Barring a statistical collapse by the likes of Andrew McCutchen and David Wright, the possibility of someone from the Cardinals taking home the NL MVP hardware this year seems remote at best. That does not necessarily mean that one or more players has not earned the right to be mentioned in the MVP debate, but perception often trumps reality. The current perception of Matt Holliday as an offensive beast with greatly improved defense in LF likely gets the lion’s share of attention. Too bad, because he probably would not even win MVP of his own team, if everyone involved took time to make a close examination of the incontrovertible facts.
Of the 2 top MVP candidates on the Cardinals one has a batting line of .325/.375/.511/.886, and the other is Matt Holliday. Holliday’s line of .306/.380/.525/.905 deserves as much attention as the aforementioned line owned by Molina, and Holliday certainly has the other counting stats to go with that line. Credit Holliday for 24 HR, 90 RBI, 32 doubles, 83 runs scored, and an OPS+ of 145. Of course, Yadier Molina has 17 HR, 62 RBI, 11 steals, 25 doubles, 51 runs scored, and his OPS+ is 141. Just how close are the 2 in terms of offensive production? Holliday has accounted for 4.1 oWAR. Molina has produced 4.0 oWAR. The difference in plate appearances represents the only real distinction between the 2 offensively. Holliday has 558 plate appearances which exceeds Molina’s PA count by 111.
Then consider the defense, and try to ignore the “best defensive catcher in the game” label many have given to Molina. Molina leads the team in dWAR with 2.2. For greater perspective, Holliday ranks 38th on the team at -0.2 . In truth, Molina’s defense makes him a perennial Gold Glove candidate with a top 10 dWAR ranking in the league. That’s no knock on Holliday, but Yadi’s portable arm cannon cuts down would-be base stealers at a ridiculous 46.2% rate which ranks him first among all NL catchers in that department. He can potentially shut down other teams, and makes many players less aggressive on the bases. You cannot truly put a value on that, but rest assured that his teammates (especially pitchers) appreciate the way he can erase a man on base who either strays too far from the bag or fails to get a good jump.
Of course, Yadi’s defense performance takes nothing away from Holliday’s work in the field. It just overshadows it. Holliday’s 6 outfield assists puts him just 2 shy of the most he’s had as a member of the Cardinals, and his improved footwork has not gone unnoticed. Like pretty much everyone else on the team, he simply does not stack up while when compared to Yadi.
On many teams, Holliday would be considered the beast in the middle of the lineup to be avoided at all costs. In St. Louis, he’s one of 7 position players hitting .300 or higher. He’s one of 7 regulars with an OBP of .370 or higher. Despite slugging at a .525 clip, he doesn’t even lead the Cardinals in that department, because Allen Craig has him by almost 50 points (.572). Craig also leads the team in OPS and OPS+.
Again, none of this takes anything away from either candidate, but it does provide some additional context. Success begets success, and hitting in the middle of such a great lineup must change the way some people look at both Holliday and Molina. Given that 3 other starters in that lineup are tied at 3.1 WAR for the season, you might be hard-pressed to find talking points that support the argument that either one really provides significantly greater value than anybody else.
Ultimately, the biggest factor working against both Holliday and Molina might simply be that they happen to be teammates. Some voters may link the two based on team affiliation without realizing how much or little 1 impacts the other. That ignorance of fact may prove the undoing of their respective chances at winning MVP, but it takes nothing away from 2 outstanding individual performances.
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TIDBITS: With RISP, Molina is hitting .348/.417/.551/.968 which tops Holliday’s line of .271/.372/.411/.783. With 2 outs and RISP, Holliday hits .218/.283/.327/.611. In that same situation, Molina is hitting .326/.404/.543/.947. In situations defined as “high leverage” which should not be mistaken with the ethereal concept of “clutch”, Molina goes for .389/.418/.611/1.029 while Holliday goes for .303/.402/.562/.964.