When you think Yadier Molina, you probably think snap throws that send runners sprawling back to first base, balls expertly blocked in the dirt and perennial Gold Glove love from managers and coaches. His bat rarely gets much attention. That should change, though, following Molina’s big 2011 season for the NL’s best offensive club and eventual World Series champion.
Yadi batted .305 for the Cardinals, posting a .349 OBP and a .465 slugging percentage in 518 plate appearances. For comparison, the cumulative line for MLB catchers in 2011 was a measly .245/.314/.390. Molina’s .349 Weighted On-Base Average established a new career high and ranked sixth among catchers logging at least 300 plate appearances (sandwiched between Carlos Santana and Brian McCann). How did the Flying Molina Brother do it? By taking to the air, of course.
Take a look at Molina’s batted ball profile in 2011:
Fewer grounders, more fly balls and plenty of line drives. Molina’s ground ball rate, which was 49.3 percent the previous three seasons, fell to a league average 44.9 percent. His fly ball rate climbed from 30.1 percent from 2008-2010 to 35.5 percent. And Molina’s line drive rate (20.6 percent from ’08 to ’10, 19.6 percent in 2011) remained steady. Eliminating some of those grounders helped Molina in two ways: it allowed him to hit for both average and power.
Molina’s home run totals where metronomic entering this year, sitting between six and eight each season since he became a regular in 2005. In 2011, he punched 14 pitches out of the park. His Isolated Power, which hadn’t reached the triple digits since 2006, spiked to .160. Interestingly, Yadi managed to boost his power numbers without punching out more often: his K rate was a dead ringer for his career average, at 8.5 percent of his plate appearances.
Molina probably boosted his batting average by hitting fewer grounders, too. Let’s face it: if Yadi started sprinting toward first base right now, he might not get there before we find out whether the Mayan prophecy of doom is true. He has a career 2.2 Speed Score (five is average), and his .215 batting average on balls in play on grounders since 2005 places him among the game’s true cement-cleated slow-pokes:
Lowest BABIP on ground balls, 2005-2011 (min. 1000 PA)
1. Casey Kotchman, .195
2. Ryan Howard, .197
3. Lyle Overbay, .204
4. Pedro Feliz, .206
5. Adrian Gonzalez, .207
6. Prince Fielder, .209
7. Paul Konerko, .210
8. A.J. Pierzynski, .212
9. Nick Swisher, .213
10. Yadier Molina, .215
Fun fact: Yadier actually isn’t the slowest Molina brother. That’d be Bengie, with a 1.4 Speed Score that ranks as one of the 15-worst marks of all-time. But, while the youngest Molina might be able to dust the oldest, the point still stands: Yadi isn’t gonna beat out many infield hits, so fewer grounders is a plus.
Molina might not retain all the offensive gains he made in 2011, but the 28-year-old should still be a quality option. Brian Cartwright’s Oliver projection system (featured at The Hardball Times) has Molina hitting .288/.343/.407 next season, with 10 homers. And remember, that’s in spite of Molina playing his home games in a park that does a number on extra-base knocks.
Molina gets attention for his Howitzer arm, and deservedly so. But he’s now a threat at the plate as well as behind it. It’s almost enough to make you want to rock this awe-inspiring T-Shirt:
A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at email@example.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.