By Jeremy Clements
(Bethalto, IL) A few weeks ago Cardinal Nation was up in arms after All-Star catcher Yadier Molina said that it would take the right deal for him to stay in St. Louis. Now fans are complaining about the Cardinals signing him to a 5 year – $75M extension.
Did the club over pay? The answer is No.
Putting aside his four Gold Gloves, the three-time All-Star backstop is among the elite catchers in the game.
Molina was one of only 7 catchers to spend more than 1100 innings behind the plate in 2011. During those innings he blocked more pitches than anyone else and threw out 29% of the runners attempting to steal against him. You might say that’s really low, but take into account that he had the fewest steal attempts made against him (65) of any catcher who spent at least 900 innings behind the plate. Baltimore’s Matt Wieters (92) and Washington’s Wilson Ramos (71) were the two closest to Molina in that category. In fact, most catchers allowed as many or more stolen bases than there were attempts made against Molina.
Molina’s .995 fielding percentage tied him for 3rd in the National League and for 4th in all of baseball. Only Colorado’s Chris Ianetta (.997) and Philadelphia’s Carlos Ruiz (.996) had a higher fielding percentage and spent more than 900 innings behind home plate.
At the plate, Molina has improved steadily over the past 4 seasons. In fact, he set career highs batting .305 with 14 home runs and 65 RBI in 2011. In fact, his .305 average was the best among catchers who spent more than 1000 innings behind the dish (Victor Martinez’s .330 average led all catchers, but he only spent 219 innings at the position). He was tied for 9th in RBI’s and tied for the 14th most home runs and his .349 on-base percentage was the 6th best among all catchers in baseball.
The only sabermetric stat that I would like to add to this discussion is WAR or wins above replacement. It shows how many more wins a player would give a team as opposed to a “replacement level”, or minor league/bench player at that position. In 2011 Molina’s 4.1 WAR was 4th best among catchers who spent 1000 or more innings behind the plate. Over his career his 16.1 WAR is second only to Altanta’s Brian McCann who has a 25.1 for his career.
Again, statistically speaking Molina is among the best in the game. Add to those statistics the fact that he manages a pitching staff as good, if not better than any other catcher in the game. Oh and don’t forget the Cardinals are without Dave Duncan, so the relationship Molina has with the Cardinals hurlers is only magnified as Derek Lilliquist gets acclimated this year.
It’s also fair to look at his family. His brothers, Bengie and Jose each entered their prime between the ages of 29-35. Yadier has been improving steadily and turned 29 in July, so it is safe to assume that he is just entering the prime of his career. With no major injuries and few questions about his durability, Molina should be good for 130-135 starts per season.
Take into account all of the statistics above and realize that only Minnesota’s Joe Mauer ($23M/year) makes more than Molina, and he hasn’t played more than 80 games since 2009. Then ask your self, if locking up an improving Molina, who has caught at least 1000 innings and made at least 130 starts in each of the last 4 seasons, sounds like such a bad idea. It sounds like a pretty smart decision to me.
This deal won’t put a huge burden on the club either. The $15M for Molina will be offset when the contracts Kyle Lohse ($11.875M) and Jake Westbrook ($8.5M) come off the books at the end of the year. Giving the Cardinals financial flexibility going forward to help lock up guys like Adam Wainwright as well. So there should be no complaints about this contract. If anything, it should give Cardinals fans the assurance that the front office is not only capable but willing to lock up key players the organization can afford.
Thanks for reading.