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Wednesday, June 18, 2014
NL All-Star debate: Vote Molina or Lucroy?

By David Schoenfield



It's about time somebody in baseball lightens up. So, thank you, Milwaukee Brewers marketing department, for this wonderful video that has a little fun with the All-Star voting while simultaneously satirizing those ridiculous political ads.

In the ad, a woman's voiceover says, "Yadier Molina is a great catcher, but did you know that he plays for the St. Louis Cardinals? Do you want another St. Louis Cardinal to start in an All-Star Game? Isn't there a better way?" We see a picture of Molina with a baby crying in the background. As we see highlights of Jonathan Lucroy, the voice says "Cast your vote for change." At the end, we hear Lucroy saying, "I'm Jonathan Lucroy, and I approve this message."

There was a similar ad for Carlos Gomez, but everyone is talking about the Lucroy ad. Why? Because Cardinals manager Mike Matheny apparently found it a little offensive.

He told MLB.com:
"I think you have to take it in the nature in which it was meant, and it was meant to be geared toward their fan base. It was just amazing that it was that much directed at our organization. I think that part probably caught me off guard the most.

"Not saying that's surprising. We've gone through this the last few years, especially last year with the Cardinal Way stuff getting blown way out of proportion. I think it can put a bad taste in a lot of peoples' mouth."

Jonathan Lucroy
Jonathan Lucroy's solid receiving skills make him more than just a three-month wonder in any All-Star conversation.
Lighten up, Mike. I mean, I know you learned from the Master of Seriousness, Tony La Russa, but a little spirited amusement is OK. We get enough consternation over players flipping bats and admiring home runs, so we don't need yet another "issue" that makes baseball too much like the No Fun League. And really, the ad, as you sort of admit, isn't criticizing Molina or the organization. If anything, it should be viewed as a compliment to all the great things the Cardinals have accomplished in recent years.

As the creator of the ad, Brad Weimer, told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, "The only thing we accuse Yadier Molina of in the entire ad is being a St. Louis Cardinal. That’s it. And it’s tongue in cheek. Just having some fun. But I can see why some passionate fans might get a little riled up."

Indeed, the Internet lit up with anti-Cardinals sentiment. Non-Cardinals fans are certainly tired of the "best fans in baseball" stuff that Cardinals fans love to trumpet. (There's a Twitter account that retweets nasty things Cardinals fans tweet, existing to prove that Cardinals fans can be just as ugly and obnoxious as other fans.) The Cardinal Way thing got out of hand last year when the Cardinals set an MLB record with batting average in runners in scoring position, and it was breathlessly reported that Cardinals hitters had figured out some magical hitting aptitude. (They're 20th in the majors this season with RISP at .245.)

As for the actual issue at hand, Molina has a comfortable lead over Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants in the voting with Lucroy third, but this is what makes many All-Star debates fun: How much do you just look at the current year and how much do you factor in the past?

If you're focusing just on 2014, the choice is pretty clear:

Lucroy: .340/.403/.537, 8 HR, 37 RBI, 34 R, 3.9 bWAR/3.4 fWAR
Molina: .284/.332/.407, 6 HR, 26 RBI, 23 R, 1.0 bWAR/1.6 fWAR
Posey: .276/.335/.421, 9 HR, 35 RBI, 28 R, 1.4 bWAR/1.3 fWAR
Evan Gattis: .294/.346/.588, 16 HR, 38 RBI, 26 R, 1.8 bWAR, 2.4 fWAR

I threw in Gattis, as his recent power surge has him putting up some nice numbers at the plate.

The WAR totals (using both flavors, bWAR from Baseball-Reference and fWAR from FanGraphs) include a catcher's throwing ability -- at which Molina obviously excels -- but not a catcher's pitch-framing ability. Molina excels there as well, but so does Lucroy. According to StatCorner.com, Lucroy has saved more runs with his pitch framing than any other catcher. That's no fluke considering Lucroy also ranked No. 1 last season and fifth in 2012 (when he missed time with injury). Molina actually ranks just below average this year, so I'm not sure what's going on there. Posey ranks high the past three seasons. Gattis doesn't have a good reputation but ranks about average this year.

Anyway, the point is that while Molina is an all-time great defensive catcher, Lucroy and Posey are also positives defensively. But Lucroy and Gattis are certainly having the better seasons offensively, and Lucroy easily trumps the other three in WAR.

Should 2014 be the only factor? The defenders of that argument point out that it's the 2014 All-Star Game, not the career All-Star Game. The argument against is that we shouldn't consider three months as the best evaluation of a player's ability and thus have to consider previous performance. A third argument is that it's the All-STAR Game and Molina and Posey are stars. In 2014, this especially applies to Derek Jeter, no longer one of the best players in the game but certainly a player a lot of fans want to see in the All-Star Game.

It is important to remember that Lucroy has been a good player, not just a guy having three hot months -- 3.6 fWAR in 2013 and 3.6 in 2012, when he played just 96 games -- but Molina has gone 5.6 and 6.1, while Posey has been valued at 4.7 and 7.6.

There are cases to be made for all three. I like to weigh it about 50/50 -- half this season and half the player's past. But Lucroy is so far ahead of the others right now that I'm casting my vote for change.