You won’t find too many people who’d call Buster Posey the best player in baseball. Mike Trout is the God of WAR, Miguel Cabrera was a Triple Crown slugger three years ago, and Andrew McCutcheon might be the game’s most electric player. A lot of hitters are more powerful — Bryce Harper, Giancarlo Stanton, Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado come to mind. Arenado looked like the best player in the history of the sport over the weekend, to the point where even playing for the Rockies couldn’t screw up his career arc … but we’ll see about that.
Likewise, not many would place Madison Bumgarner at the top of Ace Mountain. Clayton Kershaw is the undisputed king; Max Scherzer is unhittable since coming back to the National League. Bumgarner doesn’t lead the league in any statistical category, or wow anyone with his stuff.
I don’t know what it felt like watching Mathewson pitch, but watching Bumgarner is like feeling an expertly administered epidural nip in between a couple of vertebrae and deliver bliss: it’s a gliding, almost eventless slide through the innings, with accumulating fly-ball outs and low-count K’s marking the passing scenery. It’s twilight sleep; an Ambien catnap; an evening voyage on a Watteau barge. Bumgarner is composed out there, his expression mournful, almost apologetic, even while delivering his wide-wing, slinging stuff. Sorry, guys: this is how it goes. Over soon.
That, of course, was after Bumgarner’s magical postseason run, which was capped by one of the most amazing relief appearances we’ve ever seen, in a Game 7 victory no less. As Angell typed word after perfectly-placed word, Bumgarner and Posey were celebrating their third World Series win as a duo.
Bruce Bochy plans on keeping Andrew Susac’s bat in the lineup whenever anyone other than Bumgarner takes the mound. However, Bochy makes sure that Bumgarner gets the optimal defensive alignment whenever he pitches, and that includes Posey behind the plate. It looks like Bumgarner is the only starter Posey will catch regularly for the next several weeks, and it’s only right. These two should never be separated.
If the postseason wasn’t enough evidence that no other battery can compare — with Bumgarner solidifying his place in baseball lore and Posey performing the ultimate feat of stamina by catching every inning (including the 18-inning classic in Washington, D.C.), save for two innings in the Giants’ 10-0 loss in Game 6 of the World Series — allow me to throw yesterday’s 6-3 win over the Rockies in as Exhibit Q.
- After allowing a two-run homer to the league’s hottest hitter, Bumgarner pitched seven consecutive scoreless innings against a lineup that isn’t too shabby.
- Posey cut Colorado’s lead in half in the bottom of the first, when he flipped a slider that was on the low side (and probably an inch or two off the outside corner) into right field to score Matt Duffy.
- Posey gave the Giants the lead in his next at-bat, when he whacked a high 3-2 changeup to left, driving in two more.
- Bumgarner struck out eight, in the process becoming the youngest pitcher in franchise history to reach 1,000 Ks.
- Bumgarner yanked a Christian Bergman changeup (the Rockies were throwing slop all day, and the Giants didn’t seem to mind) high and deep down left field line. It hit the foul pole about midway up, giving him his second hit of the game and his second home run of the season.
The other dinger was off Kershaw, as we all remember. Bumgarner is clearly the best hitting pitcher around, which adds yet another reason to call Bumgarner/Posey the best battery going. If more evidence is needed … well, I’ve already mentioned the postseason success. Posey is a former MVP, and could get consideration this year with the way he’s playing. Then there’s the competition at Posey’s position.
— Yadier Molina isn’t a fearsome hitter, with only two home runs on the season and an OPS+ of 97 (Posey is at 141), and who’s the Cardinals’ ace these days with Adam Wainwright on the shelf? Two 23-year-olds, Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez, are both having outstanding seasons. But neither pitcher has a resume that resembles Bumgarner’s.
— Posey leads all catchers in WAR according to Baseball-Reference. Fangraphs’ WAR calculations have Russell Martin and Stephen Vogt barely above Posey. Vogt and Sonny Gray have made up one hell of a tandem this year, with an emphasis on this year, as the most games Vogt played in a season heading into 2015 was 84 in 2014. Martin — while valuable — is not in Posey’s class as a hitter based on career numbers, and the Blue Jays’ starting staff is very mediocre.
That’s it, really. Posey is baseball’s best all-around catcher, a player whose framing skills are getting more credit with each passing season. One could point to the Giants’ recent move (out of injury-related necessity) to get Susac more run behind the plate as a knock on Posey, but that’s only because Posey handles first base much better than Susac can field any position besides catcher. Bumgarner is one of the best starting pitchers in Major League Baseball, and he’s clearly the best active pitcher in October. Posey isn’t the quintessential “guy I’d pick to start a team,” at least according to most national pundits, and Bumgarner may never win a Cy Young. But no pitcher and catcher form a stronger partnership. That’s why no other battery comes close to Bumgarner and Posey.