St. Louis Cardinals: Yadier Molina Defies Father Time

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Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
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How will Yadi look behind the plate next season?

Defensively, it starts to get more troubling. Molina’s Fangraphs Defense rating of 4.4 in 2016 was the lowest of his career with the St. Louis Cardinals. Furthermore, Molina’s defense behind the plate has been on a clear downward trend since 2012.

As mentioned previously, it is unsurprising that a catcher with Molina’s career workload would see his defense decline, especially at his age. After handling the largest workload of his career, I would expect Molina’s defense to continue to fall in 2017.
As mentioned previously, it is unsurprising that a catcher with Molina’s career workload would see his defense decline, especially at his age. After handling the largest workload of his career, I would expect Molina’s defense to continue to fall in 2017. /
However, there are a few metrics which suggest Molina might be able to keep steady defensive value next season. First off, Molina’s ability to frame pitches as measured by Stat Corner remained consistent in 2016. Molina’s zBall% (pitches in the strike zone which are called balls) and oStr% (pitches outside the strike zone which are called strikes) were approximately the same as Molina’s career levels. This suggests Molina has not gotten worse receiving pitches, and likely will not regress here in 2017.
However, there are a few metrics which suggest Molina might be able to keep steady defensive value next season. First off, Molina’s ability to frame pitches as measured by Stat Corner remained consistent in 2016. Molina’s zBall% (pitches in the strike zone which are called balls) and oStr% (pitches outside the strike zone which are called strikes) were approximately the same as Molina’s career levels. This suggests Molina has not gotten worse receiving pitches, and likely will not regress here in 2017. /
Additionally, Molina’s defense as measured by Stat Corner’s RAA (runs above average) indicates that he actually has improved defensively over the past two seasons. While he isn’t the elite defensive player he used to be, his 9.3 RAA in 2016 ranked 8th among all MLB catchers. Molina is still a very good catcher according to this metric, and his improvement over the last two years indicates he is unlikely to decline much in 2017.
Additionally, Molina’s defense as measured by Stat Corner’s RAA (runs above average) indicates that he actually has improved defensively over the past two seasons. While he isn’t the elite defensive player he used to be, his 9.3 RAA in 2016 ranked 8th among all MLB catchers. Molina is still a very good catcher according to this metric, and his improvement over the last two years indicates he is unlikely to decline much in 2017. /

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Ultimately, Steamer Projections see Molina continuing to be a consistent offensive presence, predicting him to slash .284/.333/.403 in 2017. This includes some regression in his BABIP from 2016, but is a fair expectation for Molina.

The projections see Molina rebounding defensively, improving from a 4.7 Defense Rating in 2016 to 14.5 in 2017. Coupled with his offensive projections, Steamer sees Molina being worth 2.6 WAR over 109 games in 2017.

Given the consistent decline we have seen defensively from Molina (as measured by Fangraphs Defense Rating), I find it unlikely that he suddenly returns to being an elite defensive catcher. However, given Molina’s recent RAA and framing statistics, I do think that he can maintain or even slightly improve his Defense Rating in 2017.

Next: Molina's Backup Options- Kelly or Fryer?

Molina will have another consistent season at the plate, but the St. Louis Cardinals desperately need a serviceable backup catcher to help spell Molina throughout this season. I see Yadier Molina hitting about as well as the projections indicate to post a .280/.330/.400 line. Coupled with a Defense Rating of approximately 5.0, Molina will accumulate 2.0 to 2.5 WAR as the Cardinals 2017 catcher.

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