Buster Posey beat out Yadier Molina for the Major League Baseball National League MVP award for the same reason that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures can be found at garage sales. Value, like beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder.
There's no question that Posey deserves the award over Molina when judging by traditional MVP standards. The Bay Area backstop outpaced his St. Louis Cardinals catching counterpart in batting average, home runs and RBI—the three core statistical categories in Jonathan Bernstein's proven method for predicting National League MVPs. He also held advantages in runs, OPS and WAR, if any of those metrics strike your fancy.
Yes, Molina is no match for Posey on the stat sheets. The voters responded as predictably as a mother rummaging through her adult son's old toy chest.
But Molina's true value will never show up in a box score no matter how advanced baseball metrics become. That fact may prevent him from ever winning an MVP award.
Sure, Molina's defensive contributions are well documented. He not only took home his fifth consecutive Gold Glove, but he also remained the only player ever to win the NL Platinum Glove. ESPN Insider Scott Spratt details the evidence showing Molina not only deserved that award, but the MVP as well.
Yet even his prowess behind the plate can't be fully measured.
Only opposing managers and players know how many times they decided not to run on Molina's rocket arm. Only Cardinals pitchers know how much more effectively and frequently they can execute all those nasty curve balls in the dirt because of the confidence they have in the man receiving them.
Molina's true hidden value, however, is neither offensive nor defensive.
How can you classify the handling of an entire pitching staff? The way he prepares the St. Louis starters and relievers, calls a game, manages with mound visits and even frames pitches is all second to none. But how can you ever hope to measure those nuances with statistics?
You can't, but you can still see the fruits of his labor. Just ask Adam Wainwright. His quote, reported by MLB.com's Matthew Leach, is quite revealing.
You could talk all day about how special Yadi is. I think the big thing is that he gives you confidence in many different ways. Guys get on base, you know you can bounce balls. You know you can throw balls to the corners and he's going to make them look like strikes. He's going to throw guys out. He makes you believe in your stuff the way he talks to you on the mound.
Molina's elite defensive skill set and masterful handling of the pitching staff always led me to believe that he would be a lock to win MVP if he could ever post above average numbers on offense. The Triple Crown categories apparently still reign as king, however, and thus trump all (don't even get me started on Miguel Cabrera versus Mike Trout). It's the only explanation for how such a complete and well-rounded player like Molina could finish fourth in MVP voting.
Fangraphs' Dave Cameron compares Molina's combination of offense and defense to that of Johnny Bench and details why his 2012 campaign was one of the best seasons by a catcher in MLB history. He has always been one of the game's toughest strikeouts and best situational hitters because of his impressive plate discipline, but now Molina has the categorical chops to legitimize his MVP candidacy. He even finished with 12 stolen bases despite his legendary lack of speed.
Andy McCullough of the New Jersey Star Ledger rounds out this conversation by pointing out the number of games Molina played as catcher. Posey's batting splits between his time spent at catcher and first base illustrate the significant difference between the two.
Molina clearly faded as an offensive threat down the stretch. His reliability as a backstop not only explains this, but makes his final line look even more impressive.
Yes, Posey clearly topped Molina in the traditional batting categories that MVP voters annually drool over. The margin here, however, is not significant enough to outweigh Molina's elite value on defense and presence that essentially amounts to having a manager on the field.
McCollough says it best when explaining his vote for the Cardinals catcher:
I think Molina is more valuable. He played catcher more often. He plays catcher like no one else in baseball today. And the best offensive season of his career made him the Most Valuable Player in the National League, a very good hitter who plays the game's most critical position better than anyone else.
Now that's beauty—even more beautiful than a 50-cent sticker attached to those plastic works of art known as Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo.
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