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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