A newly measured statistic on FanGraphs might have just given St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina a huge boost in Hall of Fame contention.
Yadier Molina, a stalwart behind the plate for the St. Louis Cardinals since 2005 and one who has been in Hall of Fame discussions for several years, received some help in his candidacy when FanGraphs announced that a catcher’s framing ability is now a part of his Wins Above Replacement calculation.
Framing is the skill of a catcher to get more strikes for his pitcher by slightly moving his glove after he catches the ball to drag it toward the strike zone. This will hopefully lead the umpire to call a strike on a borderline pitch.
The FanGraphs article explains how catcher framing is added to the WAR of both pitchers and catchers. Molina, long considered among the best defensive catchers of his generation, received a boost of 15.7 WAR points with the framing addition, the third-largest increase for any catcher. He has gone from a WAR of 34.8 to 50.5, putting him right on the Hall of Fame borderline when comparing him with others who are in that area.
Something that shouldn’t be overlooked is the effect this has on pitchers. Adam Wainwright, Molina’s longtime battery mate, received a WAR increase of 1.9, rising from 35.3 to 37.2.
There is the question of how long pitch framing will be a relevant statistic. With flawless robot umpires a possibility in the future, a catcher’s ability to steal strikes will become pointless. If this is the case, Molina came along at the right time.
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The same cannot be said for other catchers, such as Ryan Doumit, who lost 16.1 WAR points. Because some catchers gained WAR and others lost it, this will not dramatically increase the overall WAR for catchers, which reliably lags behind those of other positions. This is theorized to be for several possible reasons.
Molina’s Hall of Fame candidacy was a subject for debate even before the WAR increase. Some pointed at his offensive numbers and said they don’t stack up with some of the other greats behind the plate. His Jaffle Wins Above Replacement Score is well below the average for Hall of Fame catchers.
However, because of his widely praised ability to call games and handle pitchers, many fans and players believe Molina’s talents go far beyond the statistics. The only questions were whether those talents go far enough and if the Hall of Fame voters would account for them.
With the implementation of more solid, measurable stats into a player’s overall evaluation, there is now a more accurate tool to calculate catchers’ worth to their teams, and the stats certainly elevate Molina’s status in the eyes of sabermetricians.
But as we all know, sabermetricians do not make up the majority of baseball fans. Harold Baines was recently elected into the Hall of Fame despite having a WAR of only 38.7. He did amass 2,866 hits, which seems to be the main reason his name is soon to be on a plaque. Molina has not accrued any eye-popping stats that are observable to the casual fan, so even with this WAR increase, people shouldn’t get too jumpy and shouldn’t consider Molina a first-ballot shoo-in.
Still, this change only helps Molina’s chances of enshrinement. As long as Molina continues to be a guiding hand for pitchers and a steady contributor at the plate in his final two years, his case for the Hall of Fame should be further solidified.