It’s not a secret, actually. But let’s go inside the numbers to take a look at why the Cardinals’ Yadier Molina has become one of the best-hitting catchers in major-league baseball.
Molina is batting .337 with eight homers, 13 doubles, 32 RBIs. He has a .379 onbase percentage and a .556 slugging percentage, which adds up to a .935 OPS.
Remember Molina’s early days?
Cardinals fans booed manager Tony La Russa for refusing to pinch-hit for the young catcher late in a close game and the Cardinals needing a run. Molina has come a long way.
OK, here’s the easy answer to explain Yadi’s development as a hitter.
It’s nothing convoluted or esoteric. I like the sabermetric stuff, yes. But I’m not going to go all Bill James on you today. The No. 1 reason why Molina is more like Ted Simmons than, say, Tom Nieto?
Molina punishes the fastball.
He really, really punishes the fastball.
And that wasn’t always the case. The fastball used to punish him. That relationship has changed. It’s been reversed.
Pretty elementary, eh?
I’ll spare you the season-by-season breakdowns. But when Molina broke into the majors in 2004, pitchers pounded him with a high percentage of fastballs. Same in 2005, 2006, 2007, etc. We’re talking right-handed pitchers and left-handed pitchers. Both went heavy on the fastballs, confident in the approach, knowing that Molina would be overmatched.
Some of the averages were pretty weak; in his first season as the full-time starter (2005), Molina batted .236 on fastballs from RHP and .211 on fastballs from LHP. And when major-league pitchers can dominate you with the fastball, it’s easy work. They’ll keep firing the pitch at you until you give them a reason to back off.
Molina gradually raised his batting average against fastballs, and finally hit over .300 against the pitch for the first time in in 2009. But as recently as 2010, Molina batted .239 on fastballs thrown by lefties. (Though he did hit .313 on fastballs from RHP that season.)
Molina had his finest offensive season in 2011, and it was no surprise to see that he batted .317 against fastballs from RHP and .303 on fastballs from LHP. That said, there were still some vulnerable areas, especially when the pitchers could spot the fastball away. Molina struggled (.243) on fastballs at that location.
This season, so far, Molina has been fastball-proof.
RHP have thrown him 287 fastballs. Batting average: .366.
LHP have thrown him 71 fastballs. Batting average: .474.
What about a weak spot? Surely, the pitchers are able to find at least one area of Molina’s zone where they can zing in the fastball for successful results.
Uh, no. This is about the best they can do: right-handed pitcher, high fastball. Molina batting average: .296.
And lefty pitchers? Forget about it. Molina is hitting better than .400 against lefthander’s fastballs thrown to every location of the strike zone so far.
(Thanks to STATS LLC for the data.)
Other notes on Molina:
-- Molina’s ability to consistently produce as the No. 6 hitter or the No. 7 hitter is a major reason for the success of this lineup over the last two years. Most teams can supply quality and danger in the 3-4-5 spots; the strongest lineups go deeper than that. And Molina’s bat has stretched this lineup, with pitchers unable to catch a breather as they work deep into the procession of STL hitters. In 316 at bats as the No. 6 hitter since the start of last season, Molina is batting .320 with a .497 slugging percentage and 10 homers and 26 doubles. In 271 ABs in the No. 7 hole since the start of last season, Molina is batting .310 with a .494 slugging percentage — and 10 homers and 18 doubles. That make a substantial difference in the lineup.
-- According to Fangraphs, Molina’s line-drive rate (27.6 percent) this season is a career high.
-- Molina is showing improved plate discipline; his “chase” rate on pitches out of the strike zone (26.2 percent) is lower than it’s been since 2009.
-- Molina’s w/OBA of .406 ranks 16th in the majors. That’s exceptional. He’s ahead of many big names, guys with established offensive reps.
-- Since the beginning of last season, this is where Molina ranks among full-time MLB catchers in the various offensive categories: 2nd in batting average (.315); 2nd in slugging (.491); 4th in RBIs (96); tied for 1st in extra-base hits (67); 1st in doubles (44); 3rd in combined onbase-slugging (.848); tied for 7th in homers (22); second in runs created (103.) He’s also second in WAR (offense) among catchers to the Rangers’ Mike Napoli. When Molina arrived in STL in 2004, did you think he’d become this kind of hitter?
-- Jake Westbrook throws the sinker around 70 percent of the time; it isn’t as if he’s trying to master the command of several pitches. I know the guy is trying, and he feels bad for pitching poorly over his last four starts. But when your success/failure is based on one pitch, shouldn’t it be easier to find a solution?
-- In his last 15 games (since May 15) Albert Pujols is batting .333 with a .388 onbase percentage and a .717 slugging percentage, with seven homers and 16 RBIs.
Thanks for reading ...
Bernie Miklasz is a Lee News Service columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com or (314) 340-8192.