Playing the catcher position is the one spot in baseball where instant credit should be given just for showing up. Even if they can’t hit a lick, being positioned behind home plate while a pitcher throws a projectile very fast in their direction in upwards of 100 times a night makes them all deserving of universal praise. It’s a grueling, terrible job. They have to wear bulky equipment on their faces for protection from said projectile and their bodies are by design in an awkward position for often long periods of time. It was by Dayn Perry’s estimation that Ivan Rodriguez squatted 107,843 times during his Hall of Fame career. In my book, that stat alone should be enough to get anyone into Cooperstown.
No one has “showed up” to play catcher for the Cardinals more than Yadier Molina. He’s appeared in 1,611 games since arriving on the scene in 2004 and in 1,542 of those he suited up in catcher’s gear. That’s about 96% of the games he’s appeared, another category where he outpaces the rest of Redbird history. According to Baseball Reference’s Play Index, Del Rice is the only other Cardinal to eclipse 1,000 games in a Cardinals uniform while spending at least 95% of the time at catcher. Rice was around for 1,038 games. Third on the list is Mike Matheny at 622. Scroll down to number 10 and you’ll see Doc Marshall (1906-1908) at just 129 games. It’s not an easy or desirable thing to do.
I’ve covered some of this ground before, but since 1901 Molina is one of only 14 catchers in all of Major League Baseball to have amassed at least 6,000 plate appearances while spending at least 95% of his time at catcher. Molina ranks second-to-last on this list in total plate appearances yet has climbed the bWAR ladder all the way to sixth (33.3 WAR). Along with Bill Dickey, who squatted for the Yankees from 1928-1946, Molina is only catcher to spend all of his time with one organization. In fact, as Will Leitch noted today, Molina leads all active players in this regard.
Molina’s WAR number aside, there’s an argument that these are mostly just facts which don’t speak to his overall value as a player. But to that I posit this: Since 2005, when Molina became the Cardinals’ primary catcher, there have been 109 other players to log at least 250 plate appearances in a season while spending at least 75% of their time at catcher. None of them were Cardinals. To put it another way, since 2005 the other 29 teams have shuffled through on average about 3.75 catchers in an effort to find someone to show up behind the plate on a dependable basis.
Not the Cardinals, and there’s value in that. For over a decade they haven’t had to worry about that position (at least, as far as a projected starter is concerned). They haven’t had to part with coveted prospects or spend money on the free agent market (Molina’s 2012 extension notwithstanding) to fill that hole. And considering Molina’s defensive reputation has been elite throughout this entire run and that he built himself into a quality hitter – his 138 wRC+ in 2012 is the ninth best season for a catcher since 2005 – the value he’s given back to the organization is immense.
This is all coming to a head because Ken Rosenthal reported yesterday that signing Molina to another extension to ensure he finishes his career as a Cardinal won’t be as easy as it sounds. According to Rosenthal, both sides will need to bend to reach an agreeable figure – something he sees in the range of three years/$50 million. Barring something currently unforeseen, that’s a deal the Cardinals need to get done (in short, I echo the thoughts here). In the meantime, the rest of us can appreciate how much Molina has meant to the organization up to this point by simply showing up.