Yadier Molina began the season strong, tallying a 165 wRC+ through the month of April. He cooled off a bit in May, as he recorded a 91 wRC+ in the second full month of the season. After that, though, he fell apart, posting a 42 wRC+ in June and a 53 wRC+ so far in July. Even though the 39-year-old was named as an injury replacement to the All-Star game, he has only tallied 0.7 fWAR this season.
None of these stats suggest that Molina should be playing as often as he is. Considering his age and his modest production this season, the St. Louis Cardinals should not only be resting him more, but planning for the future at the position.
Knizner first reached the majors in 2019 after hitting at every level in the minor leagues. Since making his debut, though, he has found playing time hard to come by. As a result, he has posted -0.7 fWAR in his MLB career and has just a 65 wRC+ this season.
These are not the most encouraging numbers, but his strong history of success in the minor leagues gives hope that Knizner can still figure things out at the plate. However, this is not going to happen if does not get more consistent playing time.
It is difficult to adjust to MLB pitching with sporadic playing time because it is difficult to get in a rhythm. Knizner has never had the chance to do this as he only plays when Molina is hurt or needs an infrequent day off.
This needs to change. At 39 years old with declining production this season, Molina needs more days off. He likely wants to play every game, but it is Mike Shildt’s job to do what is best for the team, and the Cardinals need to let Knizner adjust to the MLB. He is not going to find a rhythm offensively or improve defensively by sitting on the bench.
This may also improve Molina’s production by keeping him fresher throughout the season. This would certainly be a benefit for the 18-year MLB veteran. Such a strategy would allow Molina to rest his body more which could help him to improve his production at the plate.
Molina is still the best defensive catcher on the team, but the Cardinals also need to look towards the future. This season could be Molina’s last, and if that is the case then Knizner would be penciled in as the starting catcher next season. Even if Molina plays next season, he should be close to a 50/50 split in playing time with Knizner.
Because of this, Knizner needs to play this season in order to get used to major league pitching, both offensively and defensively.
The 26-year-old has struggled this year, but he has also done well recently as Molina has been dealing with a minor neck injury. It is important that Knizner gets more starts and more consecutive starts in order to build a rhythm at the plate. It is more difficult to perform a high level when playing inconsistently, and this is likely part of the reason why Knizner has struggled at the major league level.
Molina is a Cardinal legend and a future hall of famer, but he is also 39 years old and has not been able to hit much of anything for the last two months. There is no reason to continue playing him everyday with a young, MLB-ready catcher behind him who hit his way through the minor leagues. Knizner needs to show improvement, but he cannot do that unless he is on the field.