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Molina Motion Madness

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Before we get to the main post today, I spent about 2 hours last night at the theater for the movie Cloverfield. I don't know how many of you have heard of this movie but it's by JJ Abrams, the creator of two of my favorite TV series (Lost, Alias), and it debuts this weekend. I was really eager to see this movie so I went with a small group of other individuals who aren't concerned about their sleep to a midnight showing.

I won't give any of the movie away. . .mainly because I can't. You see, I didn't actually watch the movie. I had tickets. I sat in the theater. I heard the movie. But I couldn't watch it. The movie utilizes a free moving camera to tape the entire 85 minutes. It's never stationary and it goes in and out of focus at random. Tragically, I have really bad motion sickness. So I spent 2 hours and $9 to sit in a large group of people with my head between my knees trying not to yak up my guts. I made it but barely.

I can say that the movie sounded really good. My friends all seemed to like the movie despite the slightly atypical ending. So I'd recommend the movie if you don't have problems with motion sickness.

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Over the last three years, Yadier Molina has accumulated a very consistent number plate appearances each year. 2005 and 2006 are very similar years, even if the rate stats don't look like it, but 2007 had two very important differences. As someone who likes Bryan Anderson's offensive potential, it's easy for me to dismiss Yadi's offensive potential. As a 25 year old, there's still time for him to improve his skillset. While we'd be surprised to see any major changes to the style of his game, it's not impossible.

Before we look at the two differences, I want to nip this idea that Yadi's numbers are better or worse because he's changing batting stances or tinkering with his swing or whatever. When he's accumulated 1200+ plate appearances, it's time to set aside these attempts at selectively sampling out his good month. He isn't going to suddenly start slugging .500 or bat .300 because of a batting stance. That is just wishful thinking.

So what are these two differences that I've alluded to? The first isn't really a skillset change but a correction of bad luck. In 2005, Molina had 424 PAs with a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .256. That number looks like bad luck. Not terrible luck given how slow Molina is but the league average is closer to .300. 2006 saw similar results. In 459 PAs, he had a .227 BABIP despite a 19% line drive rate. Last year finally showed a correction of that unfortunate random variation. He posted a .299 BABIP in 401 PAs and slightly improved his line drive rate. So that's all a good thing. Moving forward, I'd expect him to sit somewhere in the .280-290 BABIP range if everything else remains equal.

More importantly than seeing a correction of bad luck, was what appears to be a real improvement in a skillset. Here are his walk rates for 2005-2007: 5.5, 5.7, 9.7 -- he improved his walk rate by 70% last year. Now the thing to watch next year is whether or not he can sustain that improvement. If so, that's a fantastic stride forward and it bodes well for him actually being an asset to the team. Even if there's a slight regression, improvements to a skill like this show real progress on the part of the player. If his OBP stays north of .330 (it was .338 last year), then Molina is almost certainly a plus for the team relative to his position.

There's another area that, conceivably, Molina could continue to develop in. It wasn't that long ago that I figured he could turn into a 10-15 HR player. For a catcher, that's respectable although nothing amazing. His isolated power has been very consistent from year to year from 2005-2007 sitting around .100. While I no longer expect Molina to make great strides in terms of his power production, it's still not something that I would completely rule out.

In the end, I'm wary of predicting Molina as making huge improvements next year. I'd like to see him stay behind the plate for another 10 games or so but the wear and tear of being a catcher is well documented and Jason LaRue isn't the worst of backup options. If he can sustain the improved walk rates and avoid another turn of bad luck with his batting average, that would bode well for his projection going forward. He's nearing his peak years and any improvement now should be taken as a good sign.

I'll leave you with a pair of questions to discuss today:

  1. If you were John Mozeliak, would you sign Molina to a multiyear deal this offseason?
  2. If yes, sketch out the salary you'd settle on each season of the deal. (Yadier is a 1st year arbitration player this year meaning he'll be a free agent after 2010.)