On October 19, 2010, the Yankees had two outs in the sixth inning of game four of the ALCS. They led by one (3-2) and had A.J. Burnett on the mound while Benjie Molina and his well below average regular season wOBA (.275) stepped in to the batter’s box (.275 wOBA). It’s easy to question Girardi’s decision to intentionally walk David Murphy. Generally speaking, it’s a poor tactical decision to give the opposing team free baserunners; there are very few situations in which statistics justify doing so. Murphy’s regular season wOBA (.358) demonstrated that he was a much better hitter than Molina. One can at least sympathize with Girardi’s temptation to give A.J. the easier assignment even if they wouldn’t have arrived at the same decision. The tying run was already at second base after all and, according to the game log at B-R, the IBB only increased the Rangers’ chances of winning by two percent.
A closer look at the players’ batted ball data may have hinted towards the ensuing disaster that occurred. A.J. Burnett’s fly ball percentage has been on an upward trend rising from 22.3% in 2005 to 37.5% in 2010. More fly balls in the air mean an increased chance of home runs. Put those fly balls in Yankee Stadium whose LF and RF fences are only 318 and 314 feet away respectively and one can imagine why he’s struggled to have as much success in New York. Now consider the hitters. Despite Murphy’s much more impressive wOBA, he only hit 36.5% fly balls in 2010 compared to Benjie Molina’s 48%. Of course, Murphy’s fly balls (.449 SLG) generally had more authority than Molina’s (.326 SLG) but a fly ball down either foul line doesn’t exactly have to be a monster shot and, in other stadiums, might even be an out. The next play was summed up best by this tweet for Cardinals fans who also happen to hate the Yankees. As history would have it, Molina hit an improbable home run into the left field stands that damaged the Yankees chances’ to proceed to the World Series and sent the Rangers into Game 5 with a 3-games-to-1 lead.
Have you ever stopped to think how crazy it is that the Molina family can boast of three brothers who all play in the major leagues, all play the same position (catcher), and have all won World Series rings? Now two of the brothers (Yadier and Benjie: click each name for clips) have hit memorable postseason home runs sending their respective teams to the World Series to defeat New York on the exact same day (October 19) in the exact same city just four years apart. Even the camera angles following Benjie around the bases were remarkably similar to the footage that captured Yadi’s trip around the diamond.
Below is a table detailing the postseason careers of Yadier and Benjie Molina. Only offensive numbers are represented in the table as caught-stealing percentages for postseasons prior to 2010 were surprisingly difficult to locate. In case you’re unfamiliar with wRC, it’s total runs created based on wOBA. Clutch represents the player’s performance in high leverage situations compared to context neutral environment (from FanGraphs’ glossary page). Remember: any player’s clutchiness has very little (none) predictive value as talented hitters perform better than poor hitters regardless of context; it simply describes what’s transpired to date. Also, Jose Molina wasn’t included because he’s only accumulated eighteen postseason plate appearances to date.
Each of the Molinas have held their own in October, easily outperforming career wOBAs (Yadi – .303; Benjie – .309). Whereas most of Yadi’s value comes from 2006, Benjie had a very strong 2005 in support of his incredible 2010. Benjie still has another series left to cushion his lead of 2.5 wRC over Yadi… or he could regress to his actual talent level against the Giants/Phillies subtracting from his overall numbers. The pitching he’ll face in the World Series won’t be any easier than what he’s seen in the Yankees/Twins staffs.
Although Benjie was a stellar defender in his own right once upon a time, Yadi’s defensive greatness has been sustained for a longer period of time. One might argue that his defensive value would give him the edge in postseason performances to date. Unfortunately, I could not find any worthwhile defensive information to add to the discussion. Feel free to offer any insights/arguments/ideas you might have in the comments area.
But how do the two brothers’ infamous (in NY anyways) home runs match up with one another in terms of win probability? When Benjie took A.J. deep, the Rangers’ win expectancy jumped by an impressive 41%, but it was the sixth inning and the Yankees still had time to do some damage… so it’s reasonable to assume that Yadi’s homer was more decisive, right? Wrong. Amazingly, Yadi’s blast off of Aaron Heilman in Shea Stadium on October 19, 2006 improved the Cardinals’ win expectancy by 41%. Baseball. Family. You can’t make this stuff up.