With the announcement coming that the Cardinals are finalizing an extension with catcher Yadier Molina, I decided to look at what this could mean for the team. Molina, who’s apparently receiving a 3 years extension in the neighborhood of $55-65M, is entering his age 34 season but hasn’t slowed down yet. But will he?
So far, Molina has been pretty healthy during his career; other than a few DL stints, his knees have held up well considering his position. One of my biggest fears is him blowing them out.
2016 was a good year; not only did he not get injured, he led the team in batting. The downside was people running on him; prior to that, no one ran on Yadi. It made me wonder if his arm is starting to decline or his pitchers are having guys run on them.
In the 1982 Bill James Baseball Abstract, he looked at Stolen Base Opportunities against catchers and pitchers. He pretty much determined that pitchers with high pitch counts per at bat were more likely to have guys run on them; this is because there are more opportunities per at bat to steal a base. So, I looked at the average pitches per at bat for Cardinal pitchers since Molina became the full time catcher in 2005. Unfortunately, there was no noticeable trend to see if the pitchers were responsible for the increase in stolen base opportunities.
Looking at pitches per plate appearance, there was a gradual increase over the span of Molina’s career, but only slightly; it was 3.63 during his rookie season and 3.78 this past season. Last season was not the high point though; he’s had 2 seasons with higher pitchers/PA.
It’s a pretty good conclusion that Molina’s arm isn’t where it was 10 years ago. It’s also safe to assume that the league is in agreement.
Pitch framing is another issue. Framing is when the catcher is able to make a pitch outside the zone look like a strike; it’s pretty much moving the glove after the ball is caught to make it appear in the zone. For more on framing, check out Stat Corner.
That doesn’t kill his full value as a catcher though. He’s still a good pitch caller and the staff is much better off with him behind the plate than 95% of other catchers.
Like I mentioned earlier, he’s still a somewhat threat with the bat. I have done my standard projections for 2017 and he’ll still be somewhat respectable with the bat.
I took my traditional projections and added some additional comps. In addition to the 10 closest comps by age, I also took 5 more comps based on his overall career. My system takes a 3 year average of the players stats and the average of the comps at the age of the player’s upcoming season to form the projection (so, for this I used their age 34 season).
The additional comps increases his 2017 value, which is promising. There is a steady decline over the 4 years though, but he’s still an above average player. This might also show that Carson Kelly will get a little additional playing time each year. Unfortunately, it’ll eat away at his service time and cost the Cardinals his prime seasons. My guess is they will probably end up trading him in the near future and they team will hope one of Jeremy Martinez, Andrew Knizner, or Chris Chinea will be ready by 2020; the Cardinals have been tied to Jose Quintana recently and the White Sox are missing long-term catcher.
Overall, it’s nice having a player like Yadi finishing his career as a Cardinal. The question is does this extension set back the team? It’s possible that blocking Kelly might do that, but this will keep the fans happy.
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