Lindbergh: On Yadier Molina’s maybe-amazing powers of defensive positioning

From SABR member Ben Lindbergh at Baseball Prospectus on April 25, 2013:

We know now that Yadier Molina is much more valuable than we thought he was even, say, two seasons ago. In part, that’s because he’s improved in obvious ways: that “handful more homers” turned into 14 in 2011, then 22 in 2012. Suddenly, the guy whose bat we once comped to Mike Matheny’s is one of the best-hitting catchers in baseball. But it’s also because we’ve learned more about what the things he was already doing were worth. Our best estimate is that Molina saved the Cardinals 35 runs last season through framing, something we couldn’t have said prior to PITCHf/x. Even if his contributions from framing were worth a fraction of that, Molina’s fourth-place MVP finish last season probably understated his skills.

But as much as we’ve come to appreciate Molina’s value, both at the plate and behind it, we might still be selling him short. A few days ago, Buster Olney blogged about a previously unappreciated (by me) aspect of Molina’s game:

The other St. Louis Cardinals players on the field keep their eyes on Yadier Molina constantly, pitch to pitch, in the way that interstate truck drivers might lock in on the leader of a convoy. Everything they do — every decision, every movement — follows what he does, and Molina’s subtle instructions could come at any moment.

With a slight nod of his head, a subtle gesture of his hand, Molina will tell the fielders what’s going to happen next, and where to go.

For example: If Molina knows he is about to ask left-hander Jaime Garcia to throw a back-foot slider to a right-handed hitter, he will subtly indicate this to the third baseman — with a tilt of his head or a motion with his hand — to give Freese a heads-up that the hitter might be slapping a grounder his way. The third baseman might back up a step, and move a step closer to the line.

Three or four times a game — “and sometimes more,” [Jon] Jay said — Molina will indicate to his center fielder what to look for. Jay says he yells a quick heads-up to the other outfielders, and then they will all shift as one. It all happens so rapidly and subtly that Jay doesn’t worry about tipping off the opposing hitters.

Read the full article here:

Originally published: April 25, 2013. Last Updated: April 25, 2013.