By Louis Addeo-Weiss
When it comes to discussing the most beloved players in the history of the St. Louis Cardinals, one tends to think of the likes of Bob Gibson, Stan Musial, Albert Pujols, Red Schoendienst, Rogers Hornsby, Lou Brock, and the Wizard, Ozzie Smith.
In the new millennium, those such as the above-named Pujols are ones that come to mind, but arguably the most beloved and respected Cardinal in the past fifteen years would be catcher Yadier Molina.
Regardless of how terrific Pujols was during his decade-long tenure in St. Louis, and he truly was terrific, as noted by 3 NL MVP’s, 2 World Series championships, and a 170 OPS+, the true leader of those great Cardinal teams, and still to this day, is Molina.
It is this commanding role that Molina has assumed during his tenure in St. Louis that leads many to believe he’ll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer once he becomes eligible.
However, as I’m sure it has been written before, as great an ambassador for the sport as Molina has been, personifying professionalism throughout his career, the statistical case for the Cardinals’ longtime backstop paints a picture of a player who may struggle attaining the needed 75-percent for induction.
The first metric we’ll look at is OPS+, where a player’s offensive production is gauged against the rest of those at a player’s respective position. As I’ve noted numerous times before, 100 in considered league-average when assessing OPS+.
While traditional statistics such as batting average have been used prior to gauge a player’s offensive skillset, and Molina’s career .281 average is impressive among catchers, the era of analytics has shown us that batting average is just a small piece to a player’s offensive puzzle. A metric such as OPS and OPS+ do a better job at painting a fuller picture of a player’s offensive skillset.
For his career, Molina’s career OPS+ sits at 98, which tells us that he has been a below league average offensive player throughout his career.
This isn’t to say Molina hasn’t shown himself at times to be a great offensive catcher, the problem is this time frame proved itself to be all too brief.
This period, which we’ll deem 2011-13, Molina posted a 130 OPS+, a sign of terrific offensive production for catcher, saw Molina generate 16.2 WAR, approximately 41-percent of his career value, thus far.
Molina’s 130 OPS+ ranks first among all qualified catchers during period.
From 2009-14, the longest isolated stretch of high level play from Molina, where he slashed .297/.352/.428 with a respectable 114 OPS+, Molina amassed 25.5 WAR, averaging 4.2 WAR per season.
Of the two catchers during this period with at least 3000 plate appearances, the other being Brian McCann, Molina’s 25.5 WAR and 114 OPS+ is tops among the two, with McCann trailing behind at 15 WAR and a 111 OPS+.
Where does this rank in the context of catcher’s across the sphere of baseball history?
First, we must take into account the fact that over parts of 16 seasons, Molina has made 7534 trips to the plate (as of August 26th), which helps establish a criterion for what we’re looking for.
For catchers with at least 7500 plate appearances and at least 80-percent of their games played behind the plate, Molina’s aforementioned 98 OPS+ ranks 8th all-time, with every name except one (Lance Parish, 106), currently in the Hall of Fame.
The mentioning of Parish brings up the topic of WAR (Wins Above Replacement).
For his career, amassed 39.5 WAR, nearly identical to Molina’s 39.4.
According to baseball-reference, the average WAR for catchers in the hall is 54.3, a mark Molina is well-below, and given the fact he is 37, there looks to be no chance he sniffs that mark before his career ends.
The next closest hall of fame catcher in terms of WAR, according to the Jaffee WAR Score System (JAWS), is Roger Bresmahan at 42.5, though Bresmahan’s 126 OPS+ provides more of a case for him than it does Molina.
Continuing on the subject of WAR, we have the statistic WAR162, which takes into account a player’s games played in conjunction with total generated WAR, and for his career Molina’s WAR162 sits at 3.26, but we’ll round that up to 3.3; and while this number is indicative of a productive catcher, no catcher in the hall of fame has a WAR162 lower than this.
Molina’s offensive WAR (oWAR) according to the baseball-reference play index, currently sits at 26.2, eighth among all catchers with at least 85-percent of their games played at catcher.
Three names above Molina, A.J. Pierzynski (28.2), Lance Parish (36.0), and Jason Kendall (40.8), are currently not in Cooperstown and have gained little traction in regards to a case for the hall.
While some of the metrics listed above show Molina to be among the better catchers in the sport, his overall numbers tell the story of a catcher who merely hasn’t produced enough on an individual basis to merit induction into Cooperstown.
And while Molina has constantly received praise for his defensive prowess, one can argue it merely isn’t enough to merit induction into the hall.
His 25.1 dWAR, according to baseball-reference, ranks fifth all-time among catchers, with the likes of Jim Sundberg (25.3), Bob Boone (25.8), Gary Carter (26.1), and Ivan Rodriguez (29.6), all outpacing him.
Of those four listed names, only two, the latter of Carter and Rodriguez, are in the hall of fame.
While fellow Cardinal Ozzie Smith is enshrined in the hall primarily for his defensive prowess (44.2 dWAR, which is most all-time), his career 76.9 WAR is above the average for hall of fame shortstops of 67, while, as we’ve noted, Molina is below the average at his respective position.
All of this tells us that it is Molina’s character, more than what he does on the field, that will boost his case for Cooperstown.