Exit Interview 2019: Yadier Molina

Every year since 2012, we’ve spent some time after the season looking back at those that wore the Birds on the Bat.  Whether it’s a bit player that got into just a couple of games or someone that played almost every day, we’ll look at their stats, their positives, their negatives, and grade them based on what we would have expected from them.  The stat line is from their time in St. Louis, though splits and other numbers may include time with other teams, if applicable.  Think of this as like the players packing up their locker and then seeing Mike Shildt before they head off for the winter.  Once again, our great header work comes to us from cardinalsgifs, who continues to be a master.

If we’re talking about 2019, we’ve got to highlight the brand that made the most impact this season: Primos and their partnership with Jose Martinez.  Throughout the span of these interviews (today through Dec. 5) you can get 10% off your order of that sweet, sweet Cafecito coffee (well, I guess you probably have to doctor it to make it sweet) or anything else at their site.  My wife is a coffee snob and we’ve bought multiple bags of the medium roast.  It’s a great stocking stuff or Christmas gift as well, especially when you expand your order to pick up the Jose Martinez coffee mug.  So use code C70SAVE10 at checkout and show your support of their ties to the Cardinal fanbase!

Player: Yadier Molina

Season stats: 113 G, 452 PA, 45 R, 113 H, 24 2B, 10 HR, 57 RBI, 6 SB, 23 BB, 58 K, .270/.312/.399, 85 OPS+, 1.3 bWAR

Statcast: 3.8% barrel %, 87.4 exit velocity, 34.7% hard hit %, .325 xwOBA

Hero/Goat: Hero 11, Goat 4

Overall grade: B

Positives: In typical Yadi fashion, played in the first 12 games of the season and 23 of the last 25….hit .320 with an .862 OPS against left handed pitchers….hit .314 over the last two weeks…was in the top 7% in the league in strikeout rate….hit .303 at Busch Stadium….had an .802 OPS in the second half….hit .333 with an OPS just shy of 1.000 in August….hit .284 when he was batting sixth….posted a 1.028 OPS and hit six of his homers when he hit the first pitch….had an .819 OPS when the count was even, in part because of that aggressiveness….had his best slash line when there were two outs (.300/.368/.414)….put up a .790 OPS with runners in scoring position….slashed .324/.363/.500 in late and close situations….actually hit better when the team was behind, garnering a .293 average in those situations….had a .903 OPS in high leverage situations….had a 1.040 OPS in the eighth inning and a .985 OPS if he came up in the first….hit .308 against the Cubs and had four homers against the Brewers.

Negatives: Played in his fewest games since 2014 due to a thumb injury that kept him out about a month….had his worst barrel percentage and exit velocity since 2016….his walk rate was the lowest it has been in five years….was not an All-Star for only the second time since 2009….had a .676 OPS against right-handers, though eight of his homers came off of them….hit .236 on the road….put up a .654 OPS in the first half….had a .600 OPS in June….slashed .183/.202/.268 when leading off an inning….hit .230 when the pitchers were ahead in the count….had a .555 OPS with nobody out….surprisingly, hit .231 with two outs and runners in scoring position….hit .216 in medium leverage situations….put up a .455 OPS in the second inning….hit .218 against power pitchers….had a .400 OPS in interleague play….hit .248 in day games.

Overview: Yadi’s gonna Yadi.  Remember when he signed that four year contract and we thought that he might be declining so much by the end of it to make it an albatross?  Instead, Molina is now exploring another extension instead of the retirement that he believed would be waiting for him at the end of this deal.  (Even as recently as January 2018, he was definitely calling it quits.)  It’s hard to say that Molina needs to be put out to pasture when he’s playing more than any other catcher in baseball and still producing, though perhaps not to the level that he were used to in his prime.

Looking at some of those splits, it’s hard to write off “clutch” like many sabermetricians tend to do.  There’s something about the big moment, the game on the line, trying to pull his team to a win, that seems to focus Molina more than anything else.  Which makes him still a formidable player even if the overall stats have slipped a bit.  There are stretches where it doesn’t seem you can get him out and there are stretches where he’s a bit more human.  He’s a remarkable player and every year that goes by makes it more likely he’ll get his ticket punched to Cooperstown.

Outlook: All that said, the idea of extending Molina feels like it is fraught with danger.  The club has yet to prove that anyone besides Molina is in charge of his playing time.  If Molina does finally get acquainted with Father Time, how is that going to work out?  Carson Kelly has already had to move on and, if Molina gets extended, it’s hard to see Andrew Knizner‘s future with the club being all that bright as well.  Nobody should want to rush a Hall of Famer out the door, though, and that makes this a bit dicey.  Again, if Molina is open to being a backup for part of his contract, I think everyone would feel a little easier about it.  All that said, don’t be surprised to see a two-year deal announced in spring training, taking him through 2022, most likely at a bit of a pay cut (though that part is not a guarantee).  If so, we’ll just hope Molina can keep holding off time for a little longer.

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