Beyond Pujols’ departure, the 30-year-old had additional reason to feel heavy responsibility. Prior to the season, ownership granted him the fourth-largest contract in team history at five years, $75 million. That deal initially raised some eyebrows around the game.
Molina did his part, putting together the best offensive season of his career for the second consecutive year. He became the first St. Louis catcher ever to lead his team in batting in back-to-back seasons (.315 in 2012, .305 in 2011). Molina also paced the 2012 Cardinals in wins above replacement (WAR). His 6.3 mark was far ahead of the next-closest Cardinals, at 3.9 WAR.
Molina set new career highs this season with 22 home runs, 76 RBI, 64 runs and 159 hits. Those 22 home runs are second only to Ted Simmons (26 in 1979) for the most by a Cardinals catcher in one season.
Molina’s numbers also stacked up well on the national stage. Among all National Leaguers – not just catchers – Molina ranked fourth in batting average, 10th in one-base percentage (.373) and 14th in slugging (.501).
Not considered fast afoot by any measurement, Molina remains a very smart baserunner. He led all major league catchers with 12 stolen bases and had a success rate of 75 percent (12 of 15).
Even without his offensive contributions, his defense could alone make him the team leader. Former MLB backstop and long-time Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan has called Molina the best defensive catcher he has ever seen.
Molina’s 32 runners caught stealing topped MLB. His 48 percent caught stealing rate ranked second in the game. He also picked three runners off base this season. That raised his career total to 45, most among all catchers from 2004-2012.
His most-observed, but least measurable asset perhaps, is his game-calling and stewardship behind the plate. First-year starting pitchers opened 46 of the team’s 162 games this season. Despite that, the Cardinals finished third in the NL with a 3.62 starting pitchers ERA.
With the exception of short-timers J.C. Romero and Brian Fuentes, every one of the 19 relievers that took the mound for the Cardinals this season had five or less years of MLB experience. The team’s bullpen ERA of 3.90 placed them ninth in the league.
During 2012, Molina made a strong first step toward proving he is going to be worth every dollar of the large commitment the organization gave him.