Even at the age of 38, Yadier Molina is still clutch for the St. Louis Cardinals.
I may be alone on this front, but I think that 2020 has been a year where we have seen the most cracks in Yadier Molina than any other year. The 38-year-old legend shouldn’t be blamed though, as many catchers don’t make it close to his age.
Molina has over 16,600 innings spent crouched behind the plate in his 17-year career. In the last couple of years, that wear and tear has led to plenty of decline at the plate. From his peak in 2012 where he had a 138 wRC+, Molina has fallen to 87 wRC+ in 2019 and now 80 in 2020. His defense has slipped as well.
His leadership and game management makes up for his decline, but this very well could be Molina’s last season with the Cardinals. Even if it is his last season, he won’t go out without fans remembering him as a clutch performer.
Molina may have just a .658 OPS, he has continued to hold trends that keep him valuable. He doesn’t strikeout much (top 2% in the league) but also doesn’t walk or hit the ball hard on average (bottom 4% and bottom 3%, respectively). He has four homers on the year, and he has made them count.
Case in point, Yadier Molina was the sole reason why the Cardinals won on Sunday.
We know the Cardinals’ offense isn’t that great, but we also know that the Pirates are an awful baseball team. On Sunday, Molina came up in the seventh in a one-run game facing off against an old friend in Derrick Holland.
It seems that this year, more than most, Yadi has stepped up and gotten a huge hit when the Cardinals needed it. Thanks to FanGraphs.com, we can attempt to quantify just how clutch Molina has been.
By definition, FanGraphs’ clutch metric combines Win Probability Added and Leverage Index to quantify how much a player does in high-leverage situations. By that metric, Molina is the most-clutch Cardinal by far and is ranked 15th in the MLB.
With a 0.92 clutch, Molina far exceeds the next-highest Cardinal in Paul DeJong (0.69). The St. Louis Cardinals’ best hitter, Paul Goldschmidt comes in at a 0.01 clutch, almost exactly average. This makes sense when you consider that Molina has 16 RBI on the year and Paul Goldschmidt has 19 in almost 70 more plate appearances.
Goldy has been quite average with runners in scoring position, driving in 11 while batting .229 in 47 plate appearances this year. For Molina, he has 10 RBI and is batting .333 in 31 plate appearances with runners in scoring position.
This article isn’t to bash on Goldy and it has been well documented that Goldy isn’t facing any good pitches to hit in those situations, but it is telling to see just how good Molina has been in those situations.
Among the nine usual starters for the Cardinals, Kolten Wong grades out as the worst clutch hitter, with a -0.15 mark, but that is still better than the worst players on other teams.
Interestingly enough, clutch hitting has been one of the Cardinals’ strengths on the year (led by Molina). As a team, the Cardinals sit 5th in baseball with a 1.89 clutch. Without much power, driving in runners in clutch situations is about the only way they can score, so it makes sense they excel in this small corridor of offense.
While Yadier Molina may be below average when looking at the bulk of his offensive performance in 2020, but he has led the way in big situations for this offense. You can’t teach clutch, and that is part of what makes Molina so special.