I have always found it fascinating to keep track of Yadier Molina's development as a hitter—especially over the last three seasons. Two and a half years into his career, Molina had a .238/.291/.341 slash line. This mediocrity at the plate obviously did not deter then manager, Tony La Russa. He was later quoted in saying that Molina would have been his starter even if he had a .000 batting average. Well, to put his on-base percentage into perspective, Pete Kozma's career OBP sits two points higher at .293. Needless to say, he wasn't scaring any pitchers when he strutted his way to the plate.
This sure has changed, hasn't it?
2011 Statistics and Spray Chart:
Coming off a somewhat down year at the plate in 2010, Molina's 2011 slash line was a quality.305/.349/.465. Compared to other catchers around the MLB with at least 450 plate appearances, his .353 wOBA tied for second with Miguel Montero of the Diamondbacks (boy, MM sure fell off in 2013). Molina had 32 doubles, 14 home runs, and 65 RBI.
Looking at his spray chart:
Based on the chart above, I found that 55% of Molina's line drives (red dots) to the outfield were to the opposite field and 22.5% were up the middle. This leaves the final 22.5% of his line drives to the outfield being a result of pulling the baseball. Thus, 77.5% of his line drives were up the middle or to the opposite field. Considering it stayed at these percentages over the course of a full season, one would be reasonable in thinking that Yadi's approach in 2011 was to hit the ball the opposite field.
What about his actual hits? There is another chart for this, but I did not want to overwhelm you with pictures instead of actual analysis, so you can check out his player card here if you desire. As predicted, the overwhelming majority of his home runs in 2011 were when he pulled the baseball. This shouldn't surprise any of us considering there are few hitters than hit opposite-field home runs on a consistent basis.
However, after looking at the rest of the data points, it is apparent that there is a shift going on towards right field—mimicking what we saw in his line drive spray chart. It appears the majority of his singles were up the middle and evenly distributed to right- and left- field. Finally, without getting into the actual percentage, it also appears that his doubles have a slight lean towards right as well.
After looking at two different charts from BrooksBaseball, giving them both the good ole eye-test as well using simple math calculations, I feel safe in saying Molina's approach throughout 2011 was to go the other way. However, he pulled the baseball when the pitches deemed it necessary—especially for home runs.
2012 Statistics and Spray Chart:
Molina followed up a solid 2011 with an even better 2012. He wielded his way to a .315/.373/.501 slash line. His .375 wOBA was third in the MLB (for catchers) behind Joe Mauer (.376) and NL MVP, Buster Posey (.406). He collected 28 doubles and had career highs (at the time) in home runs with 22 and RBI with 76.
Was his approach at the plate any different from 2011? Let's have a look:
Like I did for 2011, I looked at Molina's line drive percentages to all fields and found that he pulled the ball on 50% of his line drives (22.5% in 2011). He hit the ball up the middle on 22% of his line drives (22.5% in 2011) and went to the opposite field 28% of the time (55% in 2011). Based on the significant changes in these line drive percentages, it appears Molina's approach shifted from being an opposite-field hitter to a pull hitter in 2012.
The hit result chart (found here) seemed to follow his line drive chart which makes sense considering line drives led to a higher percentage of hits A quick eye test shows that this 2012 chart has many more dots on the left-side of the outfield compared to the chart from 2011. With roughly 70% of his doubles occurring when he pulled the baseball, it appears that the statistics successfully back up the eye test here.
2013 Statistics and Spray Chart:
Molina started 2013 on fire, but he was eventually slowed by leg injuries and potential overuse behind the plate. He somewhat limped his way to a .319/.359/.477 slash line. He may have set a new career high in batting average, but both his on-base percentage and slugging percentage were less than they were in 2012. He again finished third in the MLB with a .362 wOBA—behind Carlos Santana (.364) and Mauer (.383). He had 44 doubles, 12 home runs, and 80 RBI.
Did he stick with the pull-hitter approach from 2012 or did he revert back to going the other way like he did in 2011?
His 2013 line drive percentages were 35% to left field, 12% to center field, and 53% to right field. Compared to his line drive percentages from the previous two seasons, it appears Molina reverted back to 2011 approach—hitting the ball to the opposite field. His hit result chart (found here) from 2013 follows the line drive percentages I just listed above.
So what should we expect from Molina at the plate in 2014?
With Molina turning 32 years old in July and the fact that he has caught nearly 10,000 innings in his career, we shouldn't be too surprised by some statistical decline It appears the 2014 ZiPS Projection for Molina from Dan Szymborski has taken these two factors into account. ZiPS projects him to have a slash line of .293/.342/.433 with 31 doubles, 13 home runs, and 73 RBI. With his defense, leadership, and relatively cheap contract (comparatively), these projections are nothing to be mad about. Though still very good production from a guy as important as Molina, no one will deny the fact that these numbers are slightly lower than what we saw from 2011 through 2013.
One thing that likely won't change from Yadi is his propensity to swing at the first pitch. He swung at the first pitch in 241 of his 541 plate appearances (45%) in 2013. Unfortunately, Baseball-Reference doesn't have percentages for this in 2011 or 2012, but I would imagine they are all pretty similar. Who really can complain, though? His batting average on the first pitch was .347 in 2013, .380 in 2012, and .352 in 2011.
With possible age-related decline along with the usual wear-and-tear put on a catcher (especially an overused one), we can all expect slower bat speeds in the future. Because of this, I wouldn't be surprised if Yadi takes an approach similar to those he had in 2011 and 2013—going up the middle and to the opposite field.
What do you expect from Molina's hitting in 2014?
Until next time...
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