair of punch-outs against Colorado, look just fine.
GOT HIM. pic.twitter.com/94kdPWJo4M
— SFGiants (@SFGiants) April 10, 2021
Speaking of being easier on his body, he’s also preparing for games differently. He is no longer seen three hours ahead of time stretching and then taking batting practice on the field. In past years, he then would have to cool off before ramping up again for the game. This year, with Posey and with plenty of Giants, Gabe Kapler said, the goal is to heat up your body once and stay ready.
“My goal is to try to get hot, meaning get loose, just one time,” Posey said over Zoom this week. “… I’d say that’s probably the biggest difference for me this year [from] two years past, is trying to time out my preparation schedule to get stretched out, get hot, and then go warm up the pitcher and play the game. And so far, I feel like it’s been good.”
The second most obvious difference in the six-time All-Star, though, is he is hitting again.
After 2018 hip surgery, there were concerns about if his body and bat would recover — concerns that were shared by Posey himself. His 2019 season was down across the board, and his power numbers while dealing with the hip discomfort were most noticeable: He hit a combined 12 home runs in 2018-19.
Posey opened this season with home runs in his first two games, the first time he had gone back to back since 2017. The new hitting minds that helped enliven the bats of Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford surely have helped Posey, too, as has a body that feels better. It is all working to ensure more balls head the right direction.
Yeah, Buster’s Back pic.twitter.com/6wA7QOCX5B
— KNBR (@KNBR) April 2, 2021
Through his eight games played, Posey’s bat has been one of the few hot ones in a cold lineup. He is slashing .286/.355/.500 with a launch angle that is easily the highest of his career (or at least since 2015, when the measurement began being tracked).
His groundball rate in the early going is 45 percent, according to Statcast, a nice improvement from 2019’s 50 percent. He didn’t want to say that the goal of tweaking his swing after ’19 was to gain more lift, but it’s a helpful result.
“I think when my swing is right, it just happens on its own. So I think there’s a correlation between mechanically [being sound] and being in the right place and body moving the correct way to more balls being in the air, whether it’s line drives or fly balls,” Posey said.
And the balls he makes contact with he is slapping with his most authority since exit velocity began being tracked: His 92-mph average, in the short sample, is tops and a far climb from his 88.6-mph average in 2019.
“I see him as really in his legs, and sometimes that allows for players to get the ball in the air, because their angles are just a little bit better, their swings are less flat and they have a tiny bit more arc to them,” Kapler said this week. “…I think he’s seeing the ball really well, swinging the bat really well. And those two things in combination allow a player to put the ball on a line more often.”
The uptick in the first two weeks of the season, through which Posey is 8-for-28, has come with the catcher batting sixth or seventh in the order. Perhaps that will be the next difference in Posey’s game: fan outcry to move him up, rather than down, in the lineup.
“I think the exciting thing for me is I feel like I’m still progressing to where I think I can get to even a better place offensively,” Posey said. “But it’s definitely nice to be off to a good start.”