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Renewing Appreciation for Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina, long considered one of the game's best catchers, is having a down season at the plate, but it is time to renew our appreciation for Molina even if his bat is not what it once was.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

It might seem an odd request--asking everyone to renew their appreciation for Yadier Molina as though appreciating him as a player is part of some sort of annual pledge drive. The request might appear further confusing given Molina is generally one of the most beloved players by the fans, admired by his peers, and respected by the press. The request could look even more unusual given his home run in last night's one-run win. Nevertheless, given Yadi's relative struggles at the plate this season, it is time to renew our appreciation for Yadier Molina. He might not be the same hitter he was from 2011-2013, but he is still a very good player and important part of this year's team.

Going through a recitation of Yadier Molina's career accolades is probably not necessary, but briefly, from 28-30, Molina's WAR ranks 6th over the last 100 years for catcher's of the same age. He is behind only Gary Carter, Mike Piazza, Carlton Fisk, Mickey Cochrane, and Yogi Berra. He is ahead of Roy Campanella, Ted Simmons, Thurman Munson, Johnny Bench, and Ivan Rodriguez. From 2011-2013, Molina was one of the top-30 hitters in all of baseball before even taking his incredible defense into account. He is not that hitter right now, and having recently turned 33 years old, we should not expect that hitter to return. Despite that downturn, Molina is still a very valuable player.

Right now, Molina is hitting .280/.318/.363 with a wRC+ of 88, which has been good for 1.4 fWAR this season. The FanGraphs projections expect Molina to hit closer to league average and finish the season with 2.3 fWAR. Even if he stay at his current pace, he will finish with around 2 wins above replacement, roughly an average player looking solely at WAR. Catcher's this season in Major League Baseball are hitting .239/.302/.398 good for a wRC+ of 87, which is slightly worse than Molina. Catchers are not very good hitters, and Molina is right in the middle despite a terrible start after losing a bunch of weight in the offseason.

Another factor that is not completely taken into account when considering Molina's value in fWAR is his defense. The only defensive component taken into his 1.4 WAR this season is his effect on stolen bases. Blocking is added in at the end of the year, and framing is not currently taken into account for WAR at all.

Note: minor issues in WAR does not lead to a reasonable conclusion that WAR is useless. The fact that most of the WAR framework has only minor issues is actually what makes it the best metric we have publicly available. For every other statistic available, there are much larger issues like not counting defense at all or being incredibly reliant on your team to generate statistics. The point is not that WAR is not without flaws. WAR has flaws. The point is that it is the least flawed making it the best statistic to use when comparing players across positions, teams, and eras despite drastically different playing positions and skill-sets.

Yadier Molina has historically been one of the better blockers in baseball, and after a rough first month, he has been one of the better pitch-framers in the game. The two combined are likely worth another win over the course of the season. Yadier Molina, the three-win player, might not sound great, but at 33 years old now past the halfway point on a contract extension signed before the 2012 season, to still be getting positive value on the deal is a bonus for the Cardinals.

Yadi might not do this as much anymore:

Doing it occasionally is enough when he can still do this:

Including framing and blocking, it is reasonable to conclude that Yadi is still a three-win player. If you want to add in pitch calling and handling a young pitching staff to make him worth a little more, I'm not going to argue. If he is worth three wins now, declines to 2.5 next year and then to two in the last year of his deal, the Cardinals will be the rare team that signed a catcher to a long-term contract into his mid-30s and received a good value on every year of the deal. If the decline is worse than we think, the contract will still have been a bargain for the Cardinals. The Cardinals need Yadi, and he is still producing for the Cardinals. If you've seen him ground out or pop out a few too many times for your liking this season, it is time to take a step back and renew your appreciation for one of the greatest Cardinals of all-time.