Exit Interview: Yadier Molina

For the fourth straight year, we’re taking some time in that time between the end of the season and the winter meetings to discuss each player that made an appearance on the St. Louis roster this season.  Whether they played almost every day or never actually got into a game, they get covered in this series.  All stats are exclusively their time in St. Louis.   Just think of this as them stopping by Mike Matheny‘s office for a quick evaluation before heading home for the winter.

Player: Yadier Molina

Season stats: 136 games, 530 PA, 34 R, 23 2B, 2 3B, 4 HR, 61 RBI, 3 SB, 1 CS, 32 BB, 59 K, .270/.310/.350, 80 OPS+, 1.4 bWAR

Hero/Goat: Hero 7, Goat 10

Overall grade: B-

Positives: Caught more innings than he had since 2012, and if it wasn’t for the thumb injury at the end of the year, probably would have surpassed that total….hit .284 with all four of his home runs against right-handers….also hit .284 with a .681 OPS in the first half….hit .400 in five games penciled into the cleanup spot….hit .287 with one out in the inning….showed he was still a clutch bat, hitting .291 with two outs and a runner in scoring position….hit .313 with two home runs the second time he faced a starter.

Negatives: Seemed to wear down late, hitting .228 from August 1 until his last game on September 20….reaggravated the thumb in the playoffs and had to be benched for Tony Cruz….had his lowest caught stealing percentage since 2011, though it was still well above league average….hit just .232 and slugged .264 against lefties….hit .152 in 14 September games….hit just .232 batting fifth, his most regular spot (just edging out sixth)….hit just .236 against power pitchers.

Overview: No one is going to talk that ill of Yadier Molina, nor should they.  Yadi’s still the heart of this team, one of the core pieces that gives the Cardinals their identity.  What he brings off the field is immeasurable but hugely beneficial.  We’ve all heard the quotes about him being another manager, another pitching coach, about pitchers not wanting to shake him off because he knows better than they do.  Molina is a fixture in St. Louis and should be.  None of that is debatable.

What is starting to be debatable is just how often that fixture should be playing.  He can be a vital part of this squad without being behind the plate basically every single day.  He caught more innings than any catcher in the National League and only Salvador Perez, who’s about seven years younger than him, was ahead of him in the MLB rankings.  How much of this is that will of Molina’s to play every day, how much is needing him out there to help the pitching staff, and how much of this is because of the huge drop off between him and his backup, that’s hard to say.  Obviously, you don’t win 100 games if Cruz plays 70 of them.  That just means, though, you need to find a better backup because the need to rest Molina isn’t going away.

Even with rest, we’re not going to see that powerhouse Molina that we saw from 2011-2013.  He’s still going to be valuable, don’t get me wrong.  There’s plenty that he can give the team, it’s just not necessarily going to be .300 with 20 home runs.  The Cardinals should do their best to maximize the next few years of Molina’s career, and that will mean not letting him be among the league leaders in catching innings any more.

Outlook: We’ll see if the Cardinals go and acquire another catcher to help out Molina during this offseason.  With the other issues that they need to address, that could be farther down the list.  Cruz is probably then your backup as Michael Ohlman still needs some seasoning before he can slide into that role.  If Ohlman develops this year, though, he could give the Cards that solid bat that will allow them to rest Molina in the future.  Until then, we’ll see Yadi out there most every day, shepherding this pitching staff to another successful year.

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