MVP? Buster Posey May Not Even Be the Best Catcher in the National League This Season
Recently a groundswell of support has pushed Buster Posey to the forefront of the 2012 National League MVP race. After all, he is putting up great numbers in a San Francisco Giants lineup that lacks pop and lost outfielder Melky Cabrera to a 50 game suspension. There is no arguing that Posey is having a fine season and is deserving of the many platitudes he has and will continue to receive, but looking into the matter further, a case can be made that he is not even having the best year by a catcher in the National League.
The player standing between Posey having a stranglehold on the title of best catcher in the NL and perhaps the MVP is Yadier Molina of the St. Louis Cardinals. Always a defensive whiz, Molina has continued to improve as a hitter throughout his career, to the point where he has become an impact player at the plate. A closer examination of some statistics exploring and contrasting the two catchers helps illuminate who is actually having the better season.
|OPS+||170 *Leads Majors||138|
|Runs Batting (Runs better or worse player was than average)||47||26|
|WAA (Wins Above Average)||4.9||4.9|
|OWAR (Offensive Wins Above Replacement||6.6||4.5|
|Stolen Base Attempts Against||116||67|
|Caught Stealing %||31%||46%|
|Def. Runs Saved Above Average Per 1200 Innings||-13||18|
|DWAR (Defensive Wins Above Replacement)||0.3||2.5|
There is no denying that Posey is having a monster year with his bat. His 170 OPS+ not only leads the NL, but also bests Angels rookie sensation Mike Trout (169) for the major league lead. Posey’s basic numbers like batting average and home runs are similar to those of Molina, but playing half his games in a pitcher’s stadium like AT&T Park increases their significance.
On paper Posey’s offensive output looks great, but not like those of a classic masher, however taking a deeper look shows how impressive he has really been. In addition to his OPS+, his 47 runs batting total is comparable to offensive assassin Miguel Cabrera’s 48. Additionally, Posey’s 6.6 offensive WAR places him 2nd in the National League, behind only Andrew McCutchen and comfortably ahead of fellow MVP candidate Ryan Braun (Molina is currently tied for 6th in this category), which is particularly unusual from the catcher position.
Molina would be getting much more attention for his offensive production if it wasn’t for Posey. He is just below the San Francisco catcher in almost every offensive category, and only bests him on the base paths with his 12 steals; no small feat for a member of the notoriously lead-footed Molina family.
While the numbers clearly show Posey is having a slightly better year than Molina at the plate, the opposite is true when it comes to their defensive work. It all starts with the 123 games (1045.2 innings) Molina has caught so far in 2012, compared to 106 games (914 innings) for Posey. Both players often play first base when not catching. Molina having caught more games allows the Cardinals to plug a typically stronger hitter into their lineup at first base, instead of having to rely on a backup catcher. Both St. Louis and San Francisco have weak hitting backup catchers, making every game they can be kept on the bench a boon for the offense. The approximate 15 extra games caught by Molina has given his team an additional advantage beyond what he brings beyond his own presence, making his impact that much greater on his team’s lineup.
The defensive dominance of Molina doesn’t stop at his superhuman ability to play so many games. He is significantly above the league average in just about every defensive metric, making him one of the best and underappreciated weapons in the game. National League catchers have thrown out an average of 27% of base runners this year. Posey has nabbed a very respectable 31%, but Molina is in another stratosphere at 46%. He not only cuts down the runners, but he makes them think twice about running. Posey has had 116 runners attempt steals, which is nearly twice as many as the 67 brave souls who have been willing to test Molina.
In addition to his powerful arm Molina is a graceful defender. His mere 3 errors have led to a nearly flawless .997 fielding percentage, besting Posey’s .991. Another metric calculates that Molina has saved 18 runs more per 1,200 innings than an average catcher, while Posey is 13 runs below average. That difference of 31 runs represents a significant chasm in impact, which is also played out in their defensive WAR (Molina: 2.5 versus Posey: 0.3).
WAR is certainly not the end-all, be-all of stats, but it can be a useful tool in evaluating the impact of a player’s combined offensive and defensive production. It is clear that Posey has the offensive edge, and Molina has him easily on defense. WAR shows in the sum total of the offensive and defensive skills of both players that Molina is only slightly behind Posey this season (6.4 to 6.3), and has been see-sawing back and forth recently, meaning that his dominance with the glove makes up the gap in hitting.
It can’t be said enough that there is no one stat that tells the full story, but evaluating as many advanced baseball metrics as possible can provide a great deal of clarity. Buster Posey has had an amazing year and is worthy of all the accolades, but the numbers show that Yadier Molina is having essentially the same impact. As debates over who will win the National League MVP heat up over the final few weeks of the season, it’s important to keep in mind that Molina is not only a viable candidate, he might just end up deserving to be a frontrunner.
Andrew Martin is the founder of “The Baseball Historian” blog where he posts his thoughts about baseball on a regular basis. He can be reached at email@example.com. You can also reach him on Twitter at @historianandrew.