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The Cardinals continue to overwork Yadier Molina

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Yadier Molina had a down year on the hitting side in 2014 and an injury kept him from starting the whole season, but when he played, Molina continued a trend of overwork during the season.

Jamie Squire

Every year, the Cardinals intend to provide Yadier Molina more rest, and every year they ignore the plan. The reasons for this are simple. Yadier Molina is one of the best catchers in baseball. On any given day, he is going to give the team the best chance to succeed. His defensive reputation is incredible and well earned. The Cardinals have not stocked themselves with a strong backup, and any pitcher would be foolish not to prefer Molina behind the plate. This past season was no different. The Cardinals are overworking Yadier Molina, and as he continues to age, it is fair to wonder if the high volume of games will hurt his performance.

At the end of the year, Yadier Molina ended with 445 plate appearances in 110 games, potentially providing the impression that he was well-rested throughout the season. Before going down with a thumb injury on July 9th, Molina started 82 of 92 team games for the Cardinals. After returning from injury, Molina started 27 of 29 games for the Cardinals down the stretch before receiving rest on the final day of the season. Molina was worked very hard this past season and he put up his worst offensive performance in four years, hitting .282/.333/.386 with a wRC+ of 102. Those numbers are solid, and average production from the catcher position is valuable, but those numbers are down from his 2011-2013 where he hit .313/.361/.481 with a wRC+ of 132.

Before the season started, I looked at Yadier Molina's performance depending on how many days he had caught consecutively. While we did not have a great sample at the time, Molina's numbers, particularly in the power department appeared to take a hit when he caught at least five consecutive games. Here is a graph from that post.

Molina 2012-2013

Given those results, looking at how he performed this season under those circumstances could add to the discussion. Here is Molina's performance this season depending on number of days played in a row.

Days Played (PA) BA OBP SLG ISO
1 (108) 0.213 0.25 0.301 0.088
2 (87) 0.304 0.345 0.366 0.062
3-4 (140) 0.343 0.386 0.421 0.078
5+ (110) 0.218 0.281 0.356 0.138

Contrary to what we had seen in prior years, Molina actually posted his best power numbers in terms of ISO when he played five consecutive days or more. Of course the power was accompanied by an extremely low average. Curiously, his performance was the worst after a day off behind the plate. These samples are small, preventing too many conclusions. Adding 2014 to the previous two years shows the following results.

Molina 2012-2014

The trend is still a downward one from Molina when playing many days in a row behind the plate. Getting days off for Molina is important, regardless of what the statistics show, given his advancing age, and at least in 2014, his declining offensive value. Perhaps most alarming this past season is the sheer number of plate appearances Molina received playing at least five consecutive days.

In 2012 and 2013, 243 of 1104 plate appearances were made when playing five straight days or more behind the plate, 22% of the total. In 2014, 110 of Molina's 445 plate appearances when starting on five straight days or more, 24.7% of his total plate appearances. Instead of providing more rest for Molina as he ages, the Cardinals worked him harder than they have before.

Molina turned 32 years old in July and the Cardinals still have him under contract for three more years. Given rising costs with Brian McCann's $85 million contract and Russell Martin's contract demands this winter, Molina's $45 million owed over the next three seasons should be a solid one for the Cardinals. However, the Cardinals need to do a better job of getting Molina rest as he heads into the mid-30s.

If giving Molina more rest means a better backup catcher, then find a better backup catcher. If it means standing up to Molina when he demands to play or a pitcher when he wants Molina behind the plate, then stand up to them. Molina is an incredible player, one of the best defensive players of all time, and the most important player on the Cardinals. Having him in the game is important, but making sure he is well-rested as he leaves his prime needs to be a priority for the Cardinals in 2015.