Buster Posey hit a double and a home run for the Giants on Friday night. The Giants lost to the Padres but Posey raised his early-season line to .371/.426/.629. Through Friday's action, Posey accumulated 23 hits, including four doubles and four home runs, in only 68 plate appearances. He's third in the National League in slugging, behind Matt Kemp and Corey Hart.
Lots of players get off to fast starts, posting gaudy April numbers, only to see them drop as the season wears on. But in his short MLB career, Posey hasn't been one of those players. The Giants called Posey up to the majors on May 29, 2010. He started that night against the Diamondbacks, playing first base. He pounded out three hits and drove in three runs. But June wasn't kind to Posey, as he hit .259/.289/.341, with two doubles, one triple and one home run. After one month in the big leagues, Posey turned it on, posting a .417/.466/.699 slash in July with six doubles, one triple and seven home runs.
Posey followed the same pattern in 2011. He started off slowly in March and April, hitting only .261/.327/.420. As the calendar turned to May, Posey became more consistent at the plate, although with considerably less power. He batted a .311/.414/.351 in May before the gruesome collision at home plate on May 25 that knocked him out for the remainder of the season.
The collision resulted in a fractured fibula bone in Posey's right lower leg and three torn ankle ligaments. As this diagram shows, the fibula is the outside bone in the lower leg leading to the ankle. It works in tandem with five ankle ligaments. Posey tore three of the five ligaments.
Posey needed surgery to repair the ankle ligaments. By July, sports doctors and major-league trainers not involved in treating Posey were speculating that his days as a major-league catcher might be over, given the demands the catching position puts on a player's ankles.
So far, Posey has proved the experts wrong. He's been behind the dish for more than 110 innings this season and logged an additional twenty-five innings at first base. And while his defense has been a bit off the mark as he re-acclimates to the rigors of catching, his reconstructed ankle doesn't appear to be slowing him down. Certainly not at the plate, where he's off to the best start of his career.
Posey's early-season success got me thinking about other catchers who have sustained severe leg and ankle injuries. I was curious to see how these catchers hit after returning to major-league action. Of course, every injury is different, requiring different treatments, different recovery times, and different rehab programs. And the players are different too, by age, strength, conditioning and skill level. Still, I thought it would be interesting to take a look and see what turned up.
In early August 2010, Indians rookie catcher Carlos Santana was involved in a home-plate collision with Ryan Kalish of the Red Sox. The collision caused a tear in ligaments around Santana's left knee, requiring surgery. Doctors estimated Santana's recovery time at four-to-six months, with the expectation he'd be ready to play by spring training in 2011.
Santana started his big-league career in June 2010. Unlike Posey, Santana hit the leather off the ball in his first month and faded as the season progressed. In his first 72 plate appearances, Santana hit .345/.458/.707 with nine doubles and four home runs. In the 120 plate appearances before his knee injury, Santana dropped to .188/.371/.247 with four doubles and two home runs.
In his first month back in 2011, Santana struggled, posting his worst month offensively of the season. He hit .198/.327/.395 in March and April, with two doubles and five home runs. He regained some consistency at the plate in May, raising his on-base average to .392 with seven doubles, but only one home run. Santana struggled with his batting average throughout the season, but ended 2011 with good on-base and power numbers (.239/.351/.429) and 27 home runs.
Santana's injury, of course, came two months later in the 2010 season than did Posey's injury in 2011. And the injuries and recovery times differed. Perhaps Santana didn't fully regain the strength and agility in his knee until several months into the 2011 season. Or the rigors of catching affected his offense more than it has Posey so far this season. There are likely a myriad of reasons for how the two players performed in the first months of their comeback.
Let's look at another example. Catcher Ryan Doumit has had all sorts of trouble with this left ankle. Late in the 2007 season, Doumit, then with the Pirates, sustained a severe sprain to his left ankle, ending his season. Doumit had seen limited action behind the dish in 2007, but in 279 plate appearances, he hit .274/.341/.472 with nineteen doubles and nine home runs. Like Carlos Santana in 2010, Doumit came out strong in 2007 and faded down the stretch before the ankle injury.
Four years later, Doumit re-injured his left ankle in a home plate collision, just days after Posey was knocked out for the season. On May 30, 2011, Doumit suffered a non-displaced fracture in his left ankle and missed 57 games. Because Doumit didn't sustain any ligament tears, he was able to come back for the end of the 2011 season.
Like Posey, Doumit had started out slowly in 2011, hitting .255/.300/.383 in March and April, then ramping it up in May with a .283/.365/.500 slash. He played twenty-one games in August after returning from injury, hitting .265/.306/.412 in 72 plate appearances. Doumit poured it on in September, batting .404/.443/.614 in 61 plate appearances to end the season.
What do Santana's and Doumit's stories tell us about Posey? Not much, I'm afraid. The one take-away for me is that the earlier in the season a severe injury occurs, the more likely the player will be ready out of the gate the next season. So, as devastating as Posey's injury was to him and the Giants last season, you can say they were lucky it happened in late May and not late August. The rest Posey was forced into, coupled with the extensive rehab and conditioning he endured to get ready for this season, appear to have given him the strength and stamina he needed to get off to a quick start in 2012.