This article was originally published on Golden Gate Sports.
Buster Posey is an incredibly skilled hitter. No matter what spot he is in the lineup, he’s going to find a way to produce. After hitting in the cleanup spot for the majority of his career, Posey was moved into the third spot in the batting order. Bruce Bochy said this is a permanent change, because he wanted to tweak the traditional order to see if it would spark the offense. Because of this move, Posey has thrived.
Jun. 9, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA: San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey bats in the eighth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
When Posey hits third in the lineup this season, he has hit .435 with one home run, eight doubles, 15 RBI’s, a .478 OBP, and a .645 slugging percentage in 62 at-bats. In the cleanup spot, Posey has hit .267 with seven home runs, 12 doubles, 26 RBI’s, a .359 OBP, and a .455 slugging percentage in 176 at-bats this season.
The number three hitter is traditionally the best all-around hitter on the team. They’re not generally that fast, but they hit for a high batting average and find ways to get on base. They usually have high on-base percentages and slugging percentages, which is exactly what Posey has exhibited recently.
Some other number three hitters around the league are Albert Pujols, Joey Votto, Ryan Braun, and Miguel Cabrera. All of these players have power, but they are selective with their power. They don’t necessarily try to hit a home run every time, in order to maintain a high batting average. They all have great OPS percentages, on-base percentage plus slugging percentage.
The cleanup hitter, or the fourth hitter, is also one of the best hitters on the team, but this player generally hits for more power than the third hitter does. This hitter also generally takes a lot of walks.
Some examples of cleanup hitters around the league are Prince Fielder, Troy Tulowitzki, Brandon Phillips, and Evan Longoria. These players all have a lot of power and high slugging percentages. Posey definitely has some power, but it’s a little hard to judge how much power he could really have due to the difficulty of hitting home runs at AT&T Park.
The third and fourth hitter have very similar roles, but Posey has always seemed to be more of a number three hitter. Posey won the batting title last season after hitting .336, so he clearly can hit for average, and he finished with an admirable .905 OPS.
Posey is a versatile hitter who can hit to either side of the field, has power, can draw a walk, and doesn’t chase outside the strike zone much. He also knows how to work pitch counts, hit with two strikes, and adjust his swing in order to get a hit. Posey is the best all-around hitter on the Giants, so it gives the Giants an early advantage when he’s hitting third and comes up to hit in the first inning no matter what. Given his immense amount of skills on offense, Posey naturally fits into the third spot in the batting order.
June 18, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey (28, right) hits a RBI-single to score left fielder Gregor Blanco (7, not pictured) in front of San Diego Padres catcher Nick Hundley (4, left) during the first inning at AT
Another reason why he thrives in the number three spot is because the hitters around him have skillsets that are more suited to the cleanup spot or the fifth spot.
“He’s so good at getting on base, and we’ve been in a little rut,” Bochy said about Buster Posey. “We’ll hope something like this will spark them… Really, you could take those three and pull them out of a hat and be comfortable.”
Hunter Pence has tremendous power, which would make him the perfect cleanup hitter, but he also has a knack for driving in runs, whether that means getting a clean single, a home run, or just a groundout that scores a run. Pence could easily fit into the fourth or fifth spot in the lineup, given these characteristics.
Pablo Sandoval also has incredible power and has proven that he can hit for a high batting average too, when he’s healthy. This is why Bochy has normally put Sandoval in the third spot, but he could arguably hit in the third, fourth, or fifth spot.
Sandoval is currently out with a foot injury, so, in his absence, Bochy has been hitting Posey third and Pence fourth. When Sandoval comes back, it’s not clear how Bochy will order those three players in the lineup, but with Pence and Sandoval hitting behind him, Posey will for sure keep thriving in the third spot.
With two other stellar hitters around him that have power and can hit for average, it gives Bochy more flexibility in putting Posey in the third spot, his most natural spot in the lineup. It doesn’t really matter which spot Sandoval and Pence hit in, because Posey will most likely find a way to get on base for them. Posey is such a valuable hitter for the Giants, and he will continue to thrive in the number three spot in the lineup.