A Cardinals team without Yadier Molina is not a team that many are able to comprehend. In fact, children who were born at the time Molina debuted will turn thirteen this year, and by the time his contract expires at the end of 2021, the same children will be starting their junior year in high school. Evidence goes to show, an entire generation (and most of the next) will not have known a team without Yadier Molina until his retirement. Molina’s impact on baseball goes beyond the field, but that is another topic. The topic that will be approached today is Molina’s impact on the 2017 season, a small sample size for a 14-year veteran, but equivalently important because it is his present influence.
First, let’s take a step back to the house the 2016 season ended for Molina. Yadier played in 147 of the Cardinals 162 games in the 2016 season, a career Milestone. This was an interesting accomplishment as Molina was 34 years old and did not appear to be getting any more potent based on his 2015 performance. Molina finished the season with eight home runs, which seems low, but it was twice the amount that he had hit in the previous season. He recorded 58 RBIs, three stolen bases, and 39 walks, but his strikeout total was the most appealing factor of these statistics. Molina struck out only 63 times in 2016. He is already 10 over that total the season. His batting average was impressive as well for an aging catcher, ending with a slash of .307/.360/.427. Certainly, Molina’s offense was not on the verge of falling off the charts, but as for his defense, the same could not be said. Despite his 1218.1 innings logged, Yadier had his worst defensive year of his career. His caught stealing percentage drop to 21%, a 20% drop from the 2015 season. Molina only caught 18 of a 85 base stealers. He had 8 passed balls, his most since 2005. Defensively, 2016 was not Molina’s year, and it would make sense that he did not win the Gold Glove for the first time since 2008, and that he was not voted and All Star for the first time since 2009. This is why many begin to doubt the true value of signed to a contract extension began in 2018 with the topic revealed that stuff in early March. His offense have been consistent of course, but his defense? That was questionable.
The World Baseball Classic might have been the key it to Yadier Molina being the highest-paid catcher in baseball by the start of the 2017 season in April. Molina was named the MVP of Pool F after Puerto Rico went 6-0, Molina packing the team on his shoulders through the Run. Puerto Rico came up just short for the second time, losing to Team USA in the championship, Molina’s performance must have been enough to convince general manager John Mozeliak and Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt that Molina was worth the money and the time. Fans were prone to speculation, pondering whether the deal was truly worth it based on the prior season’s statistics. One conflict was Carson Kelly, Molina’s ‘heir to the throne.’ Signing Molina through 2021 was a concern for those who believed that Kelly required more playing time in the MLB before he could take over the role that Molina would soon bestow upon him. There were too many questions that only the progression of the 2017 season could answer, and Molina was quick to respond.
As of September 22nd, Molina has started 132 of 152 games, and with only 10 games remaining for the 2017 season, Molina cannot reach his Milestone of 147. However, this does not defeat the fact that his defense has improved tremendously and that his offense has continued to be consistent. Molina has hit more than doubled his home run total from 2016, popping 18 and nearing 20 for the first time since 2012. Molina currently leads the Cardinals in RBIs (81), a new career milestone, and has a slash of .276/.315/ 445. This line is not as potent as the 2016 one, but it is the home run total that sticks out. These 18 home runs do not count the one he hit in the All Star game, which he was elected to for the 8th time after missing it in 2016. Molina has grounded into only 13 double plays, almost half his total from last season and his lowest since 2012. His offense has returned to his average career offense, but his defense has made up for it. Molina has logged 1107.2 innings, has induced an NL-leading 13 double plays, and has 6 passed balls, two less than 2016. He has thrown out 24 of 66 base stealers, which comes to a 36% caught stealing.
How many of the Molina-era fans may say that this is a down year for Molina. On the contrary, those who were around before Yadier Molina stepped foot in St Louis know that these numbers coming from a 35 year-old, 14-year veteran catcher are unique. No other catcher has logged more innings this season than Yadier Molina. Only one other National League catcher has had more attempts to steal on him (Tucker Barnhart, Cincinnati Reds) and has a higher caught stealing than a 35 year-old Yadier Molina. He is 9 years younger than Molina. Molina is tied for 16th in the MLB in passed balls. Molina is staying at the same level as players who are younger than him, some of whom are in their prime. Molina- era fans may not know it Cardinals team without Yadier Molina on it, and perhaps Molina is making a statement this year that he is not going anywhere anytime soon.