Exit Interview: Yadier Molina

For the fifth 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.

This year’s Exit Interview series is “being brought to you by” some of the various Cardinal podcasts that are out there for your listening pleasure.  Our focus this time is Cubs Cards Cast.  No doubt it’s been tough for Dan, a Cards fan in Chicago, to talk with John, a Cubs fan in St. Louis, this season but they always are able to discuss both teams with only good-natured ribbing.  Find them on iTunes or check out their site!

Player: Yadier Molina

Season stats: 147 games, 581 PA, 56 R, 38 2B, 1 3B, 8 HR, 58 RBI, 39 BB, 63 K, .307/.360/.427, 110 OPS+, 2.9 bWAR

Hero/Goat: Hero 13, Goat 7

Overall grade: A-

Positives: After missing the All-Star Game, Yadi went on a tear, hitting .365/.398/.529 in the second half, with six of his homers coming then as well….saved his best month for last, going .388/.425/.561 in September….hit .295 with three homers when leading off an inning….hit .417 on the first pitch….hit .275 with a .696 OPS with two strikes on him….hit .308 with an .812 OPS with runners in scoring position….came up big often, with a .378/.511/.459 line with two outs and RISP and .358/.422/.531 in close and late situations….so, unsurprisingly, he had a .843 OPS in high leverage situations….clobbered relievers with a .358 BA against them….held his own against power pitchers, with an .812 OPS against them….had a 1.011 OPS with three homers against the Cincinnati Reds, who apparently had reason to boo him….hit .333 against the Pirates…..was actually better away from Busch (.325/.380/.456).

Negatives: After a strong start, slumped in May and June, hitting .212 in the former and .235 in the latter….as noted, missed the All-Star Game for the first time since 2008….defensively seemed to slip as well, missing out on the Gold Glove for the first time in nine years….his caught stealing rate was about half of what it normally is and it wasn’t just players like Billy Hamilton taking liberties….had a notable uptick in passed balls and wild pitches allowed.

Overview: What is this world coming to when the only thing keeping Yadier Molina from an A rating is his defense?  (Given the results of the World Series and the election, perhaps we should not examine that question too carefully.)  There’s no doubt that Molina was still a very valuable catcher, but more of that value at least defensively is probably showing up in how he calls a game, manages a staff, things of that nature rather than the other categories he usually dominates in.  He threw out just 21% of baserunners, for example, when his low before was 29% back in 2011 and that was a significant outlier in itself.  67 people successfully stole on Yadi, which was more than the past two years combined.  His passed balls have gone from three to eight and his wild pitches allowed from 22 to 42 in the past three seasons.  While Yadi, again, is still an asset defensively, it’s not that surprising that his Gold Glove streak ended this year.  (In fairness, as his brother indicated on a recent Two Birds on a Bat, the thumb issue likely played at least some role in all this.)

However, he more than made up for that with his hitting.  We as fans complained about Matheny running him out there too much, especially when he seemed to be dragging in the first half.  (It’s a bit ironic that the Cards wound up having a ton of catchers on their roster (five in total) in a season where Yadi caught more innings than he ever had before.)  However, it seemed like all he needed was a break in the middle of the season and he was good to go.  Molina came out of the break with a 14 game hitting streak in which he hit .364/.375/.564 and never really stopped.  To see a 34-year-old catcher go through that much physical punishment, catch that many innings, and still have enough legs to hit like he did down the stretch?  Astounding, just astounding.

Outlook: You can’t expect that level of offense and there’s a good chance that the defense isn’t going to rebound, though I’m sure that Molina will be working hard this offseason to try to get back to some of his heights.  However, it seems pretty certain that Yadi is going to be an asset to this club for quite some time and, if he wanted to, you could see him becoming a coach in the system once his playing days are done.

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