St. Louis Cardinals: Cubs fans, stop trying to dimmish Yadi’s greatness
As Yadier Molina’s St. Louis Cardinals career winds down and Cubs fans have something to be proud of for once, attempts to diminish Molina’s career by comparing him to former Cub catchers have become more and more prevalent. Here’s why Yadi is actually one of the greatest catchers of all time.
The wild Wilson Contreras over Yadier Molina takes have been going around for awhile, but I saw a post from a Cubs fan page on Twitter that took this blasphemy to the next level. This particular post compared David Ross and Molina’s OPS as a way to try and slight Yadi. The idiocy of these takes is so profound, I couldn’t resist responding.
Here is what makes the St. Louis Cardinals backstop one of the greatest catchers of all-time.
First, I have to preface by admitting that Yadi wasn’t a stellar batter in his first few years and needed some time in the majors to develop. There’s no getting around that, but there definitely was one trait in particular he showed as a batter in his early years that demonstrated his hitting potential.
His strikeout rate over his first four seasons was just 9.4 percent, putting him in the top 30 players in that span and just 0.1 percent behind Ichiro Suzuki. If you exclude his rookie season, that number drops down to just 8.9percent, which puts him in the top 20 for those three years. The only problem was that keeping strikeouts low is only one aspect of hitting. His approach wasn’t complete yet because he didn’t have an identity as a hitter.
While the numbers don’t show consistent progress, Yadi developed comfort and identity as a hitter over these four seasons. He experimented with hitting for power versus hitting for contact, pulling versus not pulling, and gained comfort and experience in the batter’s box as a whole.
Yadi finally rounded out his approach as a hitter and put it all together in 2008. From 2008 to the present day, Molina is slashing .293/.343/.419 and recorded a 10.1 percent K rate, 20th among qualified players in that span. Here is how Yadi’s hitting stats look among those 20 players.
Yadi has quietly blended elite strikeout numbers with solid hitting across the board over the past 11 seasons. He might not be an insane walk drawer, in part due to his high swing percentage on balls outside the zone. However, he is second among catchers and 29th overall with a 79.4 percent contact rate on balls outside of the zone from 2008 until now.
He might not be the best hitter, but Yadi’s reliability has been second to none on the St. Louis Cardinals. As a low strikeout, high contact guy, he has shown the ability to hit well even when the team does not. This is being displayed front and center in 2018, with Yadi picking up two multi-home run games over the past week, and hitting 30 points above the team average.
Yadi isn’t an MVP level offensive player, nor is he a player that can carry an offense. However, he has been both an effective and reliable hitter in the 5-7 slots for many years.
This is where Yadi really shines, but you have to understand the game to truly appreciate Yadi’s effect on defense. Yadier Molina has been one of the greatest defensive catchers ever, and has arguably been the best ever at limiting stolen bases.
According to Baseball Reference, Yadi has the fifth highest career dWAR for catchers, behind Ivan Rodriguez, Bob Boone, Gary Carter, and Jim Sundberg. Here is a comparison of the five in terms of limiting base stealing.
Pudge’s ability to snuff steals out is second to none, but Yadi’s presence behind the plate was actually significantly more effective at keeping runners off the base paths and limiting the rate at which teams are able to steal. This is even more pronounced when simply comparing Yadi to his peers.
|’04-’18 Catchers w/ 7000+ Inn and > 500 SB||Inn||SB||CS||Inn/SB||Inn/SBA|
|MLB Average (min 4000 Inn)||6630.41||425.66||164.58||15.58||11.23|
Compared to the catchers around him, Yadi is in a league of his own. No catcher with over 8500 innings has less stolen bases allowed than Yadi during his career.
If you expand the range to all of recorded history, only three players would qualify, and none of them were in the league after 1970. Of those three, only Johnny Roseboro has more than 10,000 innings at 11,933, and his Inn/SB rate is still lower than Molina’s by almost two innings.
Even greats like Johnny Bench, who won 10 Gold Gloves, are obviously inferior to Yadi. Bench allowed 610 stolen bases in 17713.2 innings, meaning he allowed stolen bases at a much higher rate despite his superior 43 percent caught stealing rate. Bench also has a lower dWAR then Yadi, even when discounting his final three years in which he totaled a -1.9 dWAR.
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While teams have become more willing to run on Yadi as he has grown older, teams only attempt to steal a base on him once in over two full games, crushing the league average and clearing even the best of catchers by a significant margin.
Ivan Rodriguez is the only one that actually has numbers to compare with, and he is considered by many to be the greatest defensive catcher in history. If it’s not Rodriguez, Yadier Molina is not only the greatest defensive catcher of this era, but in all of history.
For comparison’s sake, Rodriguez’s best dWAR seasons were from 1996-1999, while Yadi had an incredible run from 2009-2013 despite a very sloppy 2011. Here is a look at those runs in comparison to the rest of the qualified catchers in the league.
|Qualified Catchers from 1996-1999||Inn||SB||CS||SBA||Inn/SB||Inn/SBA||CS%|
|Qualified Catchers from 2009-2013||Inn||SB||CS||SBA||Inn/SB||Inn/SBA||CS%|
These runs by Yadi and Pudge are unparalleled from a defensive standpoint among catchers, and these runs are part of their claim to being the best defensive catchers in the history of the game. The difference between them and their competition is so overwhelmingly vast, but it’s hard to compare the two directly because of the difference in culture and base running tactics between the two eras.
However, we can make a legitimate comparison by comparing these runs to the rest of the league, and how much better Molina and Rodriguez were than their peers, and the results are quite close to each other.
|Difference from League Average||Δ Inn/SB||Δ Inn/SBA||Δ CS%|
While Pudge has the highest caught stealing percentage of any qualified catcher, he naturally has a higher Δ CS percentage. However, Yadi wasn’t too far behind in both Δ CS percentage and Δ Inn/SB. Despite being less efficient than Pudge at getting runners out. Yadi actually had a more intimidating presence during his run through about every metric, and actually allowed a lower rate of stolen base attempts than Pudge during their respective stretches.
On top of that, this is including Yadi’s poor 2011 season, where he caught just 18 people stealing while allowing 46 steals. With that bogging his numbers down, the fact that this run is still on par with arguably the greatest defensive stretch by a catcher in history is incredible.
Besides Rodriguez, no one comes even close to Yadi’s prowess as a defensive catcher during this period. Yadi’s consistent greatness and the pressure it created on the base paths has been understated for years because of the lack of opportunities provided to him, and he has an argument for being the greatest defensive catcher of all time. The respect that teams have given him on the base paths throughout his career is a testament to that.
Pair that with reliable and intelligent hitting for over a decade, and you have a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and one of the best catchers to ever grace the MLB. Anyone who tells you otherwise is simply an ignorant fool.
Where do you think Yadier Molina stands among the greatest catchers ever? Does he get the respect he deserves from other fans? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.