Cubs: Yadier Molina says he wants to be remembered as the greatest
Chicago Cubs fans have had more than their fill of Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina. Now he’s pronounced himself the GOAT and more than Cubs fans are saying “nope.”
My Cubbies Crib colleague and fellow Chicago Cubs fan Jake Misner wrote about Yadier Molina’s significance to St. Louis. Still, I didn’t even have to read the Bleacher Report story, and I thought of two catchers that rank better: Johnny Bench and Ivan Rodriguez. But I’m a believer in metrics so, let’s look at the numbers.
Being the GOAT means you excel in all facets of the game. It’s not a low bar. It’s the highest of high bars. So how does Yadi stack up?
Chicago Cubs: Catchers and defense
He was calling the game, receiving the pitch, throwing out runners, managing a pitching staff full of personalities. It’s a heavy lift being a catcher.
Molina knows hitters’ tendencies as well as anyone who has caught in MLB, is arguably the best pitch-framing catcher to play the game and can manage pitchers as well as anyone I’ve seen.
In 16 MLB seasons, Molina has thrown out 40% of runners, 12 points above league average. In his prime, from 2006 to 2013, he was worth, on average, 20 Defensive Runs Saved. In 2013 he was worth 30 DRS. In 2010 he was worth 16 Runs Above Average. He was always above the league average for catchers in fielding percentage. He hasn’t won nine Gold Gloves for being less than a great defensive catcher.
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During his 16 seasons, none of Molina’s contemporaries have consistently put up defensive numbers topping Yadi in his prime. Not Buster Posey, not Jonathan Lucroy, not Salvador Perez, no one. Some are close, tantalizing close in fact, in one season or another.
Year after year for eight seasons, Molina ruled behind the plate. Add in his ability to manage the game and pitching staff, and you have a likely HOF catcher. But, if you’re laying claim to being the GOAT, then it’s not just your contemporaries we’re talking about, is it?
Overlapping Yadi’s tenure from 2006 to 2011 was Pudge Rodriguez, winner of 13 Gold Gloves, ten of them in a row from 1992 to 2001, plus something that has eluded Molina for 16 years, an MVP award in 1999.
From 1995 to 2006 Pudge was worth 10 to 25 Runs Above Average. His career fielding percentage equaled league average, and he threw out a whopping 46% of base runners, 15 points above the league average.
Then there’s Johnny Bench. When he came up in 1967 until 1978, Bench never had a caught stealing percentage under 40%. In 1969 he threw out a mindbending 57% of base stealers. His overall career mark is 43%. All this was in an era when runners were stealing on artificial turf fields. Bench was ROY in 1968, an MVP in 1972, and won ten Gold Gloves in a row from 1968 to 1977.
You could put Buster Posey in this conversation as well until injury impacted his play behind the plate. It’s true that very few on the defensive side of the game have played it at such a high level for so long as Molina. But then there’s the other side of the game.
Chicago Cubs: Catchers and offense
Let’s take JT Realmuto, a pretty good defensive catcher but nowhere close to Molina’s level of play behind the dish. His career slash over his six years is .278/.327/.452, with a .779 OPS. Or how about the aforementioned Pudge, with a .296/.334/.464 career slash and .798 OPS. Then there’s Buster Posey, a strong defensive presence behind the plate every bit as much as Molina, who has a career slash of .302/.370/.456 and .826 OPS.
Molina’s slash, in his prime, hangs with these guys: .297/.353/.422 slash and .775 OPS. But career-wise, a 282/.333/.405 is decent but hardly remarkable.
There are a dozen more I could add, and this 2014 article lays it out pretty well.
Molina is one of the best defensive catchers ever to play the game. Overall, a Top Ten? Definitely, a strong case can be made. Top five? You could argue that and not lose face. Greatest catcher of all time? Uh, no.