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2014 MLB SPRING PREVIEW

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PLAYERS TO WATCH, BEST OF THE ROOKIES www.lindyssports.com | 27


CONTENTS FEATURES 15 14 IN 2014

Here are the players, teams and story lines that will define the 2014 baseball season. By Ray Murphy // BaseballHQ.com

18 BASEBALL’S UNWRITTEN RULES

MLB’s code of conduct is as much a part of the game on the diamond as balls and strikes. By Derrick Goold // Athlon Sports

28 YADIER MOLINA: APPRECIATING THE QUANTIFIABLE & THE UNKNOWN Part of what makes baseball great is the am combination of the known and the unknown. See how Yadier Molina, one of baseball’s best players, is a part of that. By Craig Edwards // USA TODAY Sports

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ROOKIE CLASS

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CHAMPIONSHIP FORMULA

F.Y.I.

Looking at the top first-year players in baseball. By Scott Boeck // SportsOnEarth.com The Red Sox won the championship in 2013 with deft player acquisition and unique chemistry. However, that approach will be difficult for others to replicate. By Paul White // USA TODAY Sports

11  Editors Note 34 American League Team Preview 98 2014 Schedule 79  National League Team Preview


YADI M

APPRECIATING THE QUA

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MOLINA

ANTIFIABLE AND UNKNOWN

By Craig Edwards

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Yadi speaking with the press after practice during spring training in Jupiter, Florida.

Yadier Molina is one of baseb a come a long way in helping New studies are showing how

Albert Pujols. Adrian Gonzalez. Carlos Gonzalez Headley. Those are the five hitters who are directly wRC+ over the past three seasons with at least 1500 ahead of those players without blocking a single pitch, runner, and without turning a would-be ball into a strik elite. His hitting is relatively easy to quantify, but Moli Twenty-thousand times a season, with his eyes on pitcher, Molina crouches behind the plate and dema pitch he selected based on his understanding of the situation. Much of what he does is quantifiable. There been done in an attempt to determine just how man blocking, throwing, and framing strikes. 32 | Lindy’s Sports Annuals


ball's best players. While advanced statistics in recent years have g determine a player's value, catcher defense has lagged behind. w valuable catchers can be behind the plate.

z. Freddie Freeman. Chase y behind Yadier Molina’s 133 plate appearances. Molina is without throwing out a single ke. In hitting alone, Molina is ina does not just hit. the hitter, baserunner, and ands a pitch be thrown. The e hitter, the pitcher, and the e has been a lot of great work ny runs Molina saves through

Fangraphs includes blocking and throwing in its component of WAR, but it does not include framing. The most recent work on framing was recently put out at Baseball Prospectus. Harry Pavlidis and Dan Brooks published their work on framing, attempting to quantify how many runs catchers saved through turning balls to strikes. They created a probable strike zone depending on count and the type of pitch thrown. They then weighted the importance of the pitch to determine the value of turning a ball into a strike i.e. a strike is more valuable on a 3-2 count than a 1-1 count. After that work was done, they attributed some of the value to the pitcher as some pitchers were better at getting strikes than others. Interestingly, this portion of the analysis hurt Molina. The largest gross beneficiary of easy-to-frame pitchers was Yadier Molina. The perennial gold glove winner started the analysis with 127 runs added before giving www.lindyssports.com | 33


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Yadier Molina is all business, making the catch against Albert Pujols of the Los Angeles Angels on April 7, 2014. Next, Molina is congratulated after two-run homer at the top of the seventh inning.

“ He stares at the hitter, and you can see him thinking, ‘What pitch can’t you hit right now?’ And if he calls the pitch, then you know that’s got to be the one. You throw it, and it works. He’s thinking the entire game. He’s aware of everything that’s going on.” — Shelby Miller That quote is from Bernie Miklasz’s excellent piece in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Molina, and exactly what the quote means is impossible to quantify. If a hitter is slightly bothered by Molina peering into his soul, that is worth something. If his pitcher thinks Molina is gaining an advantage through a staredown, that is worth something. If a pitcher gets more confidence because he believes that Molina will call a pitch that will get the batter out, that is worth something. What is it worth? I would like to know, but I have no idea. I am not going to pretend to claim I do, and I hope nobody else would do that either. Part of what makes baseball great is the combination of the known and unknown. An important part of sabermetrics is in the knowing. Taking information to understand the past and make informed decisions about the future. The less publicized part of sabermetrics is recognizing what we don’t know. Knowing a player hits a home run in just one out of every 372 plate appearances and seeing him hit one to force a game six in the playoffs is not a knock on sabermetrics. Knowing a team has just a 4.1% chance of making and epic comeback in the ninth inning to win Game

6 of the World Series and watching them do it anyway does not diminish the statistics that surround baseball. Embrace what you know, and be excited about what you don’t. While you a watching Yadier Molina makes that a very easy task. While Molina did not earn the most runs through framing from 2008-2013 (Brian McCann), he did indeed rank very high with 62 framing runs including 24 in the past two seasons alone. This past weekend, at Monti’s in Chicago for a Baseball Prospectus meet and greet, I had the opportunity to talk with Harry Pavlidis about how they came up with the final part of the analysis that ended up costing Molina so many runs. He indicated they were very confident in their methods and were able to cross their numbers with other analyses which ensured they processed the information correctly. However, he did state that in a case like Molina’s, it is possible that at the extremes of the pitcher-catcher credit model, Molina may be a little bit better than he’s given credit for. Baseball Prospectus’ blocking statistics also give Molina very high marks, crediting him with another 25 runs over the past two seasons. Scouts, fans, statistical analysis all agree that Molina is fantastic

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A DECADE OF DEVELOPMENT It should come as no surprise that Yadier Molina, the younger brother of former catcher Bengie and the newly current Tampa Bay Rays catcher Jose, made it to the big leagues. Fair or not, when you are the younger brother of two established a professional athletes, the expectations for you are to match or exceed what your siblings have previously accomplished. For years, those affiliated with Major League Baseball spoke highly of Yadi, insisting that he was by far the most talented of the three brothers. I’m sure a lot of fans took those comments with a grain of

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salt because in sports, those sorts of comments are often thrown out there but ultimately never reign true. Like a majority of professional athletes, Yadier Molina made his debut in Major League Baseball thanks to an injury, when starting catcher Mike Matheny went down with a strained-rib in June 2004 (oddly enough, Matheny is now the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals). Molina went on to appear in 51 games that season and was part of a team that eventually made it into the next World Series (losing to the Boston Red Sox). Molina made very little impact at

the plate, but his defensive ability was evident from day one. The Cardinals let Mike Matheny walk as a free agent that offseason, which showed the confidence the Cardinals organization had in Molina as their future backstop. For the next two seasons (20052006), Molina then had continued to establish himself as one of the best defensive catchers in baseball. Catchers who would successfully pick off baserunners with ease was a rarity, but this was a skill Molina went on to trademark and be known for around the league. However, the offensive part of his


Molina heads to the dugout at the top of the 8th agains the Chicago Cubs on April 12, 2014.

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