On the Molina Continuum of Offensive Skill, Cardinals backstop Yadier Molina falls in between punchless Jose and powerful Bengie. The youngest Molina’s production at the plate was decidedly Jose-like during his first three seasons in the big leagues. After posting a lackluster .294 wOBA during a cup of coffee with the Cards in 2004, Yadier actually went south in a full-time role the next two seasons, with wOBA’s of .282 in 2005 and .261 in 2006. Grimly, Jose bested Yadier in each of those years.
Yadier showed some signs of life at the plate in 2007. We’re speaking in relative terms here, but his high-contact antics finally produced a passable batting average. Though he whiffed less than 10 percent of the time in ’05 and ’06, Yadier batted just .252 and .216, respectively, as a result of very low BABIP figures (.256 in ’05 and .227 in ’06). With a more commensurate .299 BABIP in ’07, the junior Molina posted a .275/.340/.368 line, with a wOBA of .311. Yadier then performed at a similar clip in 2008, albeit with a batting average spike. He hit .304/.349/.392, with a .323 wOBA.
Perhaps Yadier had a little talk with Bengie during the off-season, because the 26 year-old is showing some pop for the first time in his career. Yadier’s highest Isolated Power figure prior to 2009 was just .106, a mark he reached in both 2005 and 2006. He had a .093 ISO in ’07 and a .088 mark in ’08. This year, though? Yadier is up to .161, with a .484 slugging percentage that’s 122 points above his career average. With a .382 wOBA, Yadier ranks fourth among all catchers (ironically, Bengie is fifth at .378).
While some of Bengie’s thump might have rubbed off on Yadier, St. Louis’ backstop hasn’t shared his brother’s penchant for swinging at anything within a ten mile radius of home plate. Yadier is drawing walks at a career-high 10.6% rate, above his 7.1% career average. The improved discipline is exhibited by a pared-down Outside-Swing Percentage. After chasing 31.4% of pitches thrown off the dish in 2008, Yadier has offered at just 20.1% of those pitches this season (24.4% MLB average).
Yadier’s offensive game will likely never include Bengie’s brute-force strength, but he surely won’t be confused with Jose ever again. The youngest Molina has turned himself into a quality hitter. He makes a ton of contact (87.5% career contact rate that’s 8% above the league average, as well as a 9.5 K%), he’s no longer a banjo-hitter, and he’ll work some free passes. If you’re in need of a catcher, you could do a lot worse than Yadier.
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