For a few years now, the debate has raged on in regards to Yadier Molina’s Hall of Fame candidacy. Both sides have presented pretty good points. One one hand, Yadier Molina’s 34.8 fWAR just does not seem like enough to get him in baseball’s revered museum. On the other hand, evaluating catchers is tricky business — much of what they do remains difficult to quantify or evaluate. On Wednesday, Fangraphs unveiled their attempt to do a better job at this complicated task.
And it has changed EVERYTHING (sorta).
Fangraphs has added a pitch framing metric to their defensive wins above replacement calculation. Pitch framing data only goes back to 2008, so just a handful of catcher data has changed, but the impact on many of the catchers from that time has been dramatic. Cardinals long-time backstop Yadier Molina (AKA the catcher Cardinals fans generally care about the most) has earned an additional 15.7 wins. That was the third biggest increase behind Brian McCann and Russell Martin. Conversely, other catchers have seen their career fWAR totals take a hit from poor framing numbers, though most of these catchers with the biggest decreases appear to be backups. A notable player to lose wins is Kansas City catcher Salvador Perez, whose fWAR dropped from from 17.8 to 9.5. This new calculation has completely shifted catcher data in both directions — positively for good framers and negatively for framers that are... not so good.
Looking at Molina’s season by season fWAR totals is pretty interesting exercise. Seasons that were originally good, like 2012 and 2013, now appear to be MVP quality seasons. Molina finished fourth and third, respectively, in MVP voting those seasons and many argued he was not deserving of that high of a finish. That the numbers more closely reflect what many voters and fans appeared to see.
As was mentioned above, pitch framing data only goes back to 2008. Not every catcher will see the boost (or drop) from his fWAR — even the first four years of Yadier Molina’s career (where he could probably use the increase the most) will not see the impact of these new calculation. This means making historical comparisons is not really possible... but uh, we are going to do it anyway! With this new data, Yadier Molina now sits at thirteenth all time in fWAR among all catchers. Of the twelve ahead of him, eight are in the Hall of Fame as players, one is Joe Torre who is in as a manager, two are active players — Brian McCann and Russell Martin —, and one is Ted Simmons.
Yadier Molina is a darn good catcher — that we always knew. Though there are still many aspects of catcher value that we are unable to evaluate mathematically, with this new framing component of fWAR we might be one step closer to putting an accurate number on just how good a catcher Yadier Molina actually is.
Or we just totally over-valued the importance of framing and artificially inflated a bunch a numbers*. Whatever gets Yadi in the Hall, right?
*For the record, I do not think this is the case
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