When the Tampa Bay Rays signed veteran catcher Jose Molina to a two-year deal worth $3.3 million following the 2011 season, they actually got much more than what the 37-year-old's numbers show.
However, where Molina's value lies is in a part of catching that isn't calculated: The art of framing pitches.
Although he may not be the superstar that his younger brother Yadier is, framing pitches is one thing that Jose does better than both of his brothers. In fact, he's probably been the best at it in all of baseball over the past years.
His pitch-framing wizardry has made a significant impact with the Rays as well as other teams he's played with throughout his 14-year career. Tampa had the best pitching staff in the MLB in 2012, ranking first in ERA, FIP, strikeouts and strike percentage. Molina, who caught 102 games for the Rays last year, more than likely had something to do with this historic success.
Here's some examples of Molina's special talent:
As you can see, frustrating opposing batters and making umpires look bad is something that Molina has a knack for.
Molina's excellency in framing pitches does not only make him a valuable catcher, but it also can contribute to a pitcher's success.
Fernando Rodney is one pitcher that comes to mind. With Molina behind the plate for over half the innings he pitched last season, Rodney's called strike percentage went up 4.44% from the previous season (without Molina). There were obviously multiple factors that played a part in Rodney's career year in 2012, but Molina was probably one of them.
Two more examples come from when Molina was with the Yankees; Mariano Rivera and Mike Mussina both in 2008. Rivera had arguably the best season of his great career with Molina catching most of his innings. His CLDSTR% increased 4.36% that year from 2007.
Molina was also behind the plate for all but 10 innings pitched by Mussina during his impressive 20-win season. Mussina, who was pitching the last year of his career at age 39, saw his CLDSTR% go up 3.86% from his disappointing 2007 campaign.
Now in 2013, what I've observed is that Molina's glovework helping out sinkerballers Alex Cobb and Roberto Hernandez. Both starters are dependent on throwing quality pitches low in the zone. With Molina catching, that strikezone widens a bit, which Joe Maddon has clearly taken into consideration.
Cobb is off to a great start to the season, while Hernandez—despite some ugly numbers—is having an encouraging start with some positive signs towards a turnaround year for him. Molina has caught most of the time for Cobb and Hernandez, while Jose Lobaton has received more playing time with David Price, Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson on the mound.
In conclusion, Jose Molina is living proof of how much a catcher can positively affect a pitcher and even an entire pitching staff. He may not be good at blocking balls or even throwing out baserunners (at this point in his career), but framing pitches is one asset he'll likely never lose as long as he's in the league.