Big Money Rides off into the Sunset

The eldest of the flying Molina trio, Bengie Molina officially hung up his cleats Monday, though technically they hadn’t been used in well over a year. And while the news of his retirement flew under the radar a bit — perhaps due to not playing in over a year, and perhaps because it was overshadowed by Yadi’s extension — today we’ll try provide an adequate appreciation for just how good he was over his 13-year career.

First, a bit of a humorous note, as Baseball Reference lists Molina at 5’11’’ and 190 pounds. Does this look like 190 pounds?

We have him listed here at FanGraphs at 5’10’’ and 233, respectively. I certainly am in no position to gloat, but that’s probably a bit more accurate, no?

But I digress. To look too deeply at a catcher’s WAR can be a bit disingenuous, considering catchers and WAR can have a relationship like cats and vacuum cleaners. Indeed not an outright dislike, but perhaps not an exact appreciation for the other’s true talents, especially for those whose careers came before 2002. As a hitter, Molina was largely ‘meh’; his career .309 wOBA is slightly below the mean catcher’s wOBA of .312 over the 11 seasons in which he gained the lion’s share of his playing time. He detested the free pass almost as much as he did the whiff, and he did one or the other in only just over 13 percent of his plate appearances. Over the period in which Molina was primarily active — for the purpose of this piece, 2000-2010 — Molina’s 15.1 WAR ranked him 15th among backstops, right in front of Mike Lieberthal and Damian Miller, and right behind Russell Martin (who debuted in 2006) and Brandon Inge, who by rule of thumb isn’t really regarded as a career catcher.

As a baserunner, Molina was somewhere between cover-your-eyes bad and legalize-the-designated-runner bad; he was not only glacial but never once finished above break-even in the baserunning ranks (-43.3 career mark).

Luckily for the eldest Molina (11 months older than Jose/eight years older than Yadi), much of his perceived value was behind the plate. Though not quite as good as his younger brother Yadi would become, Bengie began his career gunning down ~40 percent of attempted thieves per campaign, before tailing off pretty severely after 2003. Prior to 2004, Molina nabbed 149 of 381(39.1 percent) potential thieves, but from that point on he only gunned down of 161 of 609 (26.4 percent). It’s a truly puzzling development that really stunted the progress of what otherwise appeared to be one of this era’s better defensive catchers. As a result, Molina — whose first-half of his career rate of 39.1 percent would have left him 251st on the all-time caught-stealing list (between Gene Desautels and Jerry McNertney) — tumbles all the way out of the top-400 list of catchers by caught stealing rate. I know I don’t speak for my readers, but I’d have figured he’d have been among the 400 best in that respect.

Like with Mike Cameron last week, one game sticks out in this fan’s memory that will forever etch Molina’s place in my mind. On July 16, 2010, Molina hit for the cycle, and in doing so likely became one of the slowest players to ever achieve the feat. What made it all the more comical — at least now, a year-and-a-half later — was that Molina predictably injured his leg while legging out the triple, a long fly ball to center field off then-Red Sox reliever Ramon Ramirez, and had to be lifted for a pinch runner. No word on if oxygen was provided.

So in essence, Molina was a pretty average catcher over the 13 seasons he played, but one who could have been a lot better if he was just a better — read: not only faster but more skilled — baserunner. He did well to overcome the all-glove, no-hit mantra attached to him early in his career — at one time he posted a .596 full season OPS in the major leagues, much like younger brother Yadi’s second full big league season — to become a decent contact hitter.




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In addition to Rotographs, Warne is a Minnesota Twins beat writer for 1500 ESPN Twin Cities. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Warne, or feel free to email him to do podcasts or for any old reason at brandon.r.warne@gmail-dot-com

29 Responses to “Big Money Rides off into the Sunset”

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  1. MikeS says:

    That picture shows 190# of Molina. Of course it doesn’t show his legs.

    +27 Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. hunterfan says:

    “a long fly ball to center field off then-Rangers’ reliever Ramon Ramirez, and had to be lifted for a pinch runner. No word on if oxygen was provided.”

    I think you mean then Red Sox reliever Ramon Ramirez.

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  3. TK says:

    What’s the minimum chances to qualify for career caught stealing rate? How does Bengie rank among more modern peers (such as past 50 years)? I think some context would help.

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  4. DodgersKingsoftheGalaxy says:

    Never forget that bomb in the ALCS two years ago that turned into a gif with his big blob of a torso twisting his bat around and you see A-Rod put his head down in the background of the picture.

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  5. Matt says:

    c’mon, the guy’s retiring and you give him a hard time about his weight? that was totally out of left field in the post

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  6. Hurtlockertwo says:

    When he played for the Giants he was clutch, I remember him getting a lot of big hits. Good luck Big Money!!

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  7. Eric R says:

    Using the baseball Databank data [1954 onward], here are average attempts per game and CS%, by decade

    1954-1959 0.25 43%
    1960s 0.33 38%
    1970s 0.48 36%
    1980s 0.57 32%
    1990s 0.53 32%
    2000-2010 0.41 29%

    Calculated a league average CS% for each player [SB/CS data 1954-2010] and divided the player CS% by that for an OPS+-like score:

    Yadier Molina 169
    I-Rod 146
    Kenji Johjima 145
    Steve Lake 145
    Henry Blanco 142
    Jose Molina 141
    Gerald Laird 139
    David Ross 139
    Alberto Castillo 137
    Brian Schneider 130

    Brook Fordyce 77
    Mike Piazza 76
    Ed Taubensee 76
    Michael Barrett 75
    Mike Fitzgerald 74
    Craig Biggio 74
    Mike Stanley 73
    Russ Nixon 73
    Bob Tillman 65
    Joe Nolan 65

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    • TK says:

      That’s average attempts per game per team, right?

      Interesting stuff. My gut feeling was that guys were more successful in modern times at the stolen base.

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      • Eric R says:

        Yes, that was per game per team.

        “My gut feeling was that guys were more successful in modern times at the stolen base.”

        I agree– I’m assuming that catcher defense and players’ running ability both improved, just the latter improved much quicker.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        My guess would have been that catcher defense and baserunner holding (pitching) would have improved greatly in the 1980s+.

        Catcher defense became a more important issue in response to Henderson, Raines, Coleman, etc.

        Pitchers also started using the slide step from the stretch position instead of the leg kick.

        Nowadays with the slide step, the emphasis on pitcher velocity, and the emphasis on catcher defense … we see base stealing becoming harder.

        In 82 when Rickey stole 130 bases, he was thrown out 46 times.

        Stadiums also did away with astroturf which likely decreased speed a little.

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  8. Matt says:

    Northwestern (Minn.)? There’s another one?

    Have you guys ever made the NCAAs?

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  9. Johnny Come Lately says:

    Everyone knows that Benjie was pretty slow on the bases, especially toward the end of his career. How slow? I was attending a Giants vs. Rockies game in ’10, Molina hit a single. The first baseman, Helton I believe, didn’t even hold him on at 1st. He played behind him. But Benjie was SO SLOW that there’s nothing he could do about it. It was the first time I’d ever seen a 1st baseman play behind a runner with no one at 2nd or when it wasn’t a blowout. So thank you for that Benjie!

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    • TK says:

      I was at a game in 2009 when Bengie was on second base and Travis Ishikawa hit a soft line drive single essentially right down the line in right field. Jeff Francouer ran about 90 feet to get the ball and threw Molina out at home (to be fair, Francouer does have a cannon). If you weren’t paying attention and you were watching the game at home, you’d surely have thought the guy that got thrown out started at first base.

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  10. Dan says:

    I was at a game when Benjie hit a home run but didn’t score a run. Molina hit a ball to right that bounced back onto the field. He of course stopped at 1st because he would have been thrown out at 2nd. Bochy put in a pinch runner right before the umps used instant replay to reverse the call and change it to a homer. Manny Burriss scored the run after an awesome home run trot.

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