St. Louis Cardinals: Yadier Molina’s power surge

Jun 3, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina (4) watches his solo home run during the sixth inning against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 3, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina (4) watches his solo home run during the sixth inning against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /

Yadier Molina is a leader in the St. Louis Cardinals clubhouse and a wizard behind the plate, but this year he has added power to his arsenal.

The Gold Glove catcher has nine home runs, which ties him for second in the National League with Buster Posey. Both Posey and Molina sit behind San Diego Padres catcher, Austin Hedges, who has eleven. Already surpassing his home run total from last year, Yadier Molina has undergone a power surge that could see him end with twenty or more home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Yadi’s fly ball rates, K-rates and other advanced statistics this season are near identical to his 2012 campaign when he finished 4th in MVP voting with career highs in home runs (22), SLG (.501) and WAR (6.1). This may show Yadi is poised to hit 20 home runs for the second time in his career.

Before I dive into that, let me just state how intriguing Yadi is. He’s not the fastest or strongest or flashiest player, but his intangibles are irreplaceable. His worth goes beyond the stat sheet, which is why Hall of Fame discussions get a little tricky for him.

His ability to take starting pitchers under his wing and teach them the tricks of the trade is unmatched. That, alongside his uncanny ability to throw out runners on the base paths, makes Yadi one of the best catchers in the business.

Although when he struggles at the plate, and makes base running mistakes, fans start to get frustrated. They lose their patience with the aging vet. After failing to reach double-digit home runs for the past three seasons, some fans were seriously starting to doubt Molina’s offensive talent.

Related Story: The 5th spot isn't for Yadi

With that being said, here’s why Yadi’s 2017 approach at the plate has him destined for his second 20 home run season of his career:

  • His fly ball percentage (FB%) is up to 34.7%, which is 5% more than last year. In 2012, his FB% was 35.2%,
  • His hard hit percentage is 35.1%, which is an increase of 4% from last year. In 2012, his hard hit percentage was 31.7%.
  • His home run to fly ball ratio (HR/FB) is at 13.4%, which is second to his 2012 season when it was 13.8%.
  • His pull percentage is at a career high at 44.3%. In 2012 it was at 38.2%.
  • His K-rate is at 14.1%, which would be a career high since his rookie season in 2004.

It’s there. More fly balls translate into more home runs. The numbers show Yadi’s approach is changing from seasons ago. To me, increased fly balls and strikeouts show that Molina is shifting to a pitch-guessing approach. This results in him trying to hit balls out of the park.

The pull-happy approach is even more evident. Six out of his nine home runs are to left or left-center field.

St. Louis Cardinals
May 14, 2017; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina (4) follows through on a two-run home run during the second inning against the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports /

I see many parallels in Yadi’s approach to the 2017 Aledmys Diaz approach. Diaz, who burst onto the scene in 2016, has been inconsistent this year.

This is primarily due to him swinging at bad pitches and expanding his zone. Both Diaz and Molina have fallen victim to trying to yank balls into Big Mac Land, while failing to utilize all fields.

Now is this necessarily a bad thing? I don’t think so.

It means Yadi is reinventing himself. After lacking power production last year, and only being projected to hit six home runs by ZiPS and Steamer on Fangraphs, Yadi has already proved the haters wrong in the power department.

Sometimes overlooked, Yadi hit .307 last year. This year, however, his average sits at .261. The home runs may make up for the drop off, but his career low BABIP of .266 is the real reason for his sub-par batting average. The baseball gods haven’t been kind to Yadi this season.

Molina also catches a lot of slack for grounding into double plays, but he’s improved in that area this year. In 2016, Molina led the team with 22 double plays, and in the three years before that he hit into at least 14 double plays each year. I get it, the slow-footed Molina is an easy culprit to hit into a twin-killer.

However, this year Molina has only hit into four double plays, whereas Jedd Gyorko, Aledmys Diaz, Tommy Pham, Dexter Fowler and Stephen Piscotty have all hit into five or more double plays. Molina cannot be the only one to blame for killing a rally.

Yadi shouldn’t be blamed for the inconsistent St. Louis Cardinals offense nor should he be blamed for the woeful losing stretch during the past month.

Next: Cardinals offense continues to waste starting pitching

What’s your take on St. Louis Cardinals fan favorite Yadier Molina? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter. Thanks for reading!