11/15/2013 10:00 A.M. ET
Molina should have been NL MVP Award winner
Cards' catcher impacts more aspects of game like no other player
By Mike Bauman / MLB.com
Yadier Molina should be the Most Valuable Player in the National League, by a landslide margin. But he isn't. Here is the core problem:
We are living in a time in which the primary MVP argument sounds a lot like: "My algorithm is better than your algorithm; nyah, nyah, nyah."
Unfortunately for Yadi, some of his best work is not quantifiable. There is no metric that fully covers the importance of him patiently nurturing a rookie pitcher through a tough inning. There is no precise measurement for him blocking a curveball in the dirt that no other catcher could handle. There is no solid empirical evidence to measure when a running team wisely decides it cannot run against him and one of the opposition's main weapons vanishes.
Molina is the catcher on the NL's best team, the St. Louis Cardinals. He is -- and this should be beyond the range of reasonable dispute by now -- the best defensive catcher of his era. He has won six straight Gold Glove Awards.
He is the best defender at what has typically been a defense-first position. He just had one of his most productive offensive seasons, but that is not the point. In the MVP balloting, Molina does not get full credit for his defensive excellence, including his astute handling of his pitching staff.
"The writers always undervalue defense," an NL manager says of the MVP voting, which is done by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
This is true. Defense is also undervalued by all the commentators who harp endlessly on advanced offensive metric comparisons between various MVP candidates. Molina was frequently not even mentioned in these discussions, all of which were highly detailed and completely missed the point.
None of this is said to detract from the worth of the winner of the NL MVP Award, Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates. McCutchen is a splendid all-around player on a team that emerged from a 21-year drought to advance into the postseason. He is a terrific story. So are the Pirates. That still doesn't make him more valuable than Molina.
Ditto for the second-place finisher in the balloting, Paul Goldschmidt of the Arizona Diamondbacks, who had a tremendously productive offensive season. He deserves plenty of recognition, much more than he has received to date. That also doesn't make him more valuable than Molina.
It is possible that Molina's candidacy was damaged in this year's balloting by the fact that one of his teammates, second baseman Matt Carpenter, finished fourth in the MVP balloting.
But when you consider that McCutchen had 28 first-place votes (the other two went to Molina), the internal competition wasn't the core issue. Molina's value isn't being fully appreciated in this election. And that's not particularly surprising, given the fact that much of his value does not lend itself to automatic quantification.
To more accurately measure Molina's worth, you would do better to look directly into the eyes of Michael Wacha, 22-year-old rookie, after he threw one of his four straight postseason gems. How was he able to do this with so little experience, under such great pressure?
"I just tried to get locked with Yadi," he said. "I just went with whatever Yadi threw down."
"I think he's invaluable to those young guys," said Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright, who finished second in the NL Cy Young Award race. "I don't think you can put a 'games won' or a price tag on what he has done to help our young pitchers. The large majority of our pitchers don't shake one time throughout a game, because they're throwing to Yadi, and they know he has a good plan and they trust him."
Molina's extreme diligence in preparation paid off with a St. Louis staff that relied on young pitching throughout the season. The Cardinals' staff that went to the World Series included six rookies, or 50 percent of the staff. These people were highly talented, but they also were unanimous in placing complete trust in their catcher.
The Cardinals were the best NL team in the regular season and then the best NL team in the postseason. There were a lot of people contributing to this status, but the one indispensable man was Molina, a big contributor in both halves of the inning.
With the tying run on third, the kid pitcher could throw the breaking ball in the dirt that Molina just called for, because the pitcher knew that pitch couldn't get past Yadi. That trust, that faith, that confidence, where is the metric measuring that?
No, Molina didn't win the NL MVP Award, but that wasn't due to any shortcoming on his part. He issued a statement with heartfelt congratulations to McCutchen on Thursday night. Yadi will just have to make do with the pennant and the complete respect of the entire St. Louis organization. As consolation prizes go, that stuff is, like Molina himself, very valuable. Maybe even invaluable.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.