MLB: Seattle Mariners at St. Louis Cardinals

I know, I know: of all the players in baseball, Yadier Molina needs more smoke blown up his ass the least. As a member of the Cardinals and Molina brother, he already attracts all manner of attention for his exploits on the field.

Over-inflated as his tires might be, it is important to recognize that Yadi Molina is in fact one of the best players in baseball. He is in fact one of the two or three best catchers in the game right now. He is looked upon adoringly by his teammates and revered by his opponents. With out without the recognition of the writers’ association, Yadier Molina is an invaluable member of the best organization in the game.

An amazing thing happened in 2011 – Yadier Molina turned from a good hitter for a catcher to a flat out good hitter. He maintained his high-contact approach but started hitting for more power, doubling his 2010 ISO and maintaining those gains over the last three years. He is the quintessential Cardinals hitter – not a lot of walks but line drives and doubles for days.

It helped transform Molina from simply a very, very good catcher to the finest in the game. No other catcher matches his durability and production since 2011.

1 Yadier Molina 15.6 413 1622 188 48 108 154 19 10 .842
2 Buster Posey 14.0 341 1390 156 43 147 196 6 2 .872
3 Carlos Santana 12.2 452 1909 231 65 281 344 11 9 .808
4 Joe Mauer 11.3 342 1482 181 24 183 215 8 5 .838
5 Matt Wieters 9.1 431 1723 198 67 151 300 6 0 .749
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/14/2013.

That Molina realized these gains as he neared 30 and kept them, all while catching 393 games – just under 3500 innings without considering two runs to the World Series, a trip to the NLCS as well as the World Baseball Classic.

His control of the running game is legendary and his pitch calling wins plaudits from all corners of the game. Catcher defense is tough to measure but those metrics we do have shine on the Cardinals backstop. He won the Gold Glove and a Fielding Bible award this season for his defense, all while putting up similar offensive numbers to Jose Bautista, Hunter Pence, and Giancarlo Stanton.

Andrew McCutchen will probably win the NL MVP tonight, with consideration given to Clayton Kershaw and Paul Goldschmidt. For the second year in a row, the NL race is wide open. For me, Yadier Molina checks all the boxes for the most valuable player.

Everyone loves Wins Above Replacement and I am no different. The framework is is brilliant in its simplicity. As the quality of the data input improves, the precision of the measure will improve right along with it. The most common sore spot is the defensive component, and the accuracy of the current group of advanced defensive metrics.

But what about the positional adjustments? Take a look around the league at the paucity of catching talent. Watch how desperately teams chase viable catchers during this free agency period. Consider how far above the current standard of big league catching does Yadier Molina in a world where J.P. Arencibia attracts attention on the trade market, not the record for world’s fastest non-tendering.

With Joe Mauer transitioning to first base full time, Yadier Molina and Buster Posey are the best catchers in baseball. They play the most important position on the field. Not coincidentally, their teams have played in four straight World Series (note: this actually is coincidental.) The value of a catcher is nearly incalculable.

The Cardinals put a value on Yadier Molina last offseason, signing him to a five-year, $75MM contract extension. He will be with the Cards through the 2018 season if his option gets picked up. Some will vote him the most valuable player in 2013 but likely not enough to give him the hardware.

The hype pendulum swings back and forth. After the 20th Tim McCarver frothing, it is easy to tune out when Yadi Molina’s greatness becomes the topic of conversation. Which is a shame, because the youngest Molina catcher is not only the best in the family, he might be the best in the game today. After hearing it for years, sometimes it’s important to recognize it as fact, not fable.