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  • Writer's picturemjdietz17

HoF: Yea or Nay? Yadier Molina

In this series, we’ll continue looking at active or recently retired players with a borderline Hall of Fame case and whether or not we believe they will make the Hall. Some important things we’ll reference are Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system, the Rule of 2,000’ and previous Hall of Fame voting trends. If might help to brush up on some of those things if you are unfamiliar with any of those things.

Previously, we looked at Joe Mauer and Buster Posey and determined Mauer is probably worthy whereas Posey has a lot of work to do in the twilight of his career. Today, we look at Yadier Molina.

St Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina
Yadi-ya mean I'm not a Hall of Famer!?

Yadier Molina is going to have one of the most interesting Hall of Fame votes in recent memory. He has the conventional awards and recognition within the game the BWWAA looks for in their voting. On the other hand, he lacks a dominant offensive resume. But then again he's also an elite defender in an era where voting trends weigh a player's complete performance, not just offensive stats. Except, a lot of analytics metrics don't exactly paint Molina in a great light.


Basically, Molina's Hall of Fame case is a true quagmire.


Things could literally go either way and hinges on several variables we just won't know until the vote actually happens. If Molina ends up on a first-year ballot with several HoF locks like Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera and Clayton Kershaw... he might get squeezed out. If those players retire a year earlier of later, and Molina is a headliner addition to the ballot, he might be okay.


Molina certainly does have a lot of things Hall of Fame voters like to see on a resume: a whopping nine Gold Gloves and an equal number of All-Star appearances. He also owns a Silver Slugger and two World Series championships. 25 years ago, Molina probably gets in simply based on that kind of 'street cred' alone.


Yet, he's not going to fool anyone with his career slash line into thinking he's Joe Mauer, but Molina does have two seasons with 20+ HRs and has finished with a .300+ batting average four times. Yet, he's never driven in more than 82 RBI or scored more than 68 runs in a campaign. His best season is likely 2012 where he hit .315/.373/.501 with 28 doubles and 22 HRs but was overshadowed in the NL that year by Posey who had a season for the ages at catcher en route to the MVP. Also, Molina likely will finish his career with 2000 base hits, as he currently sits at 1982, which as we've previously discussed is a barrier to entry.


But we haven't talked about Molina's defense up until this point and we probably should. Because it's very likely that Yaider Molina is the best defensive catcher to ever play professional baseball. He is first all-time in Defensive Runs Saved at catcher and his caught-stealing mark of 40.23% is good for third among active players, although Molina has played way more innings than those ahead of him. His 148 career “Total Zone” fielding runs above average (from Baseball Reference) are 2nd most all-time for catchers to Ivan Rodriguez. And he's been recognized with those nine Gold Gloves and four Platinum Gloves - given to the league's best fielder overall. The only two catchers with more Gold Gloves than Molina are Pudge and Johnny Bench.


Molina has unquestionably had the longest stretch at the catching position of exceptional defensive play since Rodriguez, but nowhere near the offensive contributions.


Historically, the Hall of Fame favors award winners, which Molina has a-plenty, and offensive milestones, of which Molina is lacking. Those two things haven't often existed before when it comes to HoF cases in years past.


Two players who I think you could stick in that category (and both former Cardinals, ironically) are Ozzie Smith and Keith Hernandez. Smith made it, Hernandez did not. Both were players whose case largely was built on their trophy cabinet and defensive prowess. Smith is sometimes referred to as the 'worst' Hall of Famer ever because his offensive numbers are so bad. But Hernandez is someone often cited as a glaring omission.


I don't know if Molina gets in based on awards alone (Hernandez had an MVP and eleven Gold Gloves), but the shift towards more heavily valuing defensive contributions cracks the door open.


But that shift also presents a challenge for Molina.


Because with heavily valuing defense, a lot of voters rely on analytics and overall contribution metrics like WAR.


And, frankly, the age of analytics hasn't been all that kind to Yadi. In terms of JAWS, Molina ranks just 24th all-time at 34.5, well behind players like Mauer (47.2) and closer to - but still behind - backstops like Posey (39.2) Jorge Posada (37.7) and Jason Kendall (36.0). Looking at WAR7 (a player's best 7 seasons by WAR), Molina shows again in 24th place at just 28.8 (4.1 WAR per season). The average WAR7 of catchers currently in the Hall is 34.8 (4.97 WAR per season). And finally, in overall WAR Molina currently sits 23rd.


So where does this leave Molina? Honestly, I'm not sure.


I think it probably feels weird to NOT to think of Molina as a Hall of Famer. But when you stack up his resume with guys like Ted Simmons and Carlton Fisk, he's well behind in offensive counting stats and his defense is really only graded so well because many of the metrics we now use have came about in the last 25 years. The lack of offensive production is a problem.


Heck, Molina currently has less career base hits, doubles and homers than AJ Pierzynski. And I don't think we're going to get a lot of clamor for Pierzynski to get a bust in Cooperstown.


When I look for a historical comp for Molina to see how their Hall vote turned out, I land on Jim Sundberg.


Sundberg was a three time All Star and six time Gold Glover who was known for his defense while still proving capable with the bat. Sundberg's WAR7 is just a tick below Molina at 28.7, and I think he is the best example of a backstop who played for a long time and got basically a 50/50 split in his value from his defense, without having particularly outstanding offensive stats to bolster his case.


Sundberg wasn't a big HR hitter but his career OPS+ of 90 shows him as a slightly below average offensive player for his era. Molina, admittedly, has the better offensive resume with more counting stats. But not by that much, honestly.


So how did Sundberg fair in his HoF vote?


He fell off after one year with only 0.2% (1 vote) of the 75% needed for election. In other words, it wasn't even close.


The crux of whether or not Molina becomes a Hall of Famer is totally up to how the voters decide to weigh his defense vs offense and his silverware vs his analytics. There's a case to be made for Molina as easily as there is a case to be made against him. If the past is any indication, Molina is probably in for a tough road as the Hall has historically maintained its lofty standards and exclusionary mindset. But recent trends have shows a shift, with things the votes of Mariano Rivera earning 100% of the vote and players like Larry Walker making up a ton of ground in their later years.


Molina certainly doesn't reach the 'gold standard' of catcher in the Hall. He's not Rodriguez, Bench or Yogi Berra. He's not even Joe Mauer. Which means he's far from a lock. Molina's not going into Cooperstown with 100% of the vote unless trends shift massively in the next 5-8 years.


Molina is likely in for a slog on the ballot, if he can stick around long past year one. There's no way he gets in on a first or second but those first years will be crucial. If he starts out with 40% in year one, that's a good sign. Less than 25%, be prepared for disappointment, Cardinals fans.


Molina feels like a guy who gets the vote in the back half of his eligibility (after year five) and that's where I'll handicap it today. I won't be surprised if he fails to get in at all and only slightly more surprised if he gets in early on. I think he's probably a Hall of Famer on reputation and silverware, even if analytics show him to be pretty overrated for his career.


Verdict?


Yadier Molina: Hall of Famer... barely. And mostly based on the narrative that he is one.


Got a player you'd like to see get the Hall of Fame: Yea or Nay - treatment? Email us at 3playpodcast@gmail.com and we'll tackle their case in an upcoming article.

Thanks for reading!







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