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Examining Barry Zito and Bengie Molina

Posted By Brian Joura On August 17, 2009 @ 4:14 pm In Catchers,Starting Pitchers | 23 Comments

In two-plus years with the Giants, Barry Zito has been a major disappointment. Forget his massive salary, Zito has a 29-41 record with a 4.72 ERA. The primary catcher for Zito in San Francisco throughout his tenure in the National League is Bengie Molina. It has been suggested more than once that Molina is part of the problem with Zito’s performance, yet he has been behind the plate for 15 of Zito’s 24 starts this season, including eight of his last 10 outings.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy is a former catcher and he should be uniquely qualified to assess how important the individual pitcher-catcher relationship is, one that takes on even greater importance for the club this season as it battles for a Wild Card berth in the playoffs. That Bochy continues to write Molina’s name in at catcher with Zito on the hill tells us his opinion of the matter.

There is no easy way to determine if Molina is hurting Zito because there are so many factors to consider. One of the hardest things to combat is the sample-size problem, especially with the Giants’ preference to have Molina behind the plate as often as possible.

The biggest sample we have is the games pitched by Zito throughout his major league career. There are six catchers who have caught him at least 15 times. Here are the rate stats for those who have caught Zito the most in the majors:

Games AVG OBP SLG SO/BB AB/HR
Ramon Hernandez 93 .210 .288 .316 2.17 51.68
Bengie Molina 65 .261 .347 .421 1.45 32.41
Jason Kendall 64 .234 .321 .381 1.72 32.06
Damian Miller 25 .284 .351 .464 1.88 25.21
Adam Melhuse 18 .249 .318 .385 2.03 36.09
Greg Myers 17 .252 .326 .397 2.36 28.69

Among the catchers who have caught Zito the most, Molina does not fare very well in any of our categories. But this could easily be because Molina is catching Zito when he is no longer an elite, or even above-average pitcher. To get a better idea we are going to have to compare Molina to the other catchers on the Giants.

So far in his career for San Francisco, Zito has pitched 90 games. Molina has been behind the plate in 65 of those games, or 72 percent. Here is how Zito has fared with Molina behind the plate compared to all of the other catchers Bochy and the Giants have used since 2007:

Molina: 20 W, 33 L, .261/.347/.421 1.45 SO/BB, 32.41 AB/HR
Others: 9 W, 8 L, .242/.315/.366 1.66 SO/BB, 45.75 AB/HR

Here are the breakdowns for the other Giants catchers besides Molina when Zito is on the mound:

Games AVG OBP SLG SO/BB AB/HR
Pablo Sandoval 8 .233 .311 .321 1.75 96.5
Guillermo Rodriguez 6 .224 .283 .328 2.20 58.00
Steve Holm 6 .300 .361 .469 1.21 32.50
Eli Whiteside 4 .211 .280 .378 2.44 22.50
Eliezer Alfonzo 1 .200 .385 .300 0.33 inf

In extremely small samples, Zito has appeared much more like the pitcher he was in Oakland with Sandoval or Rodriguez behind the plate. Unfortunately for the Giants, Rodriguez is now in the Baltimore organization.

Bochy and the Giants have apparently made the decision that Sandoval will not be catching anymore. It would be thinking way outside the box for the Giants to take their starting third baseman and make him Zito’s permanent personal catcher but at this point, that may be their best option to get the most value out of Zito going forward.

It is hard to blame the Giants for wanting no longer to expose Sandoval to the rigors of catching. But it is time to pull the plug on Molina being the primary catcher for Zito because the results are simply no good. Zito has a .377 winning percentage in 53 decisions with Molina behind the plate. This is one time where we have enough data to draw a firm conclusion.

Throughout it all, Zito has taken the high road. He has expressed a willingness to continue with Molina as his primary catcher, despite the less than stellar results when the two work together.

But this is a case when the manager has to step in for the good of the team. With the playoffs in the balance and Zito on the mound, Bochy simply cannot put Molina behind the plate if he wants to give his team its best shot to win. Molina should be working out at first base so that Bochy has the option to keep his bat in the lineup when Zito pitches.


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