How Much Has St. Louis Cardinals Catcher Yadier Molina Improved at Batting?

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We all know that Yadier Molina has improved greatly as a batter during his MLB career, but just how bad he was relative to his peers and how good he has become may nonetheless surprise you.

Today is the first day of collecting VEB community projections for the 2014 St. Louis Cardinals. We decided to start with the Cardinals' best all-around player: Yadier Molina. In his introductory post, Rui noted that Molina couldn't hit very well when broke into the majors, but has improved with time. Not only has Molina greatly improved compared to the no-hit, all-defense catcher of the mid-Aughts, he has become one of baseball's top batsmen.

Tracking Molina's improvement at the bat isn't that difficult to do. The stat that is probably the best for doing so is Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+). This stat uses the linear weights run values of Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) to give each offensive outcome a context neutral run value. It adjusts for the league run-scoring environment and park effects before scaling a batter's production so 100 is exactly league average. Each point below 100 a batter's wRC+ is a percentage point below average. On the flip side, each point above 100 is a percentage point above average. The higher, the better.

Looking at Molina's 2006 season through the wRC+ prism gives us a good illustration of the stat. Molina's posted a .216 BA, .274 OBP, and .321 SLG in 2006, which is quite bad. That slash line equaled a wRC+ of 54; or, 46% below average. That's really terrible.

While wRC+ paints a fairly clear picture, I nonetheless wondered if we could illustrate how bad Molina once was at batting and how good he has become with a bit more context. Sure, Molina was 46% below average at producing runs in 2006, but that's kind of abstract. What does 46% below average look like? I ended up making a chart that contained Molina's stats for each year in the majors and where each stat ranked among MLB players.

There was a slight problem in that Molina did not qualify for a batting title until 2009. So, for Molina's first five years in the big leagues, I filtered the ranking list by the interval of 50 closest to Molina's PA total that year. For example, in 2006, I compiled a list of batters who notched 450 or more PAs because Molina took 463 PAs. For 2004, the list included all big-leaugers who totaled 150 or more PAs because Molina's total that year was 151. You get the idea. Basically, we're looking at how Molina's batting compares to those who received as much or more of an opportunity to bat as he did.

YADIER MOLINA STATS & MLB RANKS (2004-13)

Year

BA

MLB Rank

OBP

MLB Rank

SLG

MLB Rank

wOBA

MLB Rank

wRC+

MLB Rank

2004*

.267

208

.329

237

.356

327

.297

317

77

299

2005*

.252

187

.295

210

.358

208

.285

216

71

214

2006*

.216

223

.274

220

.321

222

.263

222

54

221

2007*

.275

134

.340

145

.368

214

.313

196

86

193

2008*

.304

28

.349

82

.392

149

.326

131

97

123

2009

.293

52

.366

53

.383

140

.336

107

106

93

2010

.262

96

.329

92

.342

138

.300

133

84

130

2011

.305

16

.349

55

.465

57

.353

50

126

37

2012

.315

9

.373

18

.501

27

.375

19

139

16

2013

.319

7

.359

32

.477

34

.362

31

134

27

*Year in which Molina did not qualify for the batting title.

You may notice how much lower Molina's offensive lines rank in 2004 than in other years. This is because of his very low 150-PA total. There were many more batters who took 150 or more PAs in 2004 than took 450 or more in 2006. Despite this reality to the chart, it still demonstrates how much Molina improved from his career-worst 2006 batting season to the present day. In 2006, 221 batters took 450 or PAs and produced more park- and league-adjusted runs than Molina. In recent years, that number has fallen below 30. This is what an 80 percentage point swing in run creation, as measured by wRC+, looks like: Molina leapfrogging nearly 200 other big-leaguers in batting production.

Molina has emerged as one of the top 30 batters in baseball over the last two seasons. Will he be able to continue such outstanding batting in 2014? Please tell us by submitting your projection for Molina's 2014 performance:

VEB Community Projections 2014: Yadier Molina

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