NL All-Star Report: Posey’s Return Helps San Francisco Survive

San Francisco Giants’ catcher Buster Posey has picked up where he left off at the time early last season when he was knocked out for the year after breaking his leg in a play at the plate. After coming up in his rookie year and being an integral part of the team that won the 2010 World Series, then getting off to a good start in ’11, Posey is back and hitting the ball consistently, marking him as not only one of the National League’s top catchers, but arguably it’s most valuable, given his team’s hitting struggles.

The Giants rank a subpar 11th in the NL in runs scored, something that is of no surprise, given this team’s difficulty scoring runs in recent years. When third baseman Pablo Sandoval hit the disabled list early in the year, it only added to the pressure on Posey. And with consistent help from no one other than left fielder Melky Cabrera, Posey helped keep the Giants offense at least afloat. Posey’s has a .349 on-base percentage and .461 slugging percentage. His OBP is a result of a good balance between getting hits and drawing walks, meaning he’ll be able to keep getting on base during inevitable slumps, while at the same time not inviting pitchers to simply challenge him more often. His seven home runs are respectable at a position not known for power hitters and his overall play marks him as one of four catchers that can make a credible case for being the best in the National League.

Three other catchers have better overall numbers than Posey, although in each case the offense surrounding them is better…

*Yadier Molina is part of the offensive machine that is the St. Louis Cardinals, with a .383/.517 line for his on-base & slugging percentages. He’s swinging an extremely hot bat, with a .330 batting average, although the lack of walks does make one wonder what might happen when he hits a slump. But the power is solid, his recent offensive track record is good and an underrated factor is that his 203 at-bats are the most among NL catchers. You can’t help your team win if you’re not on the field and nobody’s there more than the Cardinal backstop.

*A.J. Ellis has been one of the bright surprises on a team that’s been one of the league’s bright surprises. The Dodger catcher has a dazzling .422 OBP, and like Posey he’s balanced between hitting and plate discipline, with a .306 average. His .475 slugging percentage is good for any position, much less this one. He’s one of several Dodger players having good years at the plate, but he also hits one of the toughest parks to make a living swinging the bat.

*Carlos Ruiz never gets the attention other players in Philadelphia do. If he were hurt the way Chase Utley or Ryan Howard has been, it would barely register outside his hometown. But those that follow this team know how quietly consistent he’s been, and with a .399/.555 line this year is as good as it gets for the veteran catcher. His team is not as bad offensively as the media makes it out, ranking middle of the NL in runs scored. But Ruiz is certainly the second-biggest reason, right behind Hunter Pence, for that.

These are the four players who can make a credible case as the league’s best based on current numbers. I think Posey’s comeback and value to the team is the best story, which is why I led with him. But when it’s time to vote, I think I’d lean Ellis because of how hard it is to hit in Dodger Stadium and just how good that .422 OBP is. But the whole process is still unfolding—TheSportsNotebook will do final mid-season All-Star selections the Monday prior to the All-Star Game and we’ll track these individual races throughout the season.

With that latter fact in mind, two players to keep an eye for a season-ending All-Star team would be Milwaukee’s Jonathan Lucroy and Atlanta’s Brian McCann, albeit each for different reasons. Lucroy’s is the positive reason—he was playing extremely well, with a .387/.583 line for a team wracked with injuries to its regular lineup. Unfortunately, Lucroy became one of these injuries, with a broken hand in a freak off-the-field accident. But he is supposed to be back by the end of the month and while it’s unlikely his volume of production can put him at the top of the NL catcher list by the All-Star break, he’s very much a player for a year-end ballot, which TheSportsNotebook will do.

In the case of McCann, his overall track record has to lead you to believe better days are ahead. This is someone who’s been one of the best catchers in the National League for several years, but at .323/.395 has been simply awful. We wouldn’t write off a team with a good track record at this point if they were sub-.500 and we can’t write off McCann for making a rally. And given how many runs Atlanta appears to need to compensate for its pitching problems, the Braves need all hands on deck.

Stepping down one rung on the ladder, shout-outs are deserved by Jesus Montero in Arizona, Cincinnati’s Ryan  Hanigan and Josh Thole for the New York Mets. None have the balanced offensive packages of the league’s elite, nor do they have the track record that suggests a surge beyond current levels. But both have been pretty consistent getting on base. Slightly behind these three, Jason Castro is at least tolerable, with a. 338 OBP, and Colorado’s Wilin Rosario has shown some power, hitting nine home runs. All five of these players have the virtue of at least doing something reasonably well.

Then in the category of hoping that the truism of 90 percent of life being just showing up is true, are San Diego’s Rod Hundley, Miami’s John Buck, and Rod Barajas in Pittsburgh. They’re on the field every day and I suppose at a position that’s low on quality and high on injuries, that can’t be dismissed. But show up is all they do, with the former two hitting sub-.200 and Barajas marginally better.

We’ll conclude with the underachievers. Maybe it’s unfair to throw Chicago’s Geovany Soto in that category since he’s been hurt and just starts a rehab assignment today, but he was terrible before going on the disabled list, was terrible last year and has me convinced that my Fantasy League rivals from Illinois who said I’d lost my mind in taking a flier on him in the 13th round were right. And maybe it’s unfair to single out Jesus Flores for Washington, who wasn’t even expected to start and got the job after an injury to Wilson Ramos. But I thought Flores was still at least equal to Ramos and my Monday afternoon podcast partner Greg DePalma  at PrimeSportsNetwork (3 PM ET each Monday), a Nationals’ fans thought Flores was better. His .289/.337 line must improve.