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Catcher’s Week: Yadier Molina

This past Thursday, catcher Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants announced his retirement from the MLB after one of the best seasons in his 12-year career.

That brought about “Catcher’s Week”, a time I’m taking to evaluate 7 catchers’ cases for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In today’s edition, let’s talk about St. Louis Cardinal lifer, Yadier Molina.

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See here for the introductory post for this series.

 

Yadier Molina’s Career and Stats:

Yadier Molina was raised in a family to become a baseball player. His father was an amateur infielder in Puerto Rico (and both a Hall of Famer and the all-time hits leader in amateur Puerto Rican baseball) who coached and developed three successful MLB catchers: Benjie, Jose, and Yadi. And while each had good MLB careers (they have all won at least 1 World Series), the youngest brother- Yadier- has proven himself to be the best of the bunch.

Scouts looking at the young Yadier had worries about his offensive potential, but he possessed the defensive prowess and arm of his already MLB-established brothers. Drafted in the 4th round of the 2000 MLB First-Year Player Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals, Yadi was drafted after both of his brothers Bengie and Jose had already had their major league debuts (in 1998 and 1999 respectively). Yadi would spend the 2001-2004 seasons working in the minor leagues before making his MLB debut in 2004 with a 2-4 performance against the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 4-2 victory on June 3rd, 2004. That would begin a 19-year career for Yadier Molina.

In a series inspired by Buster Posey after his recent retirement announcement, he was beat to the punch by a few months by a player who plans to have one more season in the MLB: Yadier Molina. Coming on August 24th, 2021 he and the Cardinals reached agreements on a 1-Year/$10 Million extension for the 2022 season, which Yadier also announced that it would be his final season. With some room to add to his overall career numbers and accolades, what has he already done?

Over his 18-year-career, Yadier Molina has been a 2-time World Champion (2006, 2011), a 10-time All-Star, 9-time Gold Glover, 4-time Platinum Glover, and a 1-time Silver Slugger.

Statistics wise, Molina currently has a .280/.330/.402 triple-slash (.733 OPS/97 OPS+/98 wRC+). Over 2146 games in his career (8284 PA’s and 7555 AB’s), Molina has collected 2112 hits, 171 Home Runs, 998 RBI’s, and has a walk-to-strikeout ratio of 537:882. Defensively, Molina has played 2109 games at catcher, 47 at first base, and 1 game (for 1 inning in 2019) at third base. In his 17666.1 innings at catcher, Molina has a .995 fielding percentage, +175 DRS, and +145.4 framing.

Combined over the course of his career, Yadier Molina has a +42.1 bWAR (Baseball Reference), a +55.6 fWAR (Fangraphs), a +59.8 WARP (Baseball Prospectus), and a +35.4 JAWS (Jay Jaffe). This distinct difference between the various “career summation metrics” is not too surprising given how Molina’s offense has mostly been just about league average (hence a low bWAR and JAWS) while also being the MLB’s premier defensive catcher over the 2000’s and 2010’s (hence a high fWAR and WARP). He doesn’t stand out among catchers already in the Baseball Hall of Fame as he’s below the average bWAR (+42.1 to +53.8) or JAWS (+35.4 to +44.3), nor has Molina had that amazing peak, which shows as his WAR7 is also below Hall of Fame average (+28.7 to +34.8). Molina also has 0 Black Ink (leading his league in a statistic; average HOF ~27) and 20 Gray Ink (top-10 in a league in a statistic; average HOF ~144), though he has a 169 in Hall of Fame Monitor (average HOF = 100), and a 33 in Hall of Fame Standard (average HOF = 50).

Is Molina a worthy future Hall of Famer?

 

The Case For Yadier Molina’s Induction into the BBHOF:

Over the past two days I have written about the changing tides of how the traditional MLB catcher is used and how their catching career develops when considering both Joe Mauer (and his move to 1B) and Buster Posey (and his “shorter” career) for the Hall of Fame.

Yadier Molina’s path to the Baseball Hall of Fame is going to come from neither of those two ideas. Instead, Yadier Molina is a classic case of statistic accumulation and career longevity which deserves to be identified, acknowledged, and appreciated.

Yadier Molina has spent all 18 (and will be 19) of his MLB seasons predominantly behind the plate. In fact, none of those seasons feature Molina playing more than 10 games combined at any other position. Yadier Molina is the epitome of an old-school catcher playing in the new-school generation. He ranks 4th all time in defensive games at catcher (and is 118 games behind Bob Boone at 3rd), as well as innings at catcher (and is 793 innings behind Bob Boone at 3rd). In 2021, Yadier Molina played 118 games at catcher with 1000.1 innings, it’s highly likely he becomes the player with the 3rd most total experience behind the plate in MLB history.

A large part of his playing at career so long and so frequently is because Yadier Molina possess a grand ability as a defensive catcher. He ranks 2nd among catchers in Total Zone Rating (and 20th across all positions) and is 13th all time in catching fielding percentage at 0.9949% (Joe Mauer and Buster Posey are 9th and 10th respectively, both with FP% of 0.9951). Add in a DRS of +175 and a Framing of +145.4 and it’s clear to see that Molina is a stand-out catcher across all of baseball history on defense. It should be no surprise that Molina is 2nd across all catchers in dWAR.

With such great defensive numbers, it’s quite obvious that Molina’s offense would likely not stack up to it, however his lack of offense is also overblown. With a career OPS+ of 97 (and wRC+ of 98) he’s actually been hitting above-average for a catcher over the course of his career. His 171 career Home Runs seems low and ranks 32nd across all catchers (Mike Napoli hit nearly 100 more Home Runs in his career) but it’s also more than both Joe Mauer and Buster Posey. His 998 RBI’s is 15th across all MLB catchers, and his 2112 hits is 9th across all MLB catchers. He’s on the right side of the “2000 Hits Factor” and the rest of his offensive metrics have been more than solid enough to keep him a worthy bat in a line-up.

He’s undisputedly one of the best ever defensive players in the history of the game, much less doing so for so long at one of the toughest physically and mentally demanding positions on the field. It shouldn’t even be a question.

When Yadier Molina gets onto the 2028 Hall of Fame ballot, I will gladly be checking his name for the IBWAA.Embed from Getty Images

#CatchersWeek

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