The Greatest Cardinal Catcher

Has Yadier Molina been great enough to get the title for the greatest Cardinal Catcher ever to play? Not quite. He is number 2, behind one of the most underrated catchers of all time. He still has to get past Ted Simmons, which he will probably do in a short time.

But until then, Ted Simmons it is.

Arguably a top 10 catcher to ever play the game, and probably a top 5 offensive catcher at that.  A player that had a wonderful 10 year stretch who unfortunately dropped off at the end of his career. A prized bat although only average at best defensively to below average, he posted great numbers in a 10 year peak that is hard to beat for any catcher. This is a player who should easily be in the Hall of Fame, but in his first and only ballot, he only received 3.7% of the votes.

From the years 1971 to 1980, he was almost unstoppable for a catcher, his lowest wRC+ in a season was 113, while his average for the stretch was 128. In comparison, Johnny Bench’s career wRC+ is 125. In a four year stretch, he averaged 138 wRC+. Fantastic numbers for a catcher. Only Mike Piazza and Joe Mauer have really been above that mark for any consistent time

His lowest WAR during this time was 3.8, and he had 5 seasons with 5.0 + WAR. Ernie Lombardi, who is in the Hall, only had 1 season with 5+ WAR. Mickey Cochrane, another Hall of Fame catcher, had 4 seasons with 5.0 + WAR. He is the 11th-best catcher by WAR, ahead of guys like Gabby Harnett.

From a traditional standpoint, he has raked up 2472 hits, second all-time for catchers. Also, 248 home runs, and while that is low for any other position, it puts him 10th for catchers. 1074 runs scored, good for 6th all time. 2nd in RBIs with 1389. He ranks up pretty well in the traditional stats was well as the more advanced metrics. And he did all of this before Mike Piazza, the greatest offensive catcher, ever sniffed at playing at the major league level, making his numbers historic as well.

It’s hard to imagine a guy so dominant at his position like this not in the Hall. Well, like I said earlier, he completely dropped off. In his last five seasons, his highest wRC+ was only 103, with his lowest at 60. Highest WAR was 1.0 while his lowest was -2.4. And he was always considered bad behind the plate.  During his great time as a catcher, 92% of the time he played was as a catcher. In his later years, all that time played caught up to him. Injuries plagued his career after he left St. Louis, only playing more than 150 games once in a season. While with St. Louis, he played over 150 games 9 times.

This is a player who just became overlooked. Not even sniffing at becoming a HOFer, even when he had the stats to make it. He is not even in the St. Louis Cardinals team Hall of Fame. Although a Veterans Committee hopefully will add Simmons to the Hall where he belongs, who knows when that will happen?

I don’t believe he is a Johnny Bench or Berra, but he was a fantastic catcher for the Cards, and deserves to be in the Hall. Especially when catchers like Ernie Lombardi are in it now.




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a eskpert
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a eskpert
2 years 4 months ago

I’m not sure we can firmly say Yadi is better than Joe Torre’s Cardinal years either.

Patrick Sopko
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Patrick Sopko
2 years 4 months ago

Torre wasn’t a catcher for the Cards.

A eskers
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A eskers
2 years 4 months ago

These are the things you cannot learn with just a graph.

Iron
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Iron
2 years 4 months ago

Rather disingenuous to compare Simmons’s peak wRC+ to Bench’s career wRC+. If we just compare the same years (1970-1980) Bench had 130 to Simmons 126.

But you have a point that he was a great player. If he had come a decade earlier, he would probably have been in easily. Unfortunately he played in Bench’s shadow, not matching Bench’s offensive output while playing league average defense.

As for Molina passing Simmons in a short time… Molina has a long way to go to reach Simmons, and at 32 it is no foregone conclusion. He’s taken 10 years to get 30 WAR and needs another 25 WAR to reach Simmons. That’s 5 very good years. If I were a gambling man, I’d take odds he doesn’t get there.

Lanidrac
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Lanidrac
2 years 4 months ago

Yadi is only 31 at the moment, and while he probably won’t quite get there in 5 years, his career will probably last longer than that. Don’t forget that it took a while for his to bat to develop, meaning a large majority of his WAR has been posted in the most recent 5+ seasons.

Matthew Cornwell
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Matthew Cornwell
2 years 4 months ago

If WAR included pitch framing, Molina would already have around 45 WAR. Catcher WAR with no pitch framing is only mildly helpful.

Iron
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Iron
2 years 4 months ago

Fair point. I think I’ve seen something like 87 runs saved career for Molina through pitch framing which would give him somethng like 38 WAR. But for purpose of comparison to historic catchers, that is apples to oranges.

Matthew Cornwell
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Matthew Cornwell
2 years 4 months ago

I have seen other estimates around 130 runs.

Man O War
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Man O War
2 years 4 months ago

The impossibility of estimating Simmons’s framing skills makes the comparison meaningless though. It’s not an unimportant point, and I look forward to smart people advancing this metric, but as of now I’m not sure what to do with this information. Simmons has 55 WAR without framing considerations and an unknowable number of WAR with them. Molina has 30 WAR without and 40-45 WAR with framing. At this point the only fair apples to apples comparison has to unfortunately be without, no?

Matthew Cornwell
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Matthew Cornwell
2 years 4 months ago

Well, I guess. Typicaly speaking, poor defensive catchers are often poor framers. That may not be true for Simmons, of course. Even if he were a good framer, I am sure the gap between the two is closer than the current gap regardless. Just assumptions, of course.

I really have no horse in the race really. I just hate when people throw around 30 WAR for Molina as if it is a final word. Obviously he has been much more valuable than that, regardless of Simmons.

james wilson
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james wilson
2 years 4 months ago

Can we just take Ernie Lombardi out of the Hall? And make it a twofer with Bill Mazerowski.

Lou Schuler
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2 years 4 months ago

You make a great point about how Simmons spoiled his own legacy with all those unproductive years at the end. I also suspect his HOF candidacy was irreparably damaged by his new manager, Whitey Herzog, moving him off catcher in 1980 and sticking him in left field for a few games, where he looked lost. (I sat in the left-field bleachers for one of those games.)

Then Whitey traded him to Milwaukee, along with Fingers and Vuckovich, for a bunch of journeymen. Since Fingers and Vuke won the AL CYA in ’81 and ’82 (Fingers was also MVP in ’81), Simmons in retrospect may have looked like a throw-in.

One of the most devastating put-downs came from Bill James in a preseason article for a national magazine (I think it was Esquire). He praised Simmons’ bat, but then said, IIRC, “But as a catcher, there’s no evidence he could throw out Nancy Reagan at second if she got a good jump.”

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