Here’s the kind of season Buster Posey is having: He’s hitting .361/.444/.564, good for a wRC+ of 172. That’s weighted runs created plus, an advanced metric that controls for park effects and the current run environment. Here are the highest wRC+ figures for qualifying catchers since World War II:
That’s a pretty awesome start for Posey.
This is also the kind of season Posey is having: He has hit seven home runs and has just 11 RBIs. That’s just one more RBI than Anthony Rendon had in one game earlier this season.
According to Baseball-Reference.com, an average MLB hitter with 145 plate appearances would have 16 RBIs. Posey has fewer than that, even though he’s second in the majors in batting average and has hit for power. How is this possible?
All seven of his home runs have been solo home runs. (That problem has afflicted the entire Giants team. The past 18 home runs they have hit have been solo shots, and only six of their season total of 38 have come with a runner on base.)
As you would expect, he has hit with fewer runners on base than the typical hitter. Posey has had 79 runners on base when he hits, compared with the MLB average of 86 for 145 PAs. Of course, a cleanup hitter should have more runners on base than average, but the first through third hitters for the Giants rank 26th in the majors in OBP.
He has had 22 runners on second and 10 runners on third, compared with the averages of 27 and 14.
He hasn’t hit as well with runners on base, so some of this is on him. With the bases empty, Posey is hitting .425; with runners on, he’s hitting .264. With runners in scoring position, he’s 6-for-24 with six walks, but those six hits have produced just four RBIs. Breaking it down, he’s 2-for-7 with a runner on second (one RBI), 1-for-5 with a runner on third (two RBIs), 2-for-9 with runners at first and second (no RBIs), 1-for-2 with runners at the corners (one RBI) and 0-for-1 with the bases loaded (no RBIs).
Posey's bad luck won't continue all season, but it has me thinking of some of the strangest seasons ever.
Enzo Hernandez, 1971 Padres: In the most famous low-RBI season in history, Hernandez played 143 games and batted 618 times, but he managed to drive in just 12 runs. He hit .222 but had just nine doubles, three triples and zero home runs. Believe it or not, this type of player was fairly common in this era. He started in the leadoff spot 137 times, and batting behind the pitchers didn’t help, but he also hit .182 with runners in scoring position.
Brady Anderson, 1996 Orioles: This was the year he hit 50 home runs. His second-highest total in any season was 24. Here’s how big the numbers were back then: Anderson hit .297/.396/.637, drove in 110 runs while primarily hitting leadoff and scored 117. He finished just ninth in the MVP voting, even though the Orioles made the playoffs. Everyone assumes Anderson was on steroids in 1996, though he has denied using PEDs, and his name never appeared in the Mitchell Report. He was a notorious workout and nutritional nut. Even if he was using, it stands out as a strange season in the context of his career.
Curtis Granderson, 2016 Mets; Jedd Gyorko, 2016 Cardinals: I’m lumping these guys together because they share the “record” for fewest RBIs by a 30-homer guy. Both guys hit 30 home runs last year while driving in just 59 runs. Which one was more improbable? Granderson batted nearly 200 times more, and I thought the low RBI total was a result of his batting leadoff, but he was the leadoff batter in just 81 of his 139 starts. Twenty-four of his home runs were solo shots, however, and he hit just .152 with runners in scoring position. Gyorko, by comparison, had 12 home runs with runners on and hit .230 with runners in scoring position.
Roy Thomas, 1900 Phillies: One of the most extreme players in history. Even for the dead ball era, Thomas had no power. In 1900, he batted 675 times and had just seven extra-base hits (four doubles, three triples). The next season, he had eight extra-base hits in 603 PAs. This isn’t Enzo Hernandez, however; Thomas was a good player. He drew 100-plus walks seven times and hit .290 in his career, so his lifetime OBP was .413.
Adam Dunn, 2011 White Sox: One thing about Dunn: He was consistent. From 2004 to 2012, his season home run totals were 46, 40, 40, 40, 40, 38, 38, 11, 41. Wait ... what happened in 2011? Injury? Nope. That was the season he played 122 games and hit just .159. At minus-2.9 WAR, Dunn’s season shows up as the 11th-worst since 1901 (minimum 200 plate appearances). Yes, there were 10 worse seasons.
Caleb Joseph, 2016 Orioles: Joseph batted 141 times last season and drove in zero runs, the most PAs ever without an RBI for a position player. He didn’t hit a sacrifice fly. He didn’t record an RBI groundout. He couldn’t get a little blooper with a runner on third. Incredible. He hit .174, including 2-for-27 with runners in scoring position.
Dante Bichette, 1999 Rockies: Bichette hit .298 with 34 home runs and 133 RBIs, so why is this season included? Because Baseball-Reference values him at minus-2.3 WAR. How can a guy who drives in 133 runs be worth two wins below a replacement-level player? Well, his defense apparently made Kyle Schwarber look like Jason Heyward, because he’s valued at 34 runs below average (he was a 35-year-old left fielder at Coors, so maybe that’s possible). Plus, 1999 was at the peak of the Coors Field run-scoring insanity, so Bichette’s .298/.354/.541 line wasn’t all that impressive. The Rockies hit .325/.383/.549 as a team at home. Bichette’s season rates as the worst ever by a 100-RBI guy, just ahead of Joe Carter’s 1990 (.290 OBP but 115 RBIs).
Alfredo Griffin, 1984 Blue Jays: This is a fun one. Griffin had a good glove but was a zero most years at the plate. In ’84, he hit .241 but backed it up with four walks and 14 extra-base hits in 140 games. Get this: He was an All-Star that season for the only time in his career. How? Well, teammate Damaso Garcia had invited Griffin to the game as his guest, and when Alan Trammell hurt his arm, manager Joe Altobelli put Griffin on the roster primarily because he just happened to be in town. The 1980s were the best.
Luis Aguayo, 1987 Phillies: This one popped up when I did a search for fewest RBIs with at least 10 home runs. Aguayo was a backup infielder in the 1980s, and in that weird rabbit-ball season of 1987, he hit 12 home runs in 209 at-bats but drove in just 21 runs. As you might have guessed, 11 of his home runs were solo shots, and he hit just .118 (6-for-51) with runners in scoring position.
Barry Bonds, 2004 Giants: I just wanted to type this: .362/.609/.812.
Lloyd Waner, 1927 Pirates: Waner has the fewest RBIs by a player who hit .350 or better and batted at least 500 times. He drove in just 27 runs despite a .355 average and 683 plate appearances. We don’t have his complete stat record, but Waner was the team’s leadoff hitter and hit just two home runs. A modern example would be Ichiro Suzuki’s 2009 season, when he hit .352 and drove in just 46 runs (he even hit 11 home runs). Waner hit .328 with runners in scoring position, but his singles often failed to score a runner from second base.
Ryan Schimpf, 2017 Padres: Posey might not even be having the strangest season of 2017. Schimpf has raised the three true outcomes approach (walks, strikeouts, home runs) to a unique level. He’s hitting .169 with 11 home runs. He’s on pace for 38 home runs, 72 RBIs, 90 walks, 179 strikeouts and seven doubles. That leads me to another idea: big home run seasons with few doubles. Paging Dave Kingman ...