Many fans might have been surprised by Yadier Molina's five-year, $75 million contract extension. It even dwarfed Victor Martinez's free-agent one.
However, examination of Molina's career reveals that it has been an extraordinary one on multiple levels.
The St. Louis Cardinals have amassed a 55.4 win percentage in his career starts, with a 489-394 record. In the playoffs, the win percentage of 56.7 is even better; a record of 27-21 and World Series championships in 2006 and 2011.
He's been an unusual catcher who has gotten stronger as the season has progressed. For his career, Molina's on-base plus slugging percentage peaks at .778 in August and remains high, registering .744 in September. His 57 career go-ahead hits suggest that he is a clutch hitter. This is verified by his .777 OPS in 444 bats with 2 outs and runners in scoring position, as well as his .754 OPS in "late and close" situations.
But it is his role as catcher that defines his value. Molina, in conjunction with famed pitching coach Dave Duncan, have rescued and revived so many jeopardized pitching careers.
Let's start with Chris Carpenter.
Between 1997-2002, when Carpenter was in the AL, he was 49-50 with a 4.70 ERA and a .808 opponent OPS. He surrendered a home run every 8.4 innings and has a ground-ball rate of 46.4 percent.
With Molina catching him, Carpenter is 80-37 with a 3.10 ERA, .655 opponent OPS. He surrenders a home run every 12.7 innings, and has a ground-ball rate of 52.3 percent in his past five NL seasons. In post-season play with Molina catching him, Carpenter has been a dominating 8-1 with 11 of his 15 starts being "quality starts."
I am suggesting that Yadier's powerful throwing arm means he is less likely to call for fastballs so as to encourage would-be base stealers. This makes his pitchers less predictable. Molina also provides a lower-in-the-strike-zone target.
Admittedly, Carpenter produced a wonderful bridge year in 2004 with now Cardinals manager Mike Matheny catching him his first year in St Louis. That year's success supports the notion that Duncan contributed to Carpenter's dramatic improvement. However, Carpenter's evolution to ace occurred while he was paired with Yadier Molina.
Now let's move onto Joel Pineiro.
In 2006, Pineiro went 8-13 with a 6.36 ERA and an .876 opponent OPS with primarily Kenji Johjima catching him. He surrendered a home run every 7.1 innings and has a ground-ball rate of 48.1 percent. In 2007, Pineiro struggled in relief for the Boston Red Sox and was shipped to St. Louis.
By 2009, with Yadier Molina primarily catching him Pineiro caught fire. He won 15 games, induced a remarkable 60.6 percent groundballs, and posted a 3.16 ERA.
In fact, with Molina catching, Pineiro surrendered only six home runs in 196 innings pitched, or one every 33 innings. By comparison, pitching to Jason LaRue in 2009, Pineiro surrendered five home runs in a mere 18 innings or one every 3.6 innings!
Pineiro has not been the same guy since signing with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2010. He had a 5.74 ERA in 10 starts with Mike Napoli catching him.
The story is similar, but even more striking with Jeff Suppan. In his career with the Cardinals, Suppan went 44-26, which is a 62.9 win percentage. Excluding those years, he was 94-117, which is a 44.5 win percentage. Molina even helped coax three quality starts out of Suppan in the 2006 playoffs.
Among the catchers Suppan threw to most in his career, his ERA of 3.84 with Yadier is far superior to the 4.51 ERA with Jason Kendall, the 5.44 ERA with Brent Mayne, and the 5.43 ERA with Greg Zaun.
Kyle Lohse is 39-32, a 54.9 win percentage, in his three years with the St. Louis Cardinals. He has ground-ball rate of 44.1 percent. Before joining the Cardinals, he was 63-74, a 46.0 win percentage, and has a ground-ball rate of 41.0 percent.
In his career pitching to Molina, Lohse has a 3.98 ERA and surrendered 44 home runs in 455 innings, or one every 10.3 innings. Pitching to A.J. Pierzynski, Lohse has a 4.85 ERA and surrendered 47 home runs in 317 innings, or one every 6.75 innings. Pitching to Joe Mauer, Lohse has a 5.03 ERA and surrendered 26 home runs in 191 innings, or one every 7.35 innings.
So many other starters have had career years with Molina as the backstop.
This includes Jason Marquis between 2004-2005, Matt Morris in 2005, Braden Looper between 2006-2008, Todd Wellemeyer between 2007-2008 and Jake Westbrook in 2010. Molina also caught then unheralded Anthony Reyes who, on October 21, 2006, won Game 1 of the World Series, and Jeff Weaver who, on October 27, 2006, won the World Series clincher.
One has to include the success of current Cardinals Jaime Garcia, Adam Wainwright and Kyle McClellan on Yadier's resume. Look for Lance Lynn, the Cards first round pick in 2008, to be the beneficiary of Molina's counsel this season as Lynn fills the void while Chris Carpenter recovers.
The 2012 Cardinals have more than $46 million in payroll committed to Lohse, Carpenter, Wainwright, Westbrook, Garcia and McClellan. It makes sense for them to maximize their return on that pitching investment by teaming those valuable starters with a catcher that gets their optimal performances out of them.
Like Molina, look for catchers like Brian McCann and Carlos Ruiz to capitalize on their pitching staff's success to land sizable contract extensions in the future.