In Baseball, everyone knows that offense wins innings; defense wins games, and pitching wins championships. However, what about the man behind the mask? The catcher is part of both defense and pitching. From working with the pitching staff on a personal and professional basis, to calling every pitch, the catcher makes sure that pitching stays on course, and if things go awry, they right the ship and reset the course. Catching is one of the most overlooked positions in Baseball, and it is the most crucial to a championship ring.
So where does Yadier Molina fit into all of this? He is considered the best of the current generation at the catching position, and his defensive skills are almost impeccable. At 28, his fielding percentage over the past eight seasons is .993 behind the plate, and his average caught stealing percentage is 44 percent. This season, he had the fewest stolen base attempts against him in the majors at 46. His arm, his defensive skills, and his awareness behind the plate are outstanding, and it is present almost every game. Granted, his caught stealing percentage was only 29 percent this past season, but when the league average is around 20 percent, his numbers have come down from godlike to above average. In 2005, he threw out 64 percent of would be base stealers, one of the highest percentages ever. His skills are so refined behind the plate, that when his knee was bothering him in the World Series, he sat back on one knee, and just picked bouncing balls like a shortstop. His defensive play is what puts him in the same class with greats like Thurman Munson, Yogi Berra, and Ivan Rodriguez.
What is impressive is even though his defensive numbers are so stellar; his hitting has become another great weapon in his arsenal He batted .305 last season, with 14 home runs, 32 doubles, and 65 RBI, all career bests. His offense continues to shine, and on the biggest stage, his average gets even better. In his 3 World Series appearances, he is batting .341 with 4 doubles and 10 RBI. Since his rookie season in 2004, his bat continues to improve, and how he will grow and improve next season is continuing to build up.
The numbers might give a good look at how good a player is on the field, but they never show the intangibles. The trust, the respect, and the presence felt by teammates in the clubhouse and on the field can never be measured by statistics. Last season, when you would watch a game, you might see Molina look to the dugout twice in a game for a possible defensive shift. Other than those occasional glances, he was the leader on the field. He called every pitch, he called every snap-throw, and he made sure the defense knew how to play each hitter. When he deals with a struggling pitcher, his tone and reaction is different depending on the pitcher. With guys like Lance Lynn and Chris Carpenter, he is a calm, soothing presence that comes out to relax the pitcher and make sure he is free of tension before the next pitch. With others, like Jason Motte, he has to pump them up and get the adrenaline flowing for them to focus and put everything behind the ball. These are some things that cannot be measured with mathematics, and they are some of the biggest focal points of being a battery mate as a catcher.
With these amazing numbers and intangible qualities, how do you not build a team around a catcher with all five tools? With Albert Pujols gone, it seems like the pressure will be on the shoulders of veteran leaders like Molina, however. Rising stars like David Freese and Allen Craig, along with new Cardinals Outfielder Carlos Beltran; Molina’s job becomes a lot easier at the plate. His defensive play will always be a cornerstone of the Cardinals organization, and it is the how aggressive his nature is. He is one of the many faces of the Cardinals, and he will continue to grow to one of the big names in baseball.