Writing up players in October is, to some degree, useless. At this point fantasy owners only care about what the player is going to do next year. And while looking at what a player did the previous year is a big part of determining what they’ll do next year, it’s all kind of pointless without knowing what the cost will be to acquire the player next year. Without ADP or an average auction value, player write ups at this time of year can often be moot come draft season.
With that said, it’s really hard to tell you whether Yadier Molina is a good player to target in drafts next year. On one hand, you could assume that the injury that limited him to 445 PA might make him available at a bit of a discount next year. Then again, fantasy owners overvalued Molina last year. He ended 2013 as the 81st most valuable fantasy player according to ESPN’s player rater, but he was drafted as a borderline top 50 player.
Ignoring assumptions about whether Molina will be over or undervalued by the masses, let’s determine how he should be valued. He finished the year as the 19th most valuable fantasy catcher according to Zach Sanders’ end-of-season values and 16th according to the player rater. As mentioned, a stint on the DL cost him about 100 PA given that he finished with 445 and averaged 552 in the previous two seasons. Extrapolated out to 550 PA, here’s what Molina might have produced absent the injury.
Not all that impressive. The batting average contribution helps given that only four catchers who finished ahead of Molina had a higher average. In an attempt to not undervalue the batting average, Molina’s extrapolated production looks somewhat similar to that of Derek Norris who finished the year as the 11th most valuable fantasy catcher according to Sanders and 13th according to the player rater.
My guess is that Molina won’t just be drafted like a borderline top 12 fantasy catcher next year even though he wasn’t on pace to be better than that. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him drafted as a top five fantasy catcher. If that assumption is correct, is there any reason to expect Molina to outperform the pace he was on this year?
If he’s going to “bounce back,” it’s going to be because his batting average contributions are huge. When he led all catchers in fantasy value in 2013, he did it primarily because he had the 10th highest batting average contribution among all hitters according to the player rater with a .319 average in 541 PA. A career-high .338 BABIP helped him have the high average despite his strikeout rate being in double digits for the first time since 2007. To be fair, the high BABIP wasn’t totally undeserved as he had the 24th best line drive rate among qualified hitters.
This year his BABIP fell back into the “normal” .270-.310 range at .307. Early 2015 Steamer projections have his BABIP being .305 next year. That’s still good, and his batting average contributions will surely continue to be above average for the position. But it’s unlikely his average spikes back up to where it was. His strikeout rate continued to rise this year, and his line drive rate fell from its peak. With Molina entering his age-32 season, it’s hard to expect those things to rebound.
The home runs and steals are pretty projectable assuming that the 22/12 combo he produced in 2012 was a one-year aberration. And without the average rising again it’s hard to predict his R+RBI total bouncing back up to the 130-140 range. If the Cardinals go back to being the best clutch hitting team in baseball, he could rebound in those counting stats, but it’s not always a great idea to count on teammates to prop a player up.
The one thing to love about Molina is the relatively low floor. Absent another injury, it’s hard to see him being worse than what is conservatively being projected here. And what’s being projected here is a starting catcher in 12-team and maybe even 10-team leagues. Other catchers going between, let’s say, 8th and 14th at the position will be far less projectable. So if Molina falls that far, he’s a solid pick. But it would be a surprise if people weren’t more optimistic about him.