Retrospective: Bengie Molina and Buster Posey

The San Francisco Giants have successfully dispatched another major league season and with Disneyland just a few hours south, one would hope that the victorious Gigantes can find a more exotic celebratory destination. But while the Giants hit the awards circuit, baseball writers plow on sans fresh material. Enter the retrospective World Series Edition.

There are two primary types of baseball retrospective. The first evaluates actual real life trades to measure their actual real life impact on the swapping clubs. The second evaluates an author’s analysis of a trade, promotion, etc. This article is both.

Certain specific events are relevant to this particular glance at the past:

5/27: An aspiring author publishes his first article for The Hardball Times; a what-to-expect piece on Buster Posey
5/29: Buster Posey is activated; goes 3-4 with 3 RBI
6/30: Bengie Molina is dealt to the Rangers

First, let’s focus on what happened in the real world. Despite getting off to a quick start in April, Molina’s struggles with the bat in May and June led to a feeble .257/.312/.332 triple slash prior to his June 30 trade. Surprisingly, it wasn’t Posey’s bat that forced him out of town: The rookie-of-the-year candidate posted a Molina-esque .259/.289/.341 line over the course of June. Still, that anemic performance wasn’t enough to shake the Giants’ confidence in their prospect, leading to the swap with Texas.

After relocating to Arlington, Molina did his best to blend in with the Rangers’ herd of catching mediocrities. Career backup Matt Treanor led the team’s catchers in games while posting a .270 weighted On Base Average (wOBA). Following the trade, Molina captured the bulk of the duties while contributing a .263 wOBA.

Thankfully for the Rangers, Molina saved some of his best performances for the postseason. In Game One of the ALDS against the Tampa Bay Rays, Molina contributed a 3-for-4, two-RBI game with a homer that led to a 1-0 series lead (his performance was eclipsed by Cliff Lee and then later in the day, Roy Halladay). Molina broke out the whoopin’ stick again for Game Four of the ALCS, contributing a game best .490 Win Percentage Added (WPA) with his 3-for-four, three RBI line with anothe rhome run. All told, Molina gave the Rangers exactly replacement level performance* along with the keys to two postseason victories.

While Molina manned the dish in Arlington, Posey was finally pressed into full time duty in San Francisco. He was seemingly eager to repay the kindness, nullifying his mediocre first month with a scalding .417/.446/.699 slash in July. While he failed to maintain the Bondsian power, he concluded his rookie season with a fantastic .305/.357/.505 slash, good for a .368 wOBA and 3.9 Wins Above Replacement (WAR).

Posey also put together a great postseason in his rookie year. While his complete line of .288/.354/.390 doesn’t speak of dominance, he handled the Braves and Rangers pitchers ably. Philadelphia was able to hold him to five hits and three walks in 26 plate appearances, but a 4-for-5 outburst in Game Four of the NLCS helped set the stage for an unlikely Juan Uribe walk-off sac fly in the 10th inning.

Assuming Molina would have given the Giants 0 WAR from June through September, sending him to Texas probably earned the Giants about four wins. With the Padres finishing just two games behind the Giants, those four wins were crucial, especially if one or more of them came at the Padres’ expense (for what it’s worth, Posey hit .282/.300/.615 against Padres pitchers).

Part of what made Molina expendable is what we could expect from Posey at the big league level. This was covered in some detail on THT just two days before his promotion. The Posey-specific projections were modest: Oliver called for a .354 wOBA while his major league equivalent line was a hearty .348. Also expected was solid defense and a robust caught-stealing rate. Posey did his best to vindicate the projections. His season wOBA of .368 is probably about one standard deviation above Oliver’s projection. Observers universally praised Posey’s handling of the pitching staff and defensive instincts. He also managed to gun down 23 out of 62 steal attempts (37 percent).

Of course, not everything went perfectly in that previous article. The worst mistake was assuming that Aubrey Huff’s then wOBA of .350 represented a ceiling on his talent. He would later raise it to .388 and undoubtedly raked in a handful of MVP votes. The second mistake is more forgivable. A June 11 call up seemed likely as it coincided with the next home stand and guaranteed to remove Posey from Super-2 consideration. Brian Sabean and company made a mockery of that guesstimate by executing the roster move on May 29.

*According to Rally WAR from Baseball-Reference.com.

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