Maybe it’s a good idea to step back and analyze the distaste for the Bengie Molina move even more. Dig deep. Get out the pocketwatches, start them a-swingin’, and head on back to a past life if you must.
It isn’t necessarily that Molina is one of the hardest players to watch, though he is. On average, every seven games, he’ll hit a home run. Everything else that he does on the baseball field is aesthetically displeasing. He can’t score from second on a single; he allows pitchers to control every at-bat he takes; his defense is the first thing to go when he gets tired. But, heck, that’s probably holding him to too high of a standard. Catchers aren’t supposed to be fast, they’re not supposed to be especially good hitters, and it’s a tough and taxing position to play.
It isn’t necessarily that Molina means that Buster Posey is AAA-bound. Posey has excited Giants fans like no other prospect since Will Clark. That’s over 20 years of waiting for an All-Star position player from the farm. Sandoval was a surprise -- a beautiful, welcome, and rotund surprise -- so the anticipation wasn’t nearly the same. Since the ‘08 draft, though, we’ve been waiting for Posey.
Will he sign?....when does he start A-ball?...now that he’s dominated A-ball, when does he get promoted?...now that he’s hitting well in AAA, when do we see him in the majors?...now that he’s in the majors, is there a chance that a St. Bernard can get a flagon of rum to the end of the bench?
Wait, wait, wait. When the Giants declined to offer Molina arbitration, it was possible that the wait was over. Not so. But I’ll accept the possibility that Posey isn’t ready, that his defense needs work, and that it isn’t a good idea to drop a full-time catching gig in his lap for a team ready to contend. I disagree, but I don’t think I know enough to be dogmatic about it. A year in AAA isn’t going to ruin his development, and it might actually aid it.
The distaste for the re-signing comes mostly because I’m pretty sure that the Giants start with a deeply held belief -- that the difference between a good catcher and a bad catcher is worth 10 wins or more, that a team with a low on-base percentage can make up for that with speed and sound fundamental play, that aging players coming off a down year are likely to bounce back -- and move on from there. There’s no curiosity, no admission that there’s room for intellectual growth in the sport or anything that challenges long-held beliefs.
Forget VORP, WAR, UZR, and the like. I don’t necessarily want the Giants to become a member of the sabermetric orthodoxy. I just want the Giants to think, gee, we’ve finished in the bottom third for runs scored for five straight years. Is that because of the park? Let’s find out. (The answer is no, it’s not the park.) Okay, then what’s going on? Is it a lack of execution on sacrifice bunts and moving runners over? Let’s find out where we stack up to the rest of the league. (The answer is no, the Giants execute bunts and move runners over as well as other teams.) Well, what is it? Let’s get a variety of opinions.
I want them to examine issues from a variety of sides. If Posey really isn’t ready on defense, what does that mean? What would happen if he allowed 20 passed balls? (It would lead to more runs for the other team, but maybe not as many as you might think.) What is the difference between a catcher who calls a great game and a catcher who doesn’t know what he’s doing? Why, if there is a difference, has it never, ever, ever shown up consistently where you think it should, which is in a team’s ERA? Maybe it would be a good idea to get some scouts together and ask who, in their opinions, were the worst defensive catchers in the past ten years. Then look at how their teams did when the poorly fielding catcher started, as well as when an adept catcher was behind the plate. Was there a difference? Is it such a difference that it’s worth committing to a sub-.300 on-base percentage over someone who could improve on that?
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe these questions are all being asked, but the research isn’t the sort of thing that makes it into the morning paper. Maybe. Somehow, I doubt it. I think the Giants are starting with a truism and moving on from there.
"Well, we know that all matter is made from earth, air, water, fire, and aether. So now we have to figure out how to manipulate them. I think that...."
"Well, the catcher is the most important position on the field. The pitching staff would be significantly affected by an inexperienced catcher. So I think that...."
The difference between the two is that the first statement is a proven falsehood, and the second is very much up for debate. But if a team believes in something because that’s what baseball people have always believed, and there’s no desire to verify the theory with any empirical methods, they might as well be believing in aether, the four humors, and yeti. And if that team has only had one winning season in the past five years, it’s more than a little arrogant to think that those beliefs are unquestionable truths.
Bengie Molina handles a pitching staff well. (That’s what everyone says, anyways.) He gets a lot of RBI. (That must mean the horrible offense would be even worse without him.) An inexperienced catcher would really hurt the team’s chances to contend. (It’s just science.) His penchant for making outs is a minor, minor concern compared with his RBI and home runs (On-base percentage is just a more confusing version of an established stat, batting average.) Therefore, the Giants are a better team with Bengie Molina than they would be with Rod Barajas and $4M extra to save for the trade deadline, or Buster Posey and $6M to buy out draft prospects who fall in the draft because of strong college commitments. This is true because it’s always been true.
I just want a team that honestly evaluates why they’re successful in some areas but not others. I want a team that can admit that they don’t have the game of baseball figured out, especially when a lot of the available evidence should be humbling, not encouraging. It’s not too much to ask. But the idea that Bengie Molina is an indispensable part of a team on a budget is just another slide in the three-hour PowerPoint presentation that confirms it’s never going to happen.