Yadier Molina and the Sniper Rifle

Yadier Molina’s throwing arm is so good, it hurts.


OK, how good has Yadier Molina been at throwing out base stealers?


Yadier Molina has thrown out attempted stealers 40.7% of the time

Yadier Molina has been thrown out as a stealer 38.2% of the time


In other words Yadier Molina has made base stealers WORSE THAN YADIER MOLINA at stealing bases.


And really, that’s not being entirely fair to how good Yadi’s arm actually is. You see, a caught stealing % is not all on the catcher, though virtually each one requires a good job by the catcher.


If your pitcher sucks, you might not even stand a chance. Or maybe you can throw a bullet to 2B to find that your 2B isn’t exactly adept at catching lasers or laying down tags. After all, not everyone can tag like Javy Baez.


(I mean, have you seen Javy Baez lay a tag down? OMG. He’s a wizard. I could watch him on repeat. No one can possibly tag a runner as tagrrifically as Javy Baez. My personal dream is for Javy Baez to grab a ball and smack me in the ass, if you know what I mean.)


Sorry, I had to put that in there in case I ever apply to work at ESPN.


Anyway, Yadier has caught well over 100 pitchers all with different runner holding skills over the years, and he’s still led the league in CS% 4 times. In his 1st full year in the league, 2005, he caught 64% of runners trying to steal. 64%! The league average was 29%, which is of course, inflated by Yadi’s numbers.


Yes in recent years Yadi’s numbers have tailed off. He’s 36 years old after all, but he’s still throwing out over 30% of runners who are trying to steal, still above average.


And if you read that and thought to yourself “Wow, a 36 year old catcher still has an above average arm! That’s amazing!” You’d be right, but you’d be way wrong also. And it’s a microcosm to looking at Yadi’s career as a whole. His value just doesn’t fully show up in the numbers like we are used to seeing them.


Stolen base % is crap without digging deeper.


Yadier Molina is currently 5th in innings caught. Yes, this is in spite of his unsolicited vasectomy earlier this year. He’s likely to end up 4th. He’s had 36 attempted steals against him. 23 catchers have given up more steals than Yadi has had attempted steals.


37 catchers have had more stolen base attempts against them than Yadi. Folks, there are 30 teams in the league, and Yadi catches almost more than anyone, and there are THIRTY-SEVEN CATCHERS WHO HAVE HAD MORE SB ATTEMPTS AGAINST THEM.


We’re talking about a 36 year old catcher whose arm is declining, and the league simply doesn’t run on him.


Why?


Because Yadi’s arm might be declining, but if you actually think it’s only above average, then I’m sad to report that you have Mike Matheny levels of brain damage my friend.


Let’s consider our old friend Jonathan LuCroy, one of the many annoying “better than Yadi” nags we’ve heard over the years. Lucroy has a terrible arm, but his CS% is 29%, only 2% below Yadi.


So what gives?


Anybody and their mother will run against Lucroy. Bartolo Colon probably has 14 steals against him. It’s like having Jon Jay as a catcher. This year he’s allowed 67 steals. He’s caught only 28. It’s pretty simple. It’s easy to up your percentages when slow runners think they have a chance against you.


As for Yadi? He’s 11 for 36 this year in catching runners. OK. He’s not. It’s not even close. I WATCHED EVERY STEAL ATTEMPT THIS YEAR (OH MY GOD KILL ME) Check it out:


1)First the bad – 3 of his 11 weren’t caught stealings at all. They were pickoffs by the pitcher.

2)Another was Yadi picking off a runner at 3rd that then broke for home. It pains me to do this because it was Yadi’s arm that got the out, but it’s not like the runner was really trying to steal a base.


That’s right, Yadi has only actually caught a runner stealing 7 times all season.


Now, for the 25 runners who were safe:


  1. Two were pickoffs where Yadi got to stand idle and watch his stats get worse.

  2. Two were the manufactured 1st and 3rd play where the runner on 1st runs half wait to bait a throw so that maybe the runner on 3rd could score. The defense bungled both, so the runner was safe at 2nd with a “steal.”

  3. One was Yadi attempting to pick off a runner who was crazy off the bag at 1st, only Jose Martinez plays 1st like some sort of injured antelope, and was stumbling blindly with the ball while a runner on 2nd took off for 3rd and got credited for a steal against Yadi. OK.

  4. Two happened on one play, just the other day, where Yadi absolutely nailed a runner but DeJong dropped the ball after the fact. The review went against the Cardinals making him safe, and the other runner who scored on the play got credit for a steal. Two steals against Yadi on a play in which he should have had 1 CS. Awesome.

  5. EIGHT steals where either the pitcher was so slow to the plate, or the pitch was so hard to handle (In the dirt), that Yadi couldn’t even get off a throw.

  6. FIVE steals where Yadi really had no chance but tried a late desperation throw where the announcers actively talked about how it was the pitcher’s fault.

  7. 2 Steals that, well, I’m counting against Yadi just to try to not be biased towards him, but take a look at my notes I wrote on them:


SB12: REAL STEAL ON YADI – This was a hit and run and not a straight steal. It’s is a super tough one to put on Yadi, in fact if he wasn’t as good this wouldn’t count against him. But I’m trying to be unbiased here, so I’m going to put it on him because he could have thrown out Eric Thames. Flaherty Vs Yelich with Eric Thames on first. Danny Mac discusses the steal opportunity and says Thames is leaning towards 2nd, so he gets a good jump. Flaherty throws a pitch in the dirt that Yelich swings on for strike 3. Yadi backhands the pitch like a master, and throws a great throw to second, but it hops at the end, and Wong has to go up for the ball before coming back down and the runner is safe. So, good jump, ball in dirt, swinging bat to contend with, but a perfect throw would have gotten him. Sorry Yadi, tough critic here. Heck, had Yadi merely focused on blocking the pitch instead of trying to do more, I’d have put it on the pitcher. But I’m going to have to stick with being the asshole here to avoid bias as much as possible.


SB13: REAL STEAL ON YADI – Again, I have to be a jerk here. Perez, one of the faster players in the game, steals 3rd with Hicks on the mound. His jump is tremendous, he’s running full speed before Hicks has thrown, but there is no mention of this by the announcers, so I don’t want to put my bias on. Add to it that it’s 3rd base, and hence should be easier. ALSO! Matt Carpenter dropped the throw, but I don’t think he had a chance anyway. I have to put this on Yadi.


8)3 other actual normal steals.


So maybe you say 3, maybe you say 4, and maybe you say 5. Sticking with 5, Yadi is actually 7/12 this year on steal attempts where he had a freaking chance. 58%. Players might be able to run on the pitchers, but no one runs on Yadi. The 36 year old will still get you.


Which brings me to two important things:


  1. Yes the positives and negatives of fake steals happens to every catcher, but because so few people ever actually attempt to run on Yadi, their ratios aren’t nearly the same.

  2. All variations of WAR are both counting stats, and use some variation of stolen base attempts and caught stealings (with a weight on who is pitching).


Therefore Yadi’s WAR value is actually hurt by the fact that he’s never run upon. It’s a counting stat and opponents don’t give him a chance to let those numbers add up. The steals that a better system would never count against him, definitely count against him far more than the average catcher. Of course, typically only real base stealers ever attempt, which means his job is harder than the average catcher that just might see Matt Carpenter taking off for 2nd.


In other words, like I said at the beginning, Yadi is so good it hurts. It’s literally hurting his WAR. That number some experts use to say he doesn’t belong in the HOF because it isn’t high enough. Too bad he isn’t worse…