While much of the National League Most Valuable Player talk has shifted out West to campaign for San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey, the catcher who should receive that award is in St. Louis.
No discussion about the NL MVP award should leave out Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, but most breakdowns of the MVP frontrunners inexplicably don’t include Molina.
For years, people could point to Molina’s offensive numbers as a way to keep him out of an award that honors what a player does at the plate much more than what he does with his glove. But this year Molina is hitting a career-best .332 with 19 homeruns, 66 RBIs and even 11 stolen bases heading into play Saturday. Each of those numbers is already a career-high, and there is still nearly 20 games left in the season.
Despite Molina’s numbers, Posey still surpasses him in every category except stolen bases. Posey would be a solid choice for MVP. His return to the Giants this year after missing most of 2011 after a horrific collision at the plate has made the Giants a better team. But Molina’s skills beyond the stat sheet should give him the edge.
Molina’s defense has always been his hallmark trait. He already has four Gold Gloves and has caught 47 percent of baserunners this year, which is substantially better than Posey’s 29 percent rate. But Molina has also allowed just 33 stolen bases compared to Posey’s 80. Baserunners don’t often steal against Molina because he has such a strong reputation as a great throwing catcher, a reputation that is well-earned. Molina also has a wins-above-replacement of 6.3 compared to Posey’s 6.0.
Molina is a force behind the plate with just his presence. When Albert Pujols left in the offseason to join the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Molina stepped in as the unquestioned leader of the team. Sure, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Matt Holliday are also team leaders, but Molina is the drive-train that has carried the Cardinals through the 2012 season.
Interestingly, Holliday is getting more MVP attention than Molina. Holliday is hitting .298 with 27 homers and 96 RBIs. Those are certainly impressive numbers, but they don’t stand out so much that he should be considered the best, or most important, player in the league this year. Holliday is an offensive force, but Molina is the complete package. There hasn’t been an area of the game Molina hasn’t excelled in this year.
Need to catch a baserunner? Molina has thrown out 29 this year. Need the pitcher to drop a pitch in the dirt with two strikes? Molina has just four passed balls. Need a hit in a clutch situation? Molina is hitting .337 with runners in scoring position. He has also played in 123 games, the fifth-most on the team.
He will also defend the plate even if it means getting hit by a truck. Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Josh Harrison mowed down Molina in the second inning of a game Aug. 28. Amazingly, Molina held onto the ball for the out. He had to come out of the game, but he was back in the lineup after missing just one game.
That’s not to say Posey isn’t as tough because he no longer blocks the plate. Posey’s ankle was destroyed in a collision early last season, and it would be stupid to ask him to risk another similar injury because he is an important part of the team.
The National League has other worthy candidates outside Posey and Molina. Pirates centerfielder Andrew McCutchen is having a great season, as is Milwaukee Brewers leftfielder Ryan Braun. But, neither of those players play fantastic defense, and their position is not nearly as demanding defensively.
Many MVP races are decided by which team makes the postseason, but for some reason Posey is much more likely to win the award even if the Giants and Cardinals both make the playoffs. Maybe there is still a stigma against Molina’s hitting abilities.
Molina doesn’t play for a bad team, but voters have already shown they will vote for the best player regardless of the team’s record. They gave the Cy Young award to Seattle Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez in 2010 even though he went 13-12 and the team had a 61-101 record.
In any case, Molina is a deserving candidate for this year’s NL MVP award. Now it’s up to the voters to recognize his brilliance includes more than a golden glove.