FanPost

Insider Information: Yadier Molina Against His Former Battery Mates

Yadier Molina, after big games against Edwin Jackson and Kyle Lohse, has recently shown a particular aptitude against former Cardinals pitchers. In this post, I intend to demonstrate that success and find if there is anything to the thought that Molina can turn prior knowledge of a pitcher into an advantage at the plate.

* * *

Molina began his career as a glove-first backstop who was such a sure thing that his presense allowed the 105-win 2004 Cardinals to let their incumbent backstop and team leader, Mike Matheny, leave in free agency prior to the 2005 season. Molina's defensive prowess had become apparent in the time he spent in the majors while Matheny recovered on the DL, throwing out half of the runners attempting to steal second in 51 games that season, while also hitting for a respectable .267/.329/.356*.

*For perspective: major league catchers hit .259/.321/.402 in 2004, placing Molina just slightly below the league's average backstop. Not bad for a 21 year old.

The narrative for Molina's offense is that he became a hitter at the major league level, with the help and guidance of Albert Pujols. While that's likely true, it should be noted that Molina had fared decently in the minor leagues, though with a notable lack of power. Molina hit .280/.331/.384 as a 19 year old in a full season at Single-A, and .275/.327/.332 as a 20 year old in a full season at Double-A. He was hitting .302/.387/.372 in Triple-A in 2004 before earning his call up to the majors.

But since the low of his awful 2006 (in which he hit .216/.274/.321), Molina has turned his offense around in a big way. Since the start of his breakout 2008 campaign, when his offense approached league average for the first time, he has hit .301/.354/.430. In the past 2 seasons in which he's been an MVP candidate, he's hit .324/.374/.503 (as of my writing this on 8/21/13).

Molina doesn't strike out very much, but he doesn't walk all that much either (his K-rate is 8.7%, compared to the league average of 19.7%, and his Walk-rate is 7.2%, compared to 7.9%). He relies on making good contact, and it has served him well.

Molina has handled many different pitchers in his 10-year career, from Aaron Miles Adam Ottavino to Woody Williams. Many went on to have careers after their Cardinals playing days. The catcher's job to understand the pitcher and set him up to perform his best, and Molina, being known as the excellent game-caller his is, might have as good an understanding of the pitchers' stuff as the pitcher does. It stands to reason that Molina could then take that experience from catching that pitcher and turn it against him in the batter's box.

Molina has faced 24 Cardinal pitchers he had previously caught in a major league game, over 151 Plate Appearances. The easy ones to remember are Kyle Lohse, Edwin Jackson, Jason Marquis, and Jeff Suppan, as we've seen plenty of them since they left in free agency. The only other three Molina has faced more than 10 times since they left are Chris Narveson (2006), Dan Haren (2004), and Woody Williams (2004)**.

**I considered leaving Haren and Narveson out, due to the limited amount of time they pitched to Molina and the weight they had on the results (over 20% of the plate appearances). That is, until I looked up their minor league assignments and realized they both spent significant time pitching to Molina in Single-A Peoria (2002) and Double-A Tennessee (2003). So I left them. That's enough exposure to assume familiarity.

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

K%

BB%

Vs. All 24

.311

.362

.514

.875

7.4%

7.4%

Vs. 10+ PAs

.308

.353

.551

.905

7.8%

6.0%

Career

.285

.340

.404

.744

8.7%

7.2%

The results come out like you might expect: higher across the board (or in K%'s case, lower). It would seem to confirm the notion that Molina has a better idea of what's coming his way when he's facing a pitcher he used to catch.

Now for kicks and giggles, check out what this table looks like without the inclusion of Kyle Lohse:

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

K%

BB%

Vs. All (23)

.287

.344

.441

.786

7.9%

8.6%

Vs. 10+ PAs

.274

.327

.413

.740

8.7%

6.7%

Career

.285

.340

.404

.744

8.7%

7.2%

My hypothesis doesn't work so well without Kyle Lohse, against whom Molina has hit .583/.583/1.333, with 2 HRs and 3 Doubles in his first post-Molina season. Lohse and Woody Williams (.455/.455/.545) are propping this line up, with Edwin Jackson (.200/.294/.667) only helping in the SLG department.

Final STL Year PA AB H HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
Suppan, Jeff 2006 23 22 6 0 2 0 3 .273 .261 .364 .625
Narveson, Chris 2006 21 18 4 0 2 2 3 .222 .286 .389 .675
Marquis, Jason 2006 20 18 4 1 2 2 1 .222 .300 .444 .744
Jackson, Edwin 2011 17 15 3 2 5 2 1 .200 .294 .667 .961
Haren, Dan 2004 12 11 4 0 1 1 1 .364 .417 .364 .780
Lohse, Kyle 2012 12 12 7 2 4 0 0 .583 .583 1.333 1.917
Williams, Woody 2004 11 11 5 0 0 0 0 .455 .455 .545 1.000
The Rest 47 41 13 1 4 6 3 .317 .404 .415 .819

It kind of hurts to see Molina having been handled so well by the likes of Jeff Suppan and Jason Marquis.

In the end it doesn't appear that the knowledge of how a pitcher tends to pitch has consistently manifested itself into an advantage for Molina, though this has basically just been an exercise in carving up small sample sizes. I found it interesting nonetheless.

* * *

If you'd like to take a crack at naming the 17 other former major league battery-mates Yadier Molina batted against after they left St. Louis: Sporcle!

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