Yadi Molina, 54 WAR and maybe more

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  • #72778
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    Bob Reed
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    In another thread, someone mentioned in passing that Yadi Molina was still trailing Ted Simmons by a fair bit in career WAR, and cited the numbers at Baseball-Reference.com. As much as I respect B-Ref, their catcher WAR numbers are inarguably distorted for certain individuals because B-Ref fails to include all of the defensive contributions made by backstops. (Baseball Prospectus on the other hand includes both pitch framing and blocking, and has Molina leading Simba 54.1 to 52.2 career WAR.)

    Forgive the long-windedness to come, but I’d like to offer a relatively thorough rebuttal of sorts to what I consider the far-too-modest career WAR totals attributed to Molina at places like Fangraphs & B-Ref. To that end, please find below, with minor editing, a comment I made at another website back in April regarding Yadi Molina’s case for the Hall Of Fame. Don’t be intimidated by the length: what it lacks in brevity, it also lacks in wit.

    ——————————————————————————–

    Baseball Prospectus puts Yadi at 50.6 WAR already for his career.
    Unlike other sites, BPro includes both pitch framing and pitch blocking, unsurprisingly boosting Yadi’s WAR total significantly.

    But here’s the thing: BPro may actually still be too low on Yadi, when it comes to how much he’s been worth in each of the defensive metrics. For example, Statcorner’s highly respected Matt Carruth values Yadi’s framing at 13 runs per year, versus the 11 at BPro. And in terms of pitch blocking, Bojan Koprivica’s breakthrough research valued Yadi at nearly 40% more valuable than the BPro numbers for the only 4 years where we have both data sets (+19.9 runs per Koprivica v. +14.6 runs from 2008-11 per BPro). Thus, between framing and blocking, per Carruth and Koprivica, Yadi has been worth ~3 more runs per year than he’s credited with at BPro, or a total of roughly 4 WAR over his career.

    And it’s not just the BPro blocking and framing totals that may be selling Yadi short. Baseball Info Solutions (BIS) values Molina’s historic throwing arm much more highly than BPro, at 74 runs for his career rather than the 35 runs at BPro. (Think about those numbers for a moment; doesn’t 5-6 runs per year make a lot more sense than just 2-3 runs per season, for perhaps the best throwing catcher in MLB history?) So based on the BIS numbers, that’s 39 runs for Molina, or another 4 career WAR.

    So now we’re up to almost 60 career WAR. And we haven’t even attempted to quantify the game-calling for which Yadi is so often praised by current and former pitchers, coaches, and managers — and sometimes even opponents. (To my knowledge only Mitchel Lichtman, better known in baseball’s analytic community as MGL, has put a number to Yadi’s game-calling. And his initial research would indicate a career value of roughly 3/4 of a win per year, or an additional 10-11 WAR for Yadi’s career.)

    So, based on the BPro numbers, but also the combined insights & research of Carruth, Koprivica, MGL, and Baseball Info Solutions, that would put Yadi’s true career WAR at somewhere between 50.6 and 70 WAR. And recall again that the 50.6 total includes in each instance the lower of the publicly available values for throwing, blocking, and framing. And of course the 50.6 WAR also contains no credit whatever for Yadi’s game-calling.

    And then, as briefly referenced within the thread, there’s Bill James’ Hall Of Fame Monitor. Yadi already scores 140 on that scale, where according to Bill James a score of 100 = a “likely HOFer.” For context, the player directly above Yadi, with 143 points on the HOF Monitor, is Ozzie Smith. Below Yadi are fellow backstops — and Hall Of Famers all — Mickey Cochrane (137 points), Gary Carter (135), Ernie Lombardi (133), Carlton Fisk (121), Gabby Hartnett (121), and Rick Ferrell (109).

    EDIT: Yadi is now at 158 on the Hall Of Fame Monitor

    Moreover, Yadi’s HOF Monitor score only accounts for his Gold Gloves, with no bonus whatever for the much more prestigious Platinum Glove. And it’s reasonable to assume that had the Platinum Glove Award existed earlier in Molina’s career, Yadi would have substantially more than the extremely impressive quartet he already possesses. How can I say this? Because during Molina’s four Platinum seasons, he averaged +16 defensive runs per B-Ref, and +15 according to Fangraphs…but in the six years immediately before the Platinum Glove was instituted, Yadi was even better per those same sources, averaging +19 and +18 defensive runs, respectively.

    Cardinals since Opening Day 2005:
    Yadi, 14,000 innings, 3.64 ERA
    Others, 5,000 innings, 4.28 ERA

    Now, despite the enormous sample size, those numbers can’t simply be taken at face value; we all know that nobody’s game-calling + glovework could be worth .64 runs per game, or 80-90 runs per year. Well, we’re pretty sure anyway. But if any catcher is worth, say, 30 or 40 or 50 runs per year with the glove and gray matter, it’s Yadi Molina.

    Simply put, Yadier Molina is the Ozzie Smith of catchers. Molina is an all-time great defender (perhaps the all-time great) at a defense-first position, who was also slightly above average offensively for his position, and extremely durable, with postseason heroics to boot. If he retired today Yadi Molina would quite rightly be a Hall Of Famer.

    #72779
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    Wiley
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    Exceptional work Robert! Very in-depth research. Very influential in its content and very fascinating in context. Translation; brilliant article. Yadi would be proud of you. The worst thing about some of these ‘research’ places is that they don’t take the full value of what a catcher does into account. As all Cardinal fans know, Molina is the complete package. He’s a defensive wizard; an in game strategic genius; a pitching coach; a talented hitter; a major deterrent to other teams; understands baseball like Einstein understood Relativity; literally defines greatness in every aspect of a catcher and still experts can’t quantify his full value. But you just did, this should be published where everyone outside of St. Louis can appreciate Yadier Molina’s full value. Well done Robert….well done!!!

    #72784
    Brian Walton
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    Thank you for sharing, Bob.

    And in non-HOF-related Molina news…

    #72835
    bicyclemike
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    Good comments Bob. Yadi is indeed a terrific defensive catcher. When discussing whether or not Molina or Ted Simmons is the Cardinals greatest catcher of all-time, strong arguments can be made for both players. It really comes down to whether or not one feels Simmons’ offense out-performs Molina’s defense. And then, both guys were pretty good on the other part of their game as well, with Yadi still having a couple of years or more to add to his value.

    Personally I have a couple of reservations about putting so much emphasis on pitch framing. For one, it is a relatively new metric that is still being developed. For another, in the case of comparing catchers today to those of past generations, it cannot be used as we have no way of knowing the value-added by prior generations of catchers. And even in the case of Yadi, a list of the top pitch-framing catchers in 2017 by CBSsports.com had Yadi eighth, well behind the top two of Buster Posey and Yasmani Grandal. It even calls Posey “the master of pitch framing”. (https://www.cbssports.com/mlb/news/the-best-and-worst-mlb-catchers-at-framing-pitches-based-on-framing-metrics/)

    For anyone interested in digging through the topics of pitch framing, and/or Ted Simmons’ value as a player, here are a few references. First, a copy-paste from Fangraphs’ site on pitch framing:

    Framing
    while we’ve known about pitch framing as a concept for a very long time, we’ve only been able to measure framing in the PITCHf/x era. Gathering strikes and avoiding balls is the hallmark of a good pitcher and we know that umpires do not call uniform strike zones. The catcher, based on the way he receives the ball, can influence the call. Good catchers make sure strikes are called strikes and gets the umpire to call a few balls as strikes too.
    There are many different ways to measure framing but the most popular numbers are posted at StatCorner and Baseball Prospectus. BP’s model is a bit more involved, controlling for more factors, but the general idea is that each pitch has some probability of being called a strike and catcher’s who get more strikes than expected are valuable.
    Framing stats measure how many runs catchers save based on how many extra strikes they are able to get for their pitcher. The statistics do a nice job communicating how many extra strikes are called while a catcher is in the game, but they are potentially problematic when it comes to giving individual credit to the catcher. It is challenging to isolate the effect of the pitcher, umpire, batter, and catcher so that we can properly value the catcher. BP’s stats attempt to do this, but they use a modeling strategy that doesn’t totally capture the underlying process at work. For example, there is no way to distinguish whether the catcher received the ball well or if the umpire is calling an unusually large strike zone during that specific game.
    Framing pitches is a very important part of catching, and we have an idea that the best catchers are worth 15 to 25 runs above average per season, but the numbers you see are definitely estimates.
    Game Management

    Finally, game management (or game calling) remains the black box of catcher defense. No one has cracked this code. Catchers play a huge role in determining which pitches to throw and how a pitcher navigates a given lineup. Honestly, there is no public research that provides much insight into game calling. By all accounts, it should matter, we just don’t have any idea how to measure it.
    There are certainly analysts working on this aspect of catcher defense, but right now we’re dealing with it theoretically rather than empirically.
    Things to Remember:
    ● While FanGraphs does not account for pitch framing, Mike Fast has made some remarkable strides measuring a catcher’s pitch framing ability. If you’re interested, be sure to check out his research. Baseball Prospectus and Stat Corner have also published framing numbers. Our WAR does not include framing, but we intend to incorporate it in the future.

    Specific to Simmons, here is a pull from a RetroSimba interview with Jerry Reuss in 2014:

    Q.: Ted Simmons was your catcher at Tulsa and then with the Cardinals. He’s known for his hitting. Does he get the credit he deserves as a catcher?
    Reuss: “Probably not because of contemporaries like Johnny Bench, Steve Yeager. As far as his game-calling ability, Cardinals pitchers later on told me, ‘This guy thinks it through.’ He had a game plan for everybody who came to the plate and then made the adjustments if the hitter made adjustments. He’d go out and let the pitcher know, ‘This is what I’m seeing here. They’re changing their feet or moving this way.’
    “He became a student of the game. That may have made up for his lack of ability in other areas. He wasn’t the quickest down to second base and he wasn’t always able to hold on to some pitches, particularly early in his career. But he turned into a pretty good receiver.”

    Then we have a Bill James comment:

    From page 375 of the New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract:
    An exceptional hitter, an underrated defensive catcher. Simmons was on OK catcher his first five years in the league; Bill Deane has studied the records at great length, and demonstrated that Simmons threw out an above-average percentage of opposing base stealers in his prime seasons. But the Cardinals weren’t a very good team in those years; they spent most of the time fighting about something and criticizing one another for their failures, and then, too, Johnny Bench set an impossible standard for a young catcher…

    And finally a link to a Cooperstowncred.com article written in August by Chris Bodig on Simmons’ Hall worthiness. The article confirms Reuss’ comments about Teddy’s seriousness in studying his craft and improving himself defensively as a catcher. But in all fairness, he was not a strong defensive player. However, he was a terrific hitter, arguably even better than we think of today. He played in a tough hitter’s park, was a switch-hitter, who was good from both sides of the plate, and sustained his offense over a long period of time.

    Will Ted Simmons Ever Make the Hall of Fame?

    #72841
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    PugsleyAddams
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    Bobby…..you never cease to amaze me! Well done, sir….well done!

    I’ve seen both catchers extensively and Yadi gets the nod over the great Simba. I sure hope Ted realizes enshrinement before he goes to that big diamond in the sky. Ron Santo was like the 250th best 3rd baseman of all time and he’s enshrined. Just goes to show that if you cry loud enough, it usually bodes well for finally getting your way. But as we know, Cardinal fans are generally far outclassed in the pouting department by cubbies fans.

    #72848
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    Cardinals27
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    This thread has reinforced that both Simmons And Molina should be in the hall of fame.

    #72854
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    Bob Reed
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    Thanks so much for all the kind words, folks!

    I should have included some links in the earlier post. Here’s the seminal 2011 Koprivica pitch-blocking article, with glowing comments from baseball analytic notables Tom Tango, Mike Fast, Harry Pavlidas, and Marc Normandin among others: https://www.fangraphs.com/tht/another-one-bites-the-dust/

    And the excellent albeit excessively granular Grantland piece from 2014 by Ben Lindbergh, which includes Mitchel Lichtman’s stab at quantifying game-calling (or pitch-sequencing, if you like). http://grantland.com/features/st-louis-cardinals-yadier-molina-catcher-value-game-calling/

    I do partially share yourr misgivings about pitch-framing, BikeMike, in that it’s a shame we can’t compare current and past backstops — like Bench and Simmons. But framing numbers among modern catchers are reliable enough for me to take very seriously, especially for catchers long in the tooth like Yadi.

    Thanks again, everyone.

    #72855
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    Cardinals27
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    Simmons was second in career hits and rbis by a catcher. How is that’s not Hall worthy? Piazza was a great hitter, but one of the worst defensive catchers ever.

    #72871
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    Bob Reed
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    Ted Simmons suffers from Duke Snider Syndrome. The Duke Of Flatbush played the same position, at the same time, and in the same city as Mays & Mantle, and of course suffered by comparison with those twin titans of major league history. So even though Duke was and is an easy choice for the Hall, it took eleven tries for him to be voted in by the baseball writers.

    Similarly, Simba obviously pales in comparison to the greatest catcher in history, who happened to play in the same division at exactly the same time. (It doesn’t help that Simmons had a LOT of passed balls, esp. early in his career, leading to a poor defensive reputation, rightly or wrongly.)

    #72872
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    PugsleyAddams
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    As a quick aside, sometimes you wonder if looks do not play possibly a miniscule, but yet discernible part in who gets in and who does not? Most organizations like to have good looking members and when the selection process is a toss up, one might imagine that the better looking one would get the nod. I’m trying to think which MLB players might end up getting the short end of the stick in these situations…..first one to come to mind is Justin Turner of the Dodgers and our old pal, John Lackey.

    #72882
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    Cardinals27
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    I also think Scott Rolen, one of my favorite players all time, deserves Hall Of Fame mention. If he had just been more fortunate health wise. 2 of the dumbest defensive plays, including Hee Sop Choy, and I cannot recall the idiot 3rd basemen who Rolen ran into for his second shoulder injury. Both were freak accidents.

    #72903
    bicyclemike
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    Ted Simmons suffers from Duke Snider Syndrome.

    That is a big part of Simba’s lack of historical respect. First, he played in the same league as the greatest catcher of all time, Johnny Bench. Plus Bench’s team was in the post season many times, while the Cardinals were making yearly bad baseball decisions, trading away much more talent than receiving. From Spring Training 1969 through the time just after Whitey Herzog was hired, the Cardinals were in a constant state of confusion. Management and labor (the players) consistently feuded. I put the bookends of the strife as the infamous Gussie Busch “be true to management and not Marvin Miller” speech in the Spring of ’69 as the beginning of the Cardinals’ descent, and Whitey’s trading of Garry Templeton as the end.

    Had Cardinals’ management simply held on to most of the players that came through the system during that ’69-’80 era, we might have had several post season battles against the Reds. There would have been a lot of comparisons between Simmons and Bench, and had Teddy had even one big post season he would be in the Hall today. Playing well in the post season can put a guy over the hump between “great player” and “Hall of Famer”. I put Lou Brock in that category. He got the 3000 hits and had all those stolen bases, so he is pretty much there anyway. But his post season excellence puts him over the top as far as being Hall worthy.

    Back to catchers, it was not only Bench that shadows Teddy’s accomplishments – Simmons’ career occurred during the golden age for catchers. We had Carlton Fisk, Gary Carter, and Thurman Munson plying their trade as well. All of those guys spent time in big media markets.

    #72911
    Brian Walton
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    Simmons has also been hurt by his aloofness, which could have been a major problem for him in a big market.

    #73086
    Brian Walton
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    #73102
    bicyclemike
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    Awesome! When Yadi signed the contract extension, he talked a lot about how much it meant to his family. He is a guy who sees the big picture, and looks beyond himself as to what is important, and how he can be a difference-maker.

    #76485
    Brian Walton
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    #76568
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    Cardinals2016
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    Supposed to be ready for spring training

    Did the Cardinals know this before they traded Carson Kelly?

    #76569
    Brian Walton
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    I had posted this already on an earlier Molina thread down the page.

    If the surgery is as minor as we are being led to believe, Kelly is irrelevant. In fact, there was word at the end of last season that both Molina and Wong might need minor clean up surgery. Of course, they also said all season long that Ozuna did not need surgery and he had it. So who really knows anymore?

    #76570
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    Sorry, didn’t see it. You can remove

    #76571
    Brian Walton
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    No problem. Your question is valid. I will just merge this into the other one.

    #76619
    BlackHillsCard
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    Take what the Cards FO say on injuries and surgeries for a grain of salt.

    #76620
    Brian Walton
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    Well, in this case, the news was given by Molina’s agent to a newspaper in Puerto Rico. All the Cards did was affirm it.

    #78807
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    Bob Reed
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    Didn’t want to start a whole new thread, since this Molina “update” ties in with the topic. For those who don’t already know, Baseball Prospectus has updated their hitter values, based on their new batting metric, the name of which escapes me at the moment.

    By this shiny new yardstick, Yadi Molina gets a nearly 10% boost to his career WAR, but Harrison Bader has his MLB value, and value at every level of the minors for that matter, almost gutted. So I suspect that what’s going on here is that B-Pro’s exciting new acronym is over-correcting for outliers of infield hits/BABIP — and said over-correcting excessively helps the slowest of slowpokes while stealing from the Baders of the world.

    Anyway, this metric being applied by B-Pro to Yadi and (presumably) his fellow backstops, shouldn’t give any one individual player any meaningful advantage. They pretty much all run like catchers, right? So here are the top 10 tools of ignorance wearers, by career WAR, per B-Pro’s latest update:

    Carlton Fisk… 77.1 WAR
    Yogi Berra… 73.4
    Johnny Bench… 72.9
    Mike Piazza… 70.6
    Gary Carter… 67.7
    Yadi Molina… 59.2
    Ivan Rodriguez… 57.9
    Bill Dickey… 53.2
    Mickey Cochrane… 53.0
    Ted Simmons… 52.1

    The other Hall Of Fame catchers for whom B-Pro has WAR values, range from 33.3 career WAR for Rick “maybe they meant to phone my brother” Ferrell, to 46.7 WAR for Gabby “gloamin’ homer” Hartnett.

    All in all, the 12 HOF catchers with B-Pro WAR values (the other two are Campy & Lombardi) score an average of 57.7 career WAR. Toss out the high and low men, and the average is 58.2. Keep the high and low, but toss the two probable PED cheats, and the average becomes 56.6.

    So any way we slice it, Yadi Molina with his 59.2 WAR definitely belongs with this Hall Of Fame group.

    (For the sake of completeness, the other six enshrined backstops are Roger Bresnahan, Buck Ewing, King Kelly, Biz Mackey, Louis Santop, and Ray Schalk.)

    #80933
    Brian Walton
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    Johnny Bench endorses Molina for the Hall of Fame.

    #80934
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    PugsleyAddams
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    “Molina’s prospects to reach Cooperstown”???? That’s a doozy! They may very well rename the joint after him when Yadi’s enshrinement day arrives.

    • This reply was modified 7 months, 2 weeks ago by Avatar PugsleyAddams.
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