Brief Introduction: You probably noticed that I’m not Erik or Steve but they’ve offered me a chance to contribute at PAH9. I’ve been following the blog pretty closely and excited to see what I can bring to the table. Thanks for the opportunity, dudes.
Just one game away from the All-Star Break during a season in which the Cardinals were expected to run away with a weak NL Central division, they remain one game back of the Reds. Saint Louis will be represented by five players in Anaheim including a clearly under-performing Yadier Molina. How fans overlooked Miguel Olivo for the starting job is beyond me. Per Fangraphs, the Colorado catcher has already been worth 3.2 WAR (good for best figure among all MLB catchers). Not only has he been superior with the bat, but his defense has also been worth 8 runs; he’s caught 51.3% of would-be basestealers compared to Yadi’s even 50%.
Below is a graph that illustrates the runs above replacement (RAR) that Molina has been worth over his career. There are a couple of things to keep in mind with this graph: (1) Roughly, ten RAR equals one WAR. (2) 2010 numbers are estimates based on season’s performance to date. For simplicity’s sake, I just multiplied current statistics by two because I was interested in what his worth would be at the end of the season assuming that current production sticks. (3) 2004 was left out since Molina only accumulated 151 PA. (4) Replacement level adjustments are made based on 20 runs per 600 PA; this explains why this value changes from year to year. (5) Likewise, positional adjustment for catchers is worth 12.5 runs (according to Fangraphs) per 162 games played. Therefore, this number will fluctuate based on how many games played in a given season. (6) All numbers courtesy of Fangraphs.
Molina’s batting and overall value have not been this bad since 2006 when he seemingly turned things around in the postseason. You’ll notice that his positional and replacement level adjustments have steadily increased since 2007 due to increased playing time. Despite positive value represented in the graph, it’s easy to speculate that increased playing time could actually hurt Molina’s overall line given the demanding physical nature of the catcher position. In the past three years, Russell Martin is the only NL catcher that has logged more innings behind the plate than Molina; interesting that he’s also experienced substantial offensive decline.
The above graph matches up with common perception that Molina’s offense has steadily improved ever since October 2006. He posted batting RAR of -5.2, -0.3, and +5.5 in 2007, 2008, and 2009 respectively suggesting that his offensive improvements were not a fluke but a newly learned skill. Let’s take a look at Yadi’s plate discipline and batted ball data for 2010. Again, I left out 2004; his career averages are listed on the bottom line for easy comparison.
Molina’s most glaring concern is that he is nearing a career high in swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone while swinging at a career low percentage of pitches within the strike zone. That’s a pretty clear indication that he just isn’t seeing the ball well this season. Not only that, but he’s making less contact on pitches within the strike zone and more contact on pitches outside of the strike zone (with the exception of 2008).
In his July 7th post, Steve demonstrated that Yadi is chasing pitches below his knees more often this season compared to 2009 (see the last graph). Furthermore, Molina is besting his career mark of balls hit on the ground by 4.4%; that doesn’t bode well for a player as slow as Molina and helps to explain how he’s grounded into twelve double-plays which is good for second (Pujols has sixteen) on the team.
With that said, there is some room for optimism. Molina is still hitting line drives at a 20% clip, his infield pop-ups are at a ridiculously low 1.6%, and his BABIP sits at .240 (37 points below his career average), an indication that at least part of his putrid offense to date may be attributable to bad luck. Let’s hope this is the case as the organization is pretty bereft of other options. Jason LaRue has had his chance to be an everyday catcher and Bryan Anderson has seemed destined to be the 2nd/3rd tier prospect in a trade for quite some time now to the chagrin of #hpgf members everywhere.