Recently ESPN ranked Yadier Molina as the sixth best catcher in baseball. It was no surprise, given the “World Wide Leader in Sports'” bias towards big market teams and their players, that Yadi finished behind Buster Posey and Wilson Contreras. However, to place an additional three guys above him seems to be more misled than normal.
There’s still a very strong case that Yadi is the best backstop in the bigs. Most of which is based around unparalleled intangibles, but his tangible attributes also remain a factor. Even at 35 years old, Molina put up very solid numbers in 2018.
The biggest part of placing Yadi behind other catchers in the league lies within their respective numbers. Despite that, Molina ranked in the top five among catchers with 400 or more plate appearances in six offensive categories during the 2018 season.
He ranked first in stolen bases with four, second in hits with 120, third in runs scored and RBI with 55 and 74, fifth in home runs with 20 and fifth in batting average at .261.
Defensively, Yadi ranked first in fielding percentage and passed balls, fourth in innings caught, despite missing an entire month and fifth in range factor. He also just missed the top five in caught stealing percentage, finishing sixth, though base runners only made 39 attempts to steal off of him all season. When it was all said and done, Molina took home his ninth Rawlings Gold Glove Award.
Molina’s numbers are clearly impressive, but alone, they don’t set him apart from the rest of the pack. By just looking at the stats, it would appear that Molina would fall somewhere in the top five, but not likely at the top. However, there’s a lot more to being a catcher than hitting and throwing out baserunners.
Last season, the Cardinals used 11 total starting pitchers, the most of any Cardinal team since 2007. Four of those 11 were rookies, combining for 44 of 162 starts. Add in Luke Weaver is 25, in just his second full year, and that accounts for 43 percent of the Redbirds starts. That’s a lot of youth for Yadier Molina to guide through a season.
Despite that, he led them to an ERA of 3.52, good for fifth best in all of baseball.
There are no stats to accurately measure just how much Yadi brings to the game. That doesn’t mean it’s gone unnoticed though.
Hall of Famer and former Cardinals skipper Tony LaRussa once said, “It’s not just instinct. It’s sense, based on how a hitter’s standing, how he responds to the pitch or two before, and he’s very creative in how he makes his adjustment based on what he sees with the hitter and knowing what his pitcher can do. That’s art.” LaRussa also said, of Yadi, “He is as great a catcher as anybody that’s ever played the game . . . He thinks and manages a game and a pitching staff as well as anybody ever has.”
As Tony points out, Yadi’s ability to effect a game in every way possible sets him apart from any other catcher in baseball. Combined with his solid numbers at and behind the plate, the intangibles that LaRussa speaks of making Yadier Molina the best catcher in baseball year after year.
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