MIAMI – For all that is now quantifiable in baseball, there are still some things that cannot be measured. The effect of St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina on a pitching staff is one of them.
‘Now that I get to watch him a little bit, he’s the best,” said former major-league first baseman Carlos Delgado, Team Puerto Rico’s hitting coach in the World Baseball Classic.
“He’ll go to a pitcher and tell him, ‘Make a pitch. I’ll block it. It’s on me.’ He’ll take that responsibility,” Delgado said. “When you’ve got a younger guy on the mound, and he’s a little hesitant about bouncing a breaking ball to put a hitter away, and you’ve got the best catcher in the game that goes to the mound and says, ‘Finish your pitch. Don’t worry about it. I’ll do it. I’ll block it.’ . . . it gives pitchers that confidence that they can finish their pitches.
“They don’t even have to think. Throw what he puts down. Trust him. It takes a lot of weight off them.”
Puerto Rico allowed only seven runs in three games in the first round of the tournament, and their opponents included two powerhouses, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. Even Tuesday night, in a 7-1 loss to Team USA in the opener of the second round, Puerto Rico stayed close before the U.S. scored three runs in the eighth inning.
So, how do you quantify any of this?
Molina ranked eighth in the majors with a 3.60 catcher’s ERA last season, but the flaw in that statistic, as noted by sabermetricians, is selection bias; a catcher’s ERA is largely contingent on the quality of his pitchers.
Team Puerto Rico’s pitching staff in the WBC is mostly young and less than major-league caliber. The Cardinals, too, are going with younger pitchers this season; they’ve lost Chris Carpenter to injury and almost certainly will lose free agent Kyle Lohse. But the Molina advantage allows his teams to take such chances.
You can’t quite measure it. But it’s there.