Yadier Molina has spent his career as the face of the Cardinals franchise and beloved by St. Louis fans. Outside of this city, baseball doesn’t give him enough credit.
Cardinals fans have always known. Everywhere you go in St. Louis, Yadier Molina’s name or face can be found. When you’re looking for Cardinals apparel, the first suggestion one usually says is “Molina”. When you go into a store, there is often some tribute to the great catcher. Cardinals fans have always known that he is one of the best backstops ever. Unfortunately, not everyone else recognizes what Yadi has done in his career.
Sure, other people talk about him often. During his best years, he often had people all over sports talk shows discussing him. The problem was that his name was omitted in the most important conversation. I’m talking about the conversation concerning who should be the National League MVP.
It would be ridiculous to say that Yadi should be MVP now, but let’s go back to 2012 and 2013. Molina put up his two best seasons in those years. Although WAR doesn’t quite encapsulate everything he means (more on that in a second), he recorded a 6.7 WAR and a 5.7 WAR in those years, respectively. Outside of those seasons, he never reached 3.0 Wins Above Replacement.
Molina should have been the talk of the National League in that 2012 season. Instead, baseball writers were busy falling in love with another catcher named Buster Posey. Writers didn’t shun Molina, as the Cardinals catcher came in fourth in the MVP voting and earned two first place votes. On the surface, Posey was a defensible choice. He led the NL with 7.2 WAR, and the fact that he is a catcher helps. The only question is: why didn’t it help Molina?
While Posey ran away with the award on the strength of him being a catcher, Molina got no such luck. He finished fourth, behind the two guys between he and Posey in Wins Above Replacement (Ryan Braun and Andrew McCutchen). Now, I think WAR is a phenomenal statistic, but it has its shortcomings. One of them is that it doesn’t account for everything a catcher must do. The most obvious example is that it does not account for pitch framing. Going further, it does not account for how well a pitcher does when he Molina catches versus the backup.
Posey actually beat Molina in pitch framing that year, according to StatCorner. Molina’s WAR including pitch framing would have been closer to 9, but Posey still would have beaten him. The real issue is that second shortcoming that I noted.
In 2012, the Cardinals had a 33 year-old starting pitcher playing for his fourth team in seven years. Before coming to St. Louis in 2008, this pitcher had never recorded an ERA under 4, never had more than 2.9 K/BB, and had never recorded a WHIP under 1.27. All of that improved immediately with the help of Molina. However, in 2012, Kyle Lohse ended up seventh in the NL Cy Young voting. That sentence alone should have gotten Molina the MVP.
Lohse recorded a career best 2.86 ERA to go with 3.76 K/BB and a 1.09 WHIP. He walked a career low 1.6 batters per nine innings, and gave up a career low .8 homers per nine. Some of it was luck, but he also posted a career best 3.51 FIP. Lohse wasn’t the only accomplishment, either. Adam Wainwright had a bad ERA by his standards, but his FIP was down at 3.10 that year. He actually walked a lower percentage of batters than the year before, when he had a 2.42 ERA.
The Cardinals sent a rookie to the All-Star game that year. His name was Lance Lynn, and he struck out an impressive 9.2 batters per nine, surely aided by Yadi. Molina even helped a 34 year-old Jake Westbrook to the lowest single season FIP of his career. Every pitcher Molina touched in 2012 turned to gold. It’s not that Posey wasn’t great, it’s just that … well, let’s take a look.
Posey played only 45 games in 2011 due to injury. The Giants’ rotation didn’t change from 2011 to 2012, but you wouldn’t know that by looking at the numbers. Matt Cain’s ERA went down, but his FIP increased by nearly half a run. Madison Bumgarner’s ERA stayed roughly the same, but his FIP went up by almost a full run. And then there was Tim Lincecum. I am not going to blame his demise on Posey, but 2012 was his first bad season. In that season, he had his worst year regarding the three true outcomes until 2016. In other words, he improved in the following years.
Posey deserves some credit for his work with Ryan Vogelsong, and Barry Zito was just bad, not the worst he’s ever been. He was a good defensive catcher, but it wasn’t enough. Molina should have easily made up that nearly one win difference (counting pitch framing) based on what happened with the pitchers and the way he handled them. It’s hard as a voter to look that deep into the numbers, but Molina should have been the MVP. Instead, he received fourth place.
The Cardinals notice Yadier Molina's impact every season, but MVP voters only take note when Molina puts up… https://t.co/ZdnatVYjKV
— St. Louis BBWAA (@StLouisBBWAA) September 26, 2016
Fast-forward to 2013 and Molina’s effect was even more obvious. When he caught games that year, Cardinals pitchers posted an ERA of 3.16. When backup Tony Cruz was behind the plate, that number jumped to 4.11. Molina shaved off nearly a full run when he played that year.
In 2013, Molina also helped Wainwright drop half a run off of his FIP and kept rookie Michael Wacha’s ERA under 3.Most impressively, he helped Trevor Rosenthal keep his BB/9 down at 2.4.
Molina faced a steeper climb with intangibles and pitch framing in 2013 than he did in 2012. Andrew McCutchen won the MVP with 8.2 WAR. Molina “only” got to 5.7 that year. However, it could be argued that he made up that difference just with pitch framing. Per StatCorner, he rated as 19.7 runs above average in that department. Ten runs is roughly a win, but average is not replacement. Average is one win better than replacement. Now, that full win would not be allocated to pitch framing, but you can see where I get close to 2.5. Factor in what he does with a pitching staff, and you might be reaching the same conclusion I did.
Baseball owes Yadier Molina two MVP awards. I am not saying they should gift him one; two (three?) wrongs don’t make a right. However, Cardinals fans want to see him in the Hall of Fame, and two sets of three initials would go a long way towards making that happen. Baseball never appreciated Molina the way Cardinals fans did. Writers and other teams’ fans never saw the true value he brought the Cardinals. They knew each pitcher did better with him, but they never cared enough to calculate how much better.
So why am I writing this article now? In case I haven’t noticed, the Cardinals are trying to capture a Wild Card spot. I am writing this article because everything I said still applies. Nobody is talking about him outside of St. Louis and, to be honest, we have been taking him for granted here on Cardsblog. I have been writing for this website since May 1. This is my 34th article but my first on Yadi. In that same time frame, we as a group have written as many articles about his presumed heir, Carson Kelly, as we have about him (2). Only Eddie Liu’s article actually praised him for what he has done:
Nevertheless, Molina is doing it again. He is adding more than a win above replacement to his already stellar 2.6 WAR with pitch framing. At age 34, he is playing more often than he ever has, and he has been fine. Mike Leake’s ERA stinks, but his FIP is the best it has ever been. Wainwright might not be an ace anymore, but Molina has been good enough to keep his FIP under 4 coming off of a major injury. The Cardinals have had two rookies in their rotation for most of the last month, and each had some degree of success at some point in there. There have been so many moving parts in the bullpen this year, but Molina has been the glue that kept it together.
He has guided this team to where it is, and everyone outside of St. Louis talks about Carlos Martinez, Aledmys Diaz, Seung-hwan Oh, among others. All I know is that if the Cardinals make the playoffs, Molina will be one of the biggest reasons why. He did it last night with his bat, blasting a homer and a walk-off double. He does it all the time with his baseball acumen and defensive ability. Baseball has under appreciated this man for his entire career and it isn’t stopping now. It’s time to start talking about the player who makes this Cardinals team great every year, the face of the franchise, the player only St. Louis knows how to really root for: Yadier Molina.
Photo Credit: Jeff Curry – USA TODAY Sports