This week on Should or Shouldn’t, I’ve decided to take a look at Yadier Molina of the St. Louis Cardinals. Molina, has been the most challenging case yet. He’s widely regarded as one of the best defensive catchers in the game, but his offense has often been below average. Does his stellar defense make up for his offensive deficiencies? Let’s see how he stacks up.
In his thirteen year career Yadier Molina has accumulated 31.2 fWAR and has a slash line of .281/.335/.394. His best season came in 2012 where in 138 games he slashed .315/.373/.501 with 22 homers. He was 12th in all of baseball with 6.1 fWAR that season. But apart from 2012, he only finished with a WAR greater than 5, once.
While it’s clear that Molina doesn’t have number that jump off the page, we need to see how he stacks up against other catchers. To do that, we’ll use FanGraphs Def stat, or defensive runs above average, to simplify the process. Molina’s Def comes in at 192.6. That’s good enough for fifth all time, even better than Johnny Bench, the greatest catcher to ever play the game. Molina has thrown out 292 runners attempting to steal for a career percentage of 44%. His career fielding percentage is .994. It’s obvious that the guy can flat out play defense. He has 8 Gold Gloves that attest to that.
But, no one is going to argue against Molina’s defense when it comes to the Hall of Fame. They’re going to argue against his bat. And his offense is where Molina doesn’t stack up. This time we’ll use FanGraphs Off stat, or offensive runs above average. Molina’s Off is -79.7. That puts him at 453rd all-time. He only has 101 career home runs and 672 RBIs.
Now, let’s look specifically at other Hall of Fame catchers. Roy Campanella has a career fWAR of 38.2, although it should be taken into account that he only play ten seasons in the MLB. He was above average both offensively and defensively, hitting 242 home runs 1215 games. Ray Schalk has the lowest career fWAR of Hall of Fame catchers at 22.4, but he is credited for being a pioneer of the catcher position, effectively changing the way it was played. Like Molina he is also known for his ability to work with pitchers, something that priceless for pitchers. Rick Ferrell is another catcher with a career fWAR lower than Molina’s, totaling 27.2. So Molina wouldn’t be some outlier were he to be inducted.
Ultimately, I think that a catcher’s value is the hardest to measure. They do so much that’s impossible to quantify. No player on the field is responsible for more. And those are the things that Yadier Molina does best. He’s a great leader, great game caller, and has such a great handle of his pitching staff. While it’s clear that he isn’t anywhere near being the most complete catcher in history, he is definitely one of the best to ever play from a defensive standpoint, and I think that should always be the first priority of a catcher. I think some voters will have trouble looking past the lack of offensive stats, but Yadier Molina definitely belongs in Cooperstown. He’d get my vote.
Stats courtesy of FanGraphs.