By Glen Sparks
If I had to bet, and I really don’t bet, but if I had to bet on whether or not Yadier Molina will ever be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., I’d toss a dollar onto the table and wager that the St. Louis Cardinals catcher will indeed be enshrined someday as one of the game’s immortals.
Let the argument begin.
The Sporting News published an article on Oct. 10, 2015, titled “Yadier Molina’s surprisingly weak Hall of Fame case.” First off, writer Graham Womack praises Molina for his outstanding defense. The 33-year-old owns eight Gold Gloves. That number should go up at least another one or two before he retires. (Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez leads all catchers with 13 Gold Gloves. Johnny Bench earned 10. They’re the only two ahead of Molina at the catcher’s spot.)
Molina has, as Womack points out, been selected to seven All-Star teams. He also has been the de facto leader of four pennant-winning teams and two World Series winners. If the Cardinals had an official captain, and they don’t, Molina would be it.
Going into the 2016 season, Molina’s defensive WAR stands at 20.2 (baseball-reference.com), best among active catchers and fifth-best in baseball history at that position. He trails only Gary Carter, Pudge, Bob Boone and Jim Sundberg. Of that quartet, Carter is already in the Hall of Fame and Pudge probably will be there soon. Boone and Sundberg have no chance.
Baseball fans, especially those in Cardinal Nation, marvel at the way Molina shuts down an opposing team’s running game. He has a cannon of a right arm, throwing out 45 percent of would-be base stealers going into 2016. He also has 55 career pick-offs.
The problem, Womack writes, is that Molina’s great defense doesn’t not make up for his good, but hardly great, offense. Molina’s career WAR (offense and defense) is 30.3, or about 22 points behind the average Hall of Fame catcher.
Womack writes, “Molina’s bat hurts his case.”
Molina has 100 career home runs and 645 RBI. His batting average stands at .283, with an on-base percentage of .336 and slugging percentage of .397.
Below is a comparable set of stats for the last five major-league catchers elected to Cooperstown:
Mike Piazza: (1992-2007), 427 HR, 1,335 RBI, .308 Avg., .377 OBP, .545 SLG., 59.4 WAR, O GGs
Gary Carter: (1974-92), 324 HR, 1,225 RBI, .262 Avg., .335, OBP .439 SLG., 69.9 WAR, 3 GGs
Carlton Fisk: (1969, 1971-93), 376 HR, 1,330 RBI, .269 Avg., .341 OBP, .457 SLG., 68.3 WAR, 1 GG
Johnny Bench: (1967-83), 389 HR, 1,376 RBI, .267 Avg., .342 OBP, .476 SLG., 75.0 WAR, 10 GG
Ernie Lombardi: (1931-47), 190 HR, 990 RBI, .306 Avg., .358 OBP, .460 SLG., 45.9 WAR, 0 GGs
Now, take a look at the stats of some other All-Star catchers. All these backstops have come up short in Hall of Fame voting.
Thurman Munson: (1969-79), 113, 701, .292, .346, .410, 45.9, 3 GGs
Lance Parrish: (1977-95), 324, 1,070, .252, .313. .440, .39.3., 3 GGs
Ted Simmons: (1968-88), 248, 1,389, .285, .348, .437, 50.1. O GGs
Bill Freehan: (1961, 63-78), 200, 758, .262, .340, .412, 44.7. 5 GGs
Jim Sundberg: (1974-89), 95, 624, .248, .327, .348, 40.5 6 GGs
Molina’s offensive stats seem more in line with the second group than with the first. He enjoyed a trio of solid seasons from 2011-13, posting oWARs of 3.2, 5.1 and 4.3, respectively. In his nine other seasons, his total oWAR is just 5.8.
More than anything, Molina needs to put up a few more solid seasons with the bat. Is age starting to creep up on the catcher? He missed 52 games in 2014 and hit .282, with just seven home runs and 38 RBI. Last year, his average dropped to .270. He ripped just four homers in 136 games.
The Sporting News’ Ryan Fagan wrote last July that, “In an abstract way, Molina feels like a Hall of Famer.” He ranked Moina as one of 15 current players who are “Hall of Fame bound.”
Respected writer Joe Posnanski from NBC Sports rates Molina’s chances of making it into the Hall of Fame at 84 percent. He writes: “At retirement, he will have an argument as the greatest defensive catcher in the history of baseball. That gets him in, even with an average bat.”
One argument for Molina’s induction might be in the election of Bill Mazeroski in 2001. Yes, the former Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman crashed a historic home run in the 1960 World Series. That certainly helped his Cooperstown case. But, he hit just .260 lifetime with a .299 on-base percentage. Maz ripped 138 homers, but he posted just a 19.1 oWar over 17 seasons. Fortunately, he enjoyed a great reputation as a fielder, especially in being able to turn the double play. His career dWAR is 23.9. Molina may be the catching equivalent of Mazeroski.
(My personal thoughts: I don’t know how I’d vote on Molina. I just think he’s going in. Or, that he has better chance of going in than not going in. Simmons and Freehan, among others, have stronger cases.)
Viva el Birdos, a great web site, for Cardinals news, published an article Jan. 6 that looked at “Who will be the next Cardinal in the Hall of Fame?” Writer Ben Godar predicts that Molina will be enshrined in 2026, just a few years after going onto the ballot. (Godar figures that Yadi will retire after his contract ends in 2018, making him Hall eligible in 2024. I think he plays a few years longer.)
Godar, like most observers, concedes that Molina lacks strong offensive numbers. He argues, though, that Yadi’s defense, as well as his leadership on so many good St. Louis teams, should help put him over the top.