World Series X-Factor: Yadier Molina vs. Red Sox base-stealers
The Red Sox are one of the best base-stealing teams in baseball, but they'll have to overcome Yadier Molina's rocket arm in the World Series.
The Red Sox had the best offense in baseball during the regular season, scoring 57 more runs than any other team and leading the majors with a 117 OPS+. No other club was over a 110 OPS+. It was a deep and diverse attack accentuated by hitter-friendly Fenway Park.
Boston's high-powered offense made it easy to overlook that they were one of the very best base-running teams in baseball. They were fourth in MLB with 123 steals but first with an 87-percent success rate because they were only caught 19 times. They also took the extra base -- first-to-third on a single, second-to-home on a double, etc. -- roughly 39 percent of the time, which is approximately league average.
Leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury led baseball with 52 stolen bases in 2013 and was only caught four times. Dustin Pedroia and Shane Victorino both stole at least 17 bases apiece. The Red Sox closed out the regular season and started the postseason with 45 straight successful steals before Daniel Nava was thrown out during a botched hit-and-run in ALDS Game 4 against the Rays. Overall, Boston has stolen 11 bases in 13 attempts in the postseason.
Enter Yadier Molina.
The NL MVP candidate and backbone of the Cardinals is baseball's very best at shutting down the running game from behind the plate. He threw out 20 of 46 attempted base-stealers in 2013 (43 percent), far better than the 28-percent league average. Over the past five seasons, Molina has thrown out 42 percent of attempted base-stealers, the highest in baseball by no small margin.
Molina's ability to shut down the running game is apparent in more ways than the caught-stealing numbers. Opponents have attempted only 416 stolen bases against the Cardinals since 2009, by far the lowest in baseball. The Diamondbacks have had the second-lowest attempts against at 548. Teams have more or less given up on trying to steal against St. Louis. Unless it's a critical situation, it's just not worth risking the base-runner because chances are Molina will throw you out.
The 2013 Red Sox are a dominant base-running and base-stealing team that uses their speed to not only create better scoring chances, but also unnerve the pitcher and potentially force the team into making a defensive mistake. It has obviously worked for them, both during the regular season and into the postseason. They've created some serious havoc on the bases.
Molina, on the other hand, is baseball's dominant defensive force behind the plate. He shuts down the other team's running game like no one else and he has been doing it for almost a decade now. His ability to contain Ellsbury and the rest of the Red Sox is going to be a huge factor in the World Series. Molina is the perfect weapon against Boston's base-runners because he has the ability to neutralize the running game and take that part of their offensive attack right off the table.
The Red Sox boast a truly great offense, but they're going to have to figure out another way to generate runs without their legs. If Molina is up to his usual standards, Boston will have to be a more station-to-station team and win by stringing together hits and walks and extra-base hits. They can certainly do that, but the Cardinals have a huge defensive advantage behind the plate, something no other team can bring to the table.