Cardinals Extend Yadier Molina At Premium Rate

Yadier Molina is one of my favorite players in the sport. His combination of elite defensive skills and developing offense gives him a real argument to be considered the best catcher in the sport, and he’s one of the main reasons the Cardinals have been a contending team since he took over as their regular catcher in 2005. And, beyond just his on field value, Molina is remarkably entertaining to watch, as his footwork and arm strength allow him to do things that most catchers can’t even dream of.

However, as much as I love Molina, I figured his contract extension talks with the Cardinals would end with him re-signing for something like $40 million over four years with some sort of vesting option at the end of the deal. Instead, he’s reportedly agreed to a five year contract with St. Louis worth between $70 and $75 million, per Ken Rosenthal, which would be the third richest deal for a catcher in the history of the game – only Joe Mauer ($184 million) and Mike Piazza ($91 million) made more in a single contract. Given the enormous gap between what I thought Molina would sign for and what he actually got from St. Louis, my initial reaction is that this was an overpay by the Cardinals. Even as good as Molina’s defense is – and as limited as our abilities are to accurately value catcher defense right now – they’re still signing up for the age 30-34 seasons of a catcher who has carried a pretty heavy workload up to this point in his career. At $14 million per year, Molina is going to have to remain one of the game’s best catchers in order to justify the salary. What are the odds that he’ll still be an elite player in 2017?

Maybe better than we all think. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to read Ryan Campbell’s story on catcher aging curves from last week, where he showed that the degradation in catcher performance might not be as severe at an early age as is always assumed. There’s definitely a downward trend, just as there is at other positions, but it doesn’t show the age-32 cliff dive that is commonly referenced for those who wear the tools of ignorance.

However, there’s more to measuring the wear and tear of catching than just a player’s age, as not every player breaks into the big leagues at the same time or carries the same workload early in their career. Molina got to the big leagues at age 21 and has been a starter for seven years, carrying an especially heavy workload the past three seasons, as he’s caught over 1,100 innings in each year since 2009. So, I decided to look at other catchers who had racked up similar sized workloads through this same point in their career, rather than just looking at all catchers as a whole.

Since 1962, only 13 catchers had more plate appearances through their age 28 season than Molina’s total of 3,497, and one of those is Joe Mauer, who doesn’t tell us anything about how Molina might age going forward. The other dozen guys who have carried a workload at least as large as Molina’s through age 28? Johnny Bench, Ted Simmons, Ivan Rodriguez, Gary Carter, Butch Wynegar, Darrell Porter, Bill Freehan, Jason Kendall, Tim McCarver, Lance Parrish, Benito Santiago, and Thurman Munson.

Of that group, here’s essentially how it breaks down.

Aged well: Bench, Simmons, Rodriguez, Carter, Porter, Freehan, Santiago
Aged normally: Kendall, McCarver, Parrish, Munson
Fell off a cliff: Wynegar

Seven of the 12 all performed very well even after they turned 30, and four others performed fairly well even as they regressed from their prior form in terms of rate performance and playing time. Of the 12, only Wynegar really experienced dramatic decline, and given what we’ve been led to believe about catchers performance after turning 30, I’d certainly have expected to find more than just one example out of 12 high-workload guys who experienced a sudden and drastic end to an early productive career.

There’s no doubt that catching takes a toll on a player’s body, and that the careers of those who play the position are, on average, shorter than those who play other positions, but the evidence just doesn’t really support the notion that every productive catcher should be expected to turn into a pumpkin as soon as he turns 30. In fact, most of the high quality young catchers of the last 50 years have maintained a good portion of their value into their early-to-mid-30s, which are the years covered by this extension for Molina.

So, we shouldn’t just apply an extraordinarily severe aging curve to Molina simply due to the position he plays or the amount he’s played it early on in his career. In fact, we should probably just treat him like we would most any other player who signed a contract extension that covered his age 30-34 seasons, and assume that he’ll lose something close half a win off his value per year during the extension.

That brings us to the other question – how good do we think Molina presently is? There’s no question that catcher defense is one area that we just haven’t really figured out, so this is a much more open-ended question than it is with most other players in the sport. Molina has averaged +3.3 WAR per season over the last three years, but that only gives him credit for +0.3 wins per season above an average defensive catcher in terms of value with the glove. If Molina provides more defensive value than can just be measured by his ability to throw out opposing base runners (and he almost certainly does), we could easily be underestimating his value by as much as +1 per season. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if we eventually look back and realize that Molina was more of a +4 to +5 win player the last few years, rather than the +3 to +4 win player that WAR currently values him at.

So, this is really an area where no one should be too terribly dogmatic about their opinions. Maybe Molina’s presently a +3 win guy, maybe he’s a +5 win guy, or maybe he’s anything in between. You can make a case for pretty much any true talent level in that range, and obviously whatever side you lean towards will greatly affect what kind of value you think he’ll produce going forward. I’ll settle on him as a +4 win player right now, and you can adjust your expectations up or down depending on how bullish you are on his defensive value.

A +4 win player for 2012, with normal aging, would offer value that looks something like this going forward, assuming $5M per win and 5% inflation.

2012: +4.0 WAR, $20M
2013: +3.5 WAR, $18.8M
2014: +3.0 WAR, $16.5M
2015: +2.5 WAR, $14.5M
2016: +2.0 WAR, $12.2M
2017: +1.5 WAR, $9.6M

The Cardinals already had Molina under contract for 2012, so for this extension, we’re only interested in 2013-2017. Interestingly enough, if you look at the $/WAR values for 2013-2017 with those assumptions, the total comes out to $71.1M, almost exactly what Molina just got from St. Louis. Basically, if the Cardinals believe that Molina’s presently a +4 win player who will age fairly normally, then they just paid something close to the market value for wins to keep him in St. Louis.

However, that conclusion is a bit of a two-edged sword. While that projection suggests that he may very well earn this extension, it also suggests that the Cardinals didn’t get any kind of discount for giving him this deal before he actually hit free agency, and they had to pay full market price for defensive value, which generally does not command full value on the free agent market. In other words, this is probably about what we’d have expected Molina to get if he stayed healthy and played well in 2012, and then became a free agent and had the leverage of multiple bidders. By giving him this deal now, the Cardinals essentially absorbed some injury and performance risk that was previously carried by Molina, and yet they didn’t really get much in the way of cost savings in exchange for taking on that risk.

I understand the desire to show the fan base that Molina wouldn’t be the next Pujols, and that the team was still intent on keeping the team’s best players from walking away via free agency, but at this price, perhaps the Cardinals could have just waited another 12 months before committing top dollar to a defensive specialist. Molina may very well be worth the money, but the Cardinals had to pay a premium price to lock up their star catcher, and if his bat regresses in 2012, they may regret not waiting for his value to drop slightly before committing to him long term.

Still, this deal looks better upon closer examination than I initially thought it would. My expectation of $40 million over four years looks like it would have been far too team friendly given what Molina should be able to produce going forward. This contract keeps a premium player in St. Louis, and sometimes, premium players just cost premium money. Like with the Ryan Zimmerman extension in Washington, this isn’t any kind of bargain, but it ensures that St. Louis will have a high quality backstop going forward. That has real value, especially for a team attempting to defend a World Championship.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


95 Responses to “Cardinals Extend Yadier Molina At Premium Rate”

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  1. bjs2025 says:

    Really well done. I was nervous about what Molina would initially seek in a deal and pegged it around what you did at about $40 over 4. When I heard last night that it would be 5 and over $70 my immediate thoughts were that it was way too much, but this is really good research to show that the deal actually is more appropriate than you’d think. I’m one Cardinal fan that is very happy we did this rather than commit $254 million to Albert.

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    • Yirmiyahu says:

      Aside from Mauer, I think the market generally underpays catchers.

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      • ODawg says:

        Interesting. I was prepared to comment that yes, catchers are generally underpaid, which is an argument for paying less than Molina received. That is, $/WAR doesn’t necessarily have to be the same across positions. The Cardinals could negotiate from the perspective of looking at what other catchers make and setting Molina’s contract based on that. Off the top of my head, I couldn’t think of a non-Mauer catcher making big $, which is part of the reason I had the same reaction as Cameron to this – thinking “whoa, that’s a big # for that guy.” Then I did a quick search of all starting catchers in the league, to see if I could find some comps at the position and find out what their contracts look like. Nope. Most upper echelon catchers are still in their arbitration years. So we haven’t seen comparable long-term contracts to catchers lately, because there hasn’t been many awarded. I wonder – does that contribute to the theory that catchers will fall off a cliff at ages 30-34? That is, could it be that the common assumption Cameron refers to – that it’s a young man’s position – makes us think that you are most likely to be an effective catcher from ages 24-28 because, after all, the majority of upper echelon catchers in the league are indeed in that age range?
        Wonder if someone smarter than me could look back at those backstops considered upper echelon each year over the past decade or so and determine how many at a given time were actually in that age 30-34 range. After all – Cameron’s net of comparables is almost TOO good – he ends up looking at 4 of the top 10 catchers in modern baseball history in that group of 12. So, perhaps it steps out of the context of Yadier’s value and into another conversation, but I do wonder how common it is for a catcher playing at an elite-for-his-position level to even make it out of his arbitration years and be up for an extension like this.

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    • Craig125 says:

      Does WAR take into account any defense for stolen base metrics for catchers? The cardinals allowed the 2nd fewest stolen bases in all of MLB – 64 ( AZ had only given up 61) and the least amount of stolen base attempts – 89. Yadi was ranked 33 in giving up only 46 stolen bases while catching the 3rd most innings – 1150. The MLB median is 112 stolen bases and 158 attempts. There should be some consideration in WAR for that type of domination in controlling the base paths and the tempo of the game.

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  2. stan says:

    I refuse to believe this one. There’s no way the Cardinals are that dumb. It has to be inflated agent speak on the total value.

    I also figured 4 years/40 was what it would take. There’s no way Yadi would make more than that in the open market and I say that as a Cardinal fan who thinks the world of Yadi.

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    • Cidron says:

      He could make that in the open market, easily. Of the big (spending) market teams (tex, nyy, cali-a, fla, bos) who is solid behind the plate enough to not consider a Yadier, should he hit the market? How bout the next tier of teams? In short, there are well enough teams to drive up a price if he hit FA. It isnt just ONE team that makes a price (in FA) but multiple, especially if they are played by a good player agent off against each other.

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  3. Josh A says:

    I think another 4 WAR performance for Molina in 2012 is a bit optimistic looking at his past totals. He had a big jump in his ISO this year, which is likely to fall back towards his career norm in 2012. I think somewhere in the 3.2 to 3.5 range is a bit more reasonable, which if you then apply then .5 WAR decline/year to ends up being a bit more of an overpay for the Cards.
    2012: 3.5 – $17.5
    2013: 3 – $15.8
    2014: 2.5 – $13.8
    2015: 2 – $11.6
    2016: 1.5 – $9.1
    2017: 1 – $6.4

    This comes out to around $56 million over 2013-2017, which would represent an overpay of $14-19 million by the Cards. If you discount starting at 3.2 WAR in 2012, then the value over 2013-2017 falls to about $49 million.

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    • Colin says:

      Cameron did start the article by saying Molina was one of his favorite players.

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    • Stan's Dad says:

      When pegging him as a 4 win player in 2012, Dave make’s the assumption that fWAR has been significantly underrating the value of Molina’s defense.

      This is an assumption I wholeheartedly agree with.

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      • Josh A says:

        That’s fair, but he also stated that defensive value doesn’t command full market value on the free agent market.

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      • Colin says:

        He also gives him almost the max increase by saying WAR could undervalue him by as much as 1 and then adjusting his 3.3 WAR to 4. Going to 4.5 would have been way too much of a stretch but 4 is still a stretch as well.

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      • stan says:

        Hey Dad, did you watch Yadi at all last year? He had the worst defensive season of his career. His range and his arm are both failing. If he earns anything like 4 WAR from here on out it will be because his sudden improvement with the bat was real (not that I’m counting on that).

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      • Baltar says:

        I, too, agree with bumping Molina’s WAR on the assumption that his true defensive value is greater than shown by existing metrics.
        However, as Cameron stated, teams simply don’t pay adequately for defense. Thus, the $70M+ market value he calculated is not really his market value–a fair value perhaps, but not market value. That would be closer to Josh A’s $56M.
        As Cameron also states, agreeing to pay market value (let alone overpay) a year earlier than necessary makes no business sense.
        If the rumored numbers stand up, I congratulate Yadier Molina and his agent.

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      • chuckb says:

        @ Colin —

        fWAR has Molina at 4.1 WAR for 2011 so adding and additional win moves him to 5.1 WAR. Perhaps it’s not as much of a stretch, or as biased, as you seem to believe.

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      • Tom says:

        Dave also usually takes a 3 year average WAR as the baseline….. He’s posted 10 WAR over the last 3 years… so obviously we should start with 4?

        The 5mil/WAR assumption is also problematic unless you think there was 11% inflation this winter.

        None of these are major errors… but when they happen in the same direction it certainly can slant the conclusion.

        He’s exceeded 3 WAR twice in his career, so obviously we should what has been up until this point a career year and use it as a baseline?

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        What is the value of a great defensive catcher though? I realize that they “field” more balls than anyone else, but the main thing is keeping balls in front of them. So basically, it’s ONLY balls in the dirt and ONLY when a runner is on. 1-2 runners on base per inning on average (just guessing by pitcher’s WHIP generally less than 2 but above 1). We already account for base running.

        So maybe even if you think that Yadier is by far the best defensive catcher, who’s to say that even has as much value as say the best SS, best CF, best 3B, etc.

        Then again, maybe it’s an underrated defensive position.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        On average, how many more balls in the dirt with a runner on is Yadier going to keep in front of him than replacement level? How many runs will that save?

        Then again, it could be perception too. Yadier has the reputation of the best defensive catcher and a cannon of an arm, so that alone probably keeps guys close to the bag.

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      • bstar says:

        I don’t think increasing his WAR from 3.3 to 4.5 would be a stretch at all. Combining new data from catcher framing and wild pitch blocking(Molina finished at or near the top in both of those studies), I wouldn’t be surprised at all that Molina garnered an extra win and a half for his team over the last few years.

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      • MustBunique says:

        I have said it before, and there’s no way I know of to put a number on it, but there has to be some value associated with a catcher’s ability to call a good game. If a pitcher is trusting a catcher and throwing what is called for, that has an impact and a value.

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    • Jeff Meller says:

      Assuming 2, 1.5, and 1 WAR from 2015-2017 is likely undervaluing Molina. John Buck, he of the .227/.316/.367 line in 2011, had a 1.8 WAR this year. A.J. Pierzynski, who only had a WAR above 2.2 once, put up 2.2, 1.4, 1.7 in his last 3 years at age 32, 33, and 34, so I highly doubt Molina would be worth less than that.

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    • adohaj says:

      The .5 difference from your numbers and the authors are well within the uncertainty of WAR for catcher defense. Basically with players like Yadi our current system isn’t good enough to pass judgement.

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  4. Scott says:

    What is it with the Cardinals and negotiating against themselves? Did the same exact thing with Matt Holliday. While he was a FA, they were really the only major suitors for him.

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    • jj says:

      What is it with the Cardinals winning 3 pennants and 2 WS in the past 8 years?

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      • Albert Pujols says:

        Having me certainly helped

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        and having a really shit division for basically the last 5 years. Once Houston tanked, not much there. The hard part isn’t winning the game of roulette, it’s getting into it. In a tougher division I doubt they win anything these past few years. The teams of the mid 2000s were great though.

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    • mojowo11 says:

      Hey everyone, let’s pretend that we know anything about the Matt Holliday negotiations, the offers that were made to him and how many teams were involved. It makes perfect sense because every team always discloses all of the offers they make to every free agent.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Berkman and carpenter signed team friendly extensions while the cards were “bidding against themselves”.

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    • tom s. says:

      um, what? there were other suitors for holliday. they did not sign him during their exclusive negotiation period. maybe they paid more than other teams would’ve, but they waited until january to sign him.

      also, the cardinals just spent TWO YEARS waiting on albert pujols, tendering him a conservative contract during the time of club control and then letting the market play out. rafael furcal was another instance where just this off-season STL let a player hit the market instead of overpaying him to avoid the risk someone would offer him more. now, they have put together extensions prior to players hitting the market (berkman, carpenter) but those were hardly overpays.

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  5. Jeff Meller says:

    Even at 2.5 WAR for $14m, that’s $5.6m/WAR, which is not terrible on the free agent market, especially given the distinct lack of catchers in the league with his proven track record with both the bat and the pitching staff.

    Consideration must be made that Holliday and two team options on Garcia also go through 2017, Wainwright is a free agent in 2014, and the 2013-2016 years contain multiple arbitration years from Boggs, Craig, Descalso, Freese, Greene, Jay, Motte, Rzepczynski, Salas, and Sanchez. 2016-2017 should see big arbitration increases from Shelby Miller, Matt Adams, Kolten Wong, etc.

    Another way to look at it is that after this year, the Cards are combining the salary of Westbrook and Molina to keep Molina for 5 more years. As of this deal, the Cards have locked up three core players through 2017, which happens to be the final year of the Cards’ current (and terribly low) $15m/year regional broadcast contract. 2018 should allow further growth in both revenues and team salary.

    In the end, there’s no way the Cardinals could extend Molina, Furcal, and likely Wainwright if they had resigned Pujols to his demands. I’d rather spread out that production and risk than focus it into one player.

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  6. MustBunique says:

    Well written, and hope that in time we can figure out ways to better evaluate a player’s value behind the dish. Very timely piece as I am thinking of someone like Jason Varitek, of whom pitchers always gushed for his ability to call a game. Whether this is true or not is hard to prove or disprove, but there is a certain amount of value associated with this skill. Yadi may have other defensive skills that will set him apart ( I don’t watch too many Cards games).

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    • Baltar says:

      Pitchers always gush about their catcher’s game-calling. The Giants pitchers were equally high on Bengie Molina, but performed at least as well as a group pitching to Buster Posey, a rookie.

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      • Basil Ganglia says:

        It’s not true that pitcher’s always gush about their catcher’s game calling. While most of them don’t directly criticize a catcher whose game calling they don’t like, they get the message across in other ways. Sometimes is by not gushing about it. Oftentimes it might be in off the record conversations with beat writers and other scribes.

        The last year that Kenji Johjima was with the Mariners the frictions between Johjima and some of the pitching staff was well-known.

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      • ODawg says:

        I wish there was a way to dig into this deeper. Even as a Red Sox nut I always feel compelled to admit that Varitek’s value was just plain overstated. I love the guy – and that he beat up Alex – but I always felt like realistically, he had a marginal impact on each pitcher’s value, and an extremely marginal impact on his teams with his leadership, and otherwise his value could be quantified like anyone else. So if we’re putting it in WAR terms, maybe there was 0.5 in there spread across the 20 different pitchers he worked with each season (weighted more towards the regular starters).

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  7. vivalajeter says:

    I have a hard time believing he’ll justify this contract. I thought 4/$40 would’ve gotten it done. The article assumes he’ll have a peak season (4 WAR), a high-end $/WAR of $5MM, and a normal aging curve, yet there’s still no surplus value for the team.

    Unless they think he’s going to take another big step forward this year, or salaries will get out of hand, the numbers just don’t add up for me.

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  8. Shane says:

    After losing Pujols, I think they had to do this. If he had a big year and hit free angency it could have gotten ugly. Losing Pujols and Molina in back to back years would have been a nightmare.

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    • Bill says:

      Yeah, but even if he had a big year, this contract likely would have been the best one on the table. At this point, he is more likely have a worse year than a better year. They should have gotten a big discount for taking on the risk that he gets injured this season.

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    • Matthias says:

      @Shane

      Purely anecdotal and somewhat nostalgic: The Ms lost Johnson, Griffey and A-Rod in consecutive years, then won 116 games.

      If the savings are spread around intelligently, then the team can still win, and fans will quickly forget who was lost.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        yea, then they won 93, then 93, and then since then, finished last 6 times and haven’t made the playoffs in a division where it’s the easiest to make (4 teams).

        In those same years (2002-present) Griffey was basically replacement level, A-Rod was awesome, and Johnson was good-amazing.

        So yea, in the short term it might be just as efficient to build a winning team by spreading the wealth, but guessing when a mediocre-good player is going to be more “good” than “mediocre” and signing them then is harder than taking a good-great player and pretty much getting guaranteed production of a higher level.

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  9. Jeff Meller says:

    There’s no guarantee that the Cards wouldn’t have been outbid for Molina’s services. Look at the teams that either can or do spend money, and think of their catching solution for the 2013-2017 years:
    – Angels: Conveniently, there is only a club option on Chris Ianetta for 2013.
    – Yankees: Russell Martin is a free agent in 2013.
    – Phillies: Only a club option on Carlos Ruiz for 2013.
    – Rangers: Mike Napoli is a free agent in 2013.

    Do the Cards really want to lose another team icon, then have to outbid 4 other teams for the services of the best defensive catcher who also has a solid bat? Sure, the supply of other catchers available may be relatively high, but if it’s the Yankees, Rangers, and Cardinals bidding on Molina, Napoli, and Martin, it’s not likely to end well for the Cards.

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  10. cwendt says:

    Maybe this is a basic question, but why do we assume a WAR decline during a player’s 30-31 seasons? Shouldn’t their peak resemble a plateau?

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    • Baltar says:

      Perhaps, but the peak is usually at 26 or so.

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      • Dan says:

        Dave established that Molina is a premium player, and I believe I have seen an article here somewhere that premium players do tend to have a longer more plateau-like peak. I think starting the .5 win discount at 30 is just to be conservative.

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  11. Nik says:

    Serious overpay.

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  12. Old Style says:

    I certainly think that this is a pretty poor deal (independant of whether he earns it, I imagine that he would receive less on the market). There was a recent article Positional Differences in the Price of War, which would suggest that catchers are generally paid on the lower end of $/War. I know Dave mentioned defensive value is generally underpaid, but I did not assume this included position. Another is that to justify, you need to assume he keeps up a high iso or there is additional defensive value (don’t think either would happen as a free agent).

    As a side point, has anyone looked at catcher defensive value (or general defensive value) aging? I think that assuming a defensive surplus is constant or even ages at the same rate as players in general would be worth taking a look at.

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  13. Josh says:

    Why do you choose to classify Yadier’s workload as liability instead of describing him as injury-free and durable? He’s played 135+ games the past 3 years and at least 115 in every season of his career. When a pitcher has a stream of 200+ IP seasons behind him, the heavy workload is always described as a positive and that he’s “durable”. Maybe this is apples to oranges but could anyone help me differentiate?

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  14. Phantom Stranger says:

    A serious overpay because they know the fanbase would rebel if they first lost Pujols and then Molina. No catcher’s defense is worth what they are paying Molina in this contract.

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  15. jj says:

    I clicked on this thinking that the deal was already done. Why not wait until the details are finalized to write this?

    I think STL is looking toward the future and a fair amount of young players coming up in the next 3 or 4 years and taking an overall look at their cost as much as looking at each individual. Which may make Molina worth a bit more for them than if this were 3 or 4 years ago and they seemed to have more of a veteran team.

    I think anyone who has done an auction league in fantasy (because from what I can tell no one here commenting is a MLB GM) would say that some players you ‘overpay’ for with knowledge that you have some players cheap (keepers possibly – or for MLB they are pre-arb players) or feel you have the ability to get some other players for cheap and some at the current going rate. You know your end cost and plan accordingly in hopes of getting the best team with the highest chance of winning the most games.

    We often look at one contract or one deal we want to grade it, but really I think we should grade the team/GM in it’s entirety based on the entire organization, what owner is willing to spend and how many games the team is likely to win (and of course, how many games the team actually wins.)

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  16. craigjedwards says:

    Until we know whether the extension includes this year or whether the final year is an option it seems premature to consider the contract a huge overpay.

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  17. Dreamin says:

    Thanks for likely pricing the DBacks out of extending Miguel Montero, Cards. He’s not gonna get Molina money, but he’ll be looking for a hell of a lot more than he was three days ago.

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    • Dan says:

      Yeah, what’s Brian Mccann going to get now? His D is nowhere near as good, but the bat is better and that’s what pays.

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      • Nitram Odarp says:

        While his defense obviously isn’t as good as Molina’s, some of the newer attempts at putting a run value on catcher defense paint him as incredibly underrated. He appears to be one of the best in the league when it comes to framing pitches and he seems to do quite well in the blocking department too IIRC. Throw in the fact that he’s younger and, as you noted, better offensively and he could be looking at a big payday. I just hope he’s willing to take a hometown discount when that time comes.

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    • Albert Pujols says:

      Buster Posey and Alex Avila were seen high fiving as many people as they possibly could after hearing this news

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  18. Do you apply 5% inflation to both the future payments and $ per Win? It seems like our monetary policy is on a different trajectory than MLB salaries. The nation has seen less than 2% inflation for years and if MLB has been increasing 7% year over year, then this deal looks materially better financially.

    I don’t know what the actual spread will be, but no one does; forecasting is dicey.

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  19. Albert Pujols says:

    So..the Cardinals nickel and dimed me but have no problem vastly overpaying Yadier?

    And you guys thought my contract was bad…LOL

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    • Bruce P says:

      If this is Albert,who I thought was a man of the upmost integrity,I dont think 21 ml per is nickle and dime material.but the 5year 130 mil is a base salary of 26 you now have a base of 24 which one is better.You left a fan base that bled for #5 to have that person go west for a cut in pay sounds alot more like a man, B Arnold than the man Cardinal Nation ranked beside a guy called Stan the Man, when your kids are nearly grown are you going to tell them being loyal to people and your job isn’t important just show me the money and then tell them to kiss off. A man of God should be a man of integrity,of loyalty,a man of truth. Remember you said from the get go it isn’t about the money. Tell that to God when you meet him.

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      • Cheese says:

        10 years 240 MM is a helluva a lot better of a contract than 5 years 130MM. No way Albert gets five more years at near 22 MM each after once he’s about 37.
        Pujols gave the Cardinals surplus value every year he played there and when this contract time came up, they offered a contract ridiculously far below any contract he could get on the market. Why should Pujols be called B. Arnold when the Cardinals were the ones trying to screw him.
        The Cardinals basically assumed that because Pujols had played in St Louis all his life and the fans loved him that they could try to fleece him with a contract, and if he said no they could just portray him as the bad guy. To me, Pujols not accepting a massively team friendly deal is not him betraying the team, the Cardinals offering such a bad contract is them betraying the fans. If Cardinal nation was so behind Pujols, why did the Cardinals offer him five years when everyone knew he was going to sign for either nine or ten.
        It ridiculous to see that nearly every time a player becomes a free agent and doesn’t take a massive pay cut to keep playing for their current team they are some sort of greedy bad guy. The Cardinals owners are worth 4 billion dollars, yet Pujols is the bad guy for not giving them another great deal.

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  20. Steverino says:

    Of the seven catchers with Yadi’s workload who “performed very well after they turned 30,” you might want to note that the top two (Simmons and Bench) were finished as catchers by age 32 but were such good hitters they found other ways to stay on the field and productive.

    At age 32-33-34, Is Yadi going to be worth $15mm/year as a 3b with a 670 OPS who can’t run?

    And you don’t think Kendall “fell off a cliff” ??? From age 22 to 26, he caught 653 games and put up an 860 OPS, an OPS+ of about 125. From age 26 and 888 OPS (OPS+ of 124) he collapsed to age 27 and 693 (OPS+ of 78) — which was remarkably like the entire rest of his career (age 27 on = OPS of 694, OPS+ of 84).

    SO, we’re left to his defense … which dropped from +12 in 2010 to -6 in 2011 according to Dewan, the first time he ever was below average defensively. He was also a zero in baserunner kills, the first time ever he was not above average. Measurement fluke? Bad year unrelated to age? Or initial decline? I don’t know, but I would not be $75mm on my answer …

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    • Tom says:

      Also worth noting is one of the comps was clearly juiced (I Rodriguez) and another Santiago had a remarkable late career surge…. in the early 2000’s before testing was finally implemented… on the Giants…. not that I’m implying anything…

      I know some will call Santiago a reach but in the 4 years prior to his surge in his late 30’s with the Giants he posted an average of 0.5 WAR/yr over a 4 year period which then magically jumped to ~1.8WAR/yr in his late 30’s (36-38) with the Giants?

      Seems like the conclusion of this article was known up front and the rest filled in.

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  21. Nik says:

    I think Dave is clearly trying to rationalize this move with the caveat that ‘our formula for value doesn’t work on our favorite players’.

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    • tom s. says:

      or maybe he’s relying on a fact which almost everybody, including the authors of this site’s glossary admits: that the value of catcher defense is very hard to assess.

      from the fangraphs glossary: “The one area that fielding statistics still haven’t reached is catcher defense. Some efforts in this regard have been made recently, but it’s very difficult to quantify things like pitch framing and game calling.”

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  22. Bruce P says:

    When it is all said and done you can take all of your formulas and toss them out the window. When you start building a team your core is catcher,shortstop,centerfield and then your power 3b and 1st, then Rf and left. 2011 Molina had the least productive year in pick offs,The reason how about he was the least attempt to steal of all catchers, is he the best offensive catcher probably not the most consistent at the plate without a doubt. There are catchers who have a higher average but how many stay behind the plate for as many games as he, wins gold gloves as much as Yadi. 4 gold gloves in a row, seldom strikes out and the best bat control of just about anyone in all of baseball. How often does he go on the DL,which means his ability to field his position without getting in a major train wreck is well above average. take Mauer the last six seasons and weigh innings behind the plate, hits, errors amount of strikeouts per season IQ of calling the game and World Championships then tell me who really was the best of the two, Mauer 23 mil. Yadi 7 mil.
    .

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    • Jason B says:

      “then tell me who really was the best of the two, Mauer 23 mil. Yadi 7 mil.”

      By 7 mil, do you mean 15 mil per season?

      With Mauer @ 23M/year and Molina @ 15M/year, I will take option (c): none of the above, a/k/a pass on both.

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  23. Smallball says:

    Are we sure we want to call this an overpay. when no one knows what the contract really is.

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  24. Zach says:

    The Cardinals have so much homegrown talent coming up in the next three years, paying market or a little above market at a premium position is hardly bad business

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  25. CircleChange11 says:

    Not a fan of this signing, while being a big fan of both StL and Yadi.

    I don;t think we have a very good understanding of how to quantify catcher defense. The idea/stat that Yadi was below average defensively last year befuddles me. Oh his throwing is declining. Bullshit.

    Here’s what pisses me off …

    Yadi threw out 19 runners and allowed 46 SB. That’s 65 attempts.

    Meanwhile Russell martin has 95 SB and 40 CS. 135 Stolen base attempts.

    If the EXACT same runners that attempted on martin tried to steal on Yadi, how CS would Yadi have? 70? 80?

    Of the guys that surround Yadi on the “CS leaderboard”, Buck allowed 100 SBA, Ruiz allowed 110.

    Yadi gets the same # of CS while allowing 35-45 fewer steal attempts.

    Point being, and I said this again the other day, only the better runners attempt against Yadi.

    I’m not a fan of the 70M, but for us to use catcher defense metrics as evaluation tools when we know that are flawed or incomplete is just assface dumb … and that’s more dumb than the regular dumb.

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    • Evan says:

      So Yadi would through out 51-61 more runners in 70 more attempts?

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    • Joe says:

      Is Molina catching AJ Burnett and CC Sabathia in you hypothetical?

      You also have an AL vs NL issue compounding it in terms of lessening stolen base attempts:
      1) the pitcher is not getting on as much and if he does get on, he’s likely not stealing
      2) if the runner before the pitcher gets on, there’s a decent chance he’s not running either (especially with two out). With less than 2 out the pitcher is likely bunting.
      3) if even the 7th place hitter gets on is he even stealing as if he does there’s a decent chance early in the game that it take the bat out of the 8th place hitter.

      Lastly, caught stealing is what maybe 50% catcher skill, and 50% on the pitcher? (some may think it is even more on the pitcher)

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Since you brought it up, how do AJ and CC compare to Kyle Lohse, Chris Carpenter, etc at holding runners on? Why bring up an issue that we do not have metrics on? We can’t bring up two pitchers on one team and none for the other.

        If scouts and the stopwatch tell me that Yadi’s throwing arm is not what it used to be and he’s below average, and that he’s in defensive decline … I’ll listen.

        As of now, I’m not valuing large scale catcher defense metrics.

        That fewer runners attempt steals against Yadi than against any other MLB starting catcher speaks volumes to me … much more than any +/- defensive metric rating regarding throwing arm. This is relative with catchers because they likely face very similar of runners that have the opportunity to steal.

        To me, it’s not unlike Soriano and Alex Gordon with OF assists. Yes, they have decent, accurate arms … but it’s also a reflection of how many runners (and the quality – or lack of quality- runners that will take a chance on them). Alex Gordon in 2011 had a season where his arm was more valuable than Ichiro has ever had. Am I really going to take that to mean that Gordon has a better arm than Ichiro (even at his peak)? No, I’ve seen both guys throw. One is accurate with decent arm strength throwing from LF (the closest position to home and an easy throw to 2nd.) an think Soriano’s 2007 rARM is one of the highest of the last 20 years, FWIW.

        Lastly, caught stealing is what maybe 50% catcher skill, and 50% on the pitcher? (some may think it is even more on the pitcher)

        It depends. I was a LHP in college who was very good at holding runners on. My only SBA were on pickoff attempts at 1B, or 1st and 3rd situations where they just took off on 1st move. So, depending on the pitcher, it could be all pitcher or all catcher. For example, Dwight Gooden did not hold runners well at all.

        You bring up great questions, and when combined with the other questions regarding catcher defense … should lead us to the conclusion that when evaluating catcher WAR and their contract value, there’s A LOT of uncertainty.

        I’d be interested most in Yadi’s catcher defense WPA and compare it to everyone else.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • CircleChange11 says:

        In 2011, Yadi was 6th among qualified catchers in PB + WP (41 total).

        If you do it PB + WP per 9INN, then he probably moves up the list.

        So, here’s what I want everyone to understand regard Yadi and catcher defense …

        1. He’s in the top third at limiting passed balls and wild pitches
        2. He’s #1 in stolen base attempts
        3. Of the guys that steal against him he throws out a good %

        So, how the hell would he rate as “average”? He’d have to be the worst game caller and pitch framer in catching history. He isn’t.

        Not too long ago he would lead the league in both CS% and the least SBA.

        We all know I love sabermetrics and love to talk baseball, but to take the limited catcher metrics we have and apply them in such a certain manner and act as if the metrics are accurate in real value is wrong.

        I do credit Dave for pointing out the vast range that Yadi’s value may exist. As a Cardinal fan, I do get to watch him more than some others. As a former pitcher, I pretty much just watch the catchers and pitch sequencing (and mechanics) when I watch a baseball game … and there’s no way Yadi is the average range, not by observation, and not by looking at the important metrics.

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  26. No, I’m saying that if Yadi faced the exact same 135 SBA as Martin where Martin threw out 40, does Yadi throw out 70? 80?

    IMO, one of the best aspects of good throwing catchers is that so many more base runners don’t steal. It would be to StL’s advantage if 70 more runners tried to steal on Yadi. Given the break even point and the lesser quality runners stealing, teams would be giving outs away.

    Watching Yadi in the playoffs, runners stole with huge jumps. He threw out Utley and the other was safe by an eyelash on an very accurate.

    I wonder how scouts would rate Yadi’s arm/quickness on the 80-20 scale, or where his “time to 2nd” (stopwatch) ranks among other catchers?

    I think we’ve only begun to scratch the surface on the total defensive catcher … limiting the running game, pitch framing, pitch calling, pitcher handling, blocking balls, etc. IMHO, with catchers we’re slightly ahead of where we were with using fielding % for fielders.

    I’d also be interesting to see things like WPA for all catchers in regards to SB/CS to get an idea on how their arms have affected win probability.

    We’d also need to look at what options StL would have at C and how they would compare.

    Actually when I look at the contract more closely it’s more fair than it isn’t. Matheny might also not catch Yadi as much or as hard as TLR did.

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  27. Dave,

    Longoria aside, are there any/many players that signed long extensions with their current team while under contract that DIDN’T pay them “market value”?

    From the recent ones discussed at FG there don’t seem to be any/many.

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  28. JSB says:

    I figured at the onset of the negotiations that the contract would be roughly a $12.5 million AAV over the length of a 4 or 5 year contract. If indeed the contract is a 5 year/$70-$75 million deal then while it may seem to be a hefty price, it includes other factors in my opinion. 1. Dave Duncan is on leave and unlikely to return in his former capacity as the pitching coach. 2. The Cards don’t really have an heir to Yadi in their system and would likely have to venture in to the FA market for a starter if he were to leave. Those are two major factors in this possible contract. Throw in the fact that AP shunned the Cards and there is really no way the FO could allow him to walk.

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  29. chel says:

    I believe that replacement level is too high for catchers, it should be lowered because I don’t think there are more than 30 replacement level catchers as minor league free agents that any team can grab at any time to replace their starting catcher. You could find hundreds of outfielders or first basemans, but very few catchers

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  30. Shark says:

    I agree. There is no way that defensive metrics can accurately measure a catcher’s value. A good catcher, who can call a good game and throw out runners at a high clip, is extremely valuable.

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  31. Isn’t there recent research out that shows that teams pay more (overpay) for other team’s players?

    I wonder if this is in the minds of GM that are extending their players currently under contract for market value (Tulo, RZ, Yadi, etc).

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  32. TecJug says:

    Dave, considering Yadi turns 35 in the final year of this deal and the fact that his 2011 offensive production seems like the aberration so far in his career, I don’t get how this is a good deal. We’re talking about a guy who’s ISO has never been higher than .106 and has consistently trended downwards for the last six years until suddenly doubling from 2010 to 2011. If he reverts to “normal” for him (which is about 6 HRs, 35 runs, and 50 RBI), is $70M over 5 years still a good deal?

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  33. Antonio Bananas says:

    WAR is relative right? Yadier had a career year last year offensively, but a .305/.349/.465 slash is really only “premium” because he’s a catcher. As a catcher, 500 AB is about tops.

    So basically you can get his offensive production elsewhere, plus there are a large number of games (in relation to other positions) where you need the back up to play. Not only that but as I said earlier, I think we’re over rating the value of an elite defensive catcher. I’m guessing a league average defensive catcher and the best aren’t really all that much different in runs saved. Because it requires a ball in the dirt and a runner to be on, which in itself doesn’t happen often but you also have to account for the amount that your league average catcher would stop already.

    To me the catching position is kinda like the closer position. A good hitting catcher is a mediocre hitter at most other positions and they don’t play enough games to allocate them a ton of money.

    Maybe I’m wrong though. I just don’t see a guy who’s ISO spiked last year and who is a good hitter….for a catcher being worth this much.

    Think about this, if you take out his performance last year, his triple slash since he’s been a full timer in 2005 is .268/.327/.361, none of those are elite. If you want to look at his prime minus last year, it’s been .286/.348/.372, again, not really elite. The ONLY reason his bat is considered elite is because he’s a catcher. You can argue position scarcity, but again, that’s like being an elite closer. An elite closer is an elite pitcher, but shouldn’t at all be measured, thought of as, or paid like an elite starter. An elite catcher, unless he’s putting up bona-fide elite numbers, shouldn’t be paid like an elite player, but rather an elite catcher.

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      What if Molina’s ISO goes back down and he slugs under .400 for the rest of the time? I can’t see how he could possibly be good enough defensively for that to make up for it. The difference between .270/.338/.365 (my guess for his triple slash the rest of this contract) and your average catcher isn’t enough to pay him that much more than your average-good catcher.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        One last thing, what does this mean for Brian McCann? McCann and Molina are both considered elite but for opposite reasons. Still, both are considered elite, McCann has a team option for 2013 that will likely be picked up, but I’ve read that the Bravos are thinking about extending him. Not only that but eventually they will have to resign him. I wonder if McCann will be paid more, especially if he puts up more 3-4 offensive WAR seasons.

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      • Joe says:

        McCann you’d think would get more if they strictly use this as a baseline; though I don’t think he will.

        Regardless of how flawed the catcher defense stats may be, McCann has had exactly one season below 3.5 WAR, Molina has had exactly one season ABOVE it. He’ll also be a year younger at the time of the extension (if they do it in a similar timeframe or 1 year before FA)

        Molina has a carer wRC+ of 88, McCann 121 (and pretty consistent), I think that more than makes up for the defensive difference.

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    • Nitram Odarp says:

      You can’t ignore the value of framing pitches by a catcher. Early work on the differences in borderline strike/ball calls that particular catchers get paints a picture of huge gaps in value between the best and worst at the position. We’re talking about something on the order of a 30+ run difference between the best framers and worst framers at the position. That’s only one facet of catcher defense, yet the difference between the best and worst is still as large or larger than the normal gap between best and worst at all the IF positions (OF seems prone to some bigger outliers).

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    • Josh says:

      Oh dear god. Can you PLEASE go back to the yahoo boards. Is there a way to put someone on ignore?

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  34. Long Gone says:

    It seems a shame that one of the most important stats for a catcher, is basically his ability to decive and umpire with “framing pitches”. What we are really talking about is taking a ball that is off plate and moving it back over the plate to get a strike called on a ball. When baseball can figure out how to get some of its awful umpires out of the game, such a suspect stat will no longer count. I cant think of another stat like in all of sports. I guess actually having a stat called Flopping, in the NBA during Vlady Divac days would be close. Lets make a stat that counts how good a guy is at deciving the refs.

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    • Nitram Odarp says:

      Moving you glove actually doesn’t seem to help a ton with getting strike calls. It seems not moving, especially your head, is what really makes a difference. The idea being that head movement distracts the umpire and makes it more likely he calls a ball.

      Not sure why you take such issue with this. Not sure how its different than taking a charge on defense or drawing a foul on offense in the NBA. Or an NFL lineman that is good enough to get away with holding a considerable amount of the time. Its a skill that has been important in the game for over a century. Why should we suddenly remove it from the game?

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  35. vivalajeter says:

    I’m not a Cardinals fan. I’ve never been to St. Louis and I don’t know any Cardinals fans. I don’t hate them – they’re just another team to me.

    However, I’m kind of shocked to see the way people are writing about Molina. I’ve always thought of Molina as a nice catcher to have, but not much else. Maybe an all-star if there’s nobody else doing well in a given year, but not a superstar by any means. It’s definitely helpful to have him on your team, but he’s never struck me as the type of person you NEED to re-sign. Yet someone called him an ‘icon’, and others are saying you can’t let him go right after Pujols left (as if they’re even close to the same level). This isn’t a late-20’s Piazza coming off a 9+ WAR season, and a string of consistent 6+ WAR seasons. He’s not someone you build your team around.

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    • arch support says:

      Deserved or not, Cards fans absolutely adore Yadi. He represents so much of what Cards fans see in themselves: the oft-overlooked hard working type who isn’t flashy but understands the game and brings value not easily measured.

      Cards fans pride themselves on being the “best fans in baseball” (which I think is ridiculous) and adoring someone like Yadi makes them feel like they’re earning the title.

      So to an outsider, “icon” might seem like a vast overstatement. But to your average Cards fan, loving Yadi is the apex of Cardinal fandom.

      I say this as a Cards fan and a fan of Yadi who recognizes that a bunch of his peers are over the top.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Yadi is not unlike Ozzie Smith, in that so much of his value is wrapped up in defense. Only we don;t have as certain of measures of catcher defense and there’s more facets to it.

        For years, StL teams were built on speed, defense and pitching, so much so that the 2000’s were like culture shock to us where we actually had guys that could hit 30+ homers? No way? Way.

        So, it’s part of the culture that StL really values defense, sometimes to the point of over-valuing it.

        But in the regard of having “favorites”, StL has their Willie McGees and Tommy Herrs … but so do all of the other organizations.

        Yadi is an elite catcher, not just a fan favorite. 4 gold gloves, 3 all-stars.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • arch support says:

        Yeah, I wasn’t trying to say he’s not a great catcher. I was addressing vivalajeter’s surprise at Yadi being considered an icon.

        And we must admit Cards fans can be pretty wacky about their icons. Bo Hart?

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Baseball fans in general, like sports writers, love their undersized white players that “try really hard”. That goes without saying. It’s obnoxious and it does get old, but it’s reality.

        Cardinal fans, like many other organizations, become attached to a flawed player that becomes endearing for claiming his flaws, trying really hard, and occasionally being really good.

        Cub fans had Jody Dvis, I have Willie McGee.

        Reaqlly, I just wanted to point out that Yadi is recognized leaguewide as an excellent/elite catcher as evident by 3 AS appearances and 4 gold gloves. For someone to speak as if Yadi is just a big deal in StL would not be accurate.

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  36. Stefan says:

    The new WAR values that include blocking, raises his WAR average for the last three years from 3.3 to 3.9.

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  37. PL says:

    “[The St. Louis pitchers] understand his value more than sabermetricians could ever start to pick it apart, and what other people inside the game even understand,” said Cards manager Mike Matheny. “There’s so many intangibles. You can’t put numbers to the things that this guy does in helping this team win. And I think that’s [exemplified by] two world championships since he’s taken over behind the plate.”

    OR how about you could look at his numbers and see he’s healthy and is good for 3.5-5.0 WAR a year. We don’t need to bring up the “I” word here…

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