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A closer look at Yadier Molina’s mediocre hit streak

All hit streaks are good, but some hit streaks are better than others. Most are better than Yadier Molina’s recent one.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports

Being on the low end of an illustrious list generally means that one will be lost in the shuffle, and by virtue of being in such extreme company, will be underestimated. Sure, Crash got (and still gets) a lot of criticism for being an overrated winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture since it won the award in 2006, but it was still positively reviewed by three-fourths of movie critics per Rotten Tomatoes. The shortest Most Valuable Player in NBA history was Allen Iverson, listed at six-foot even, which would put him in the 80th percentile of men by the age of 20 according to this calculator I just found on Google. It’s not a reliable source, 80th honestly seems a bit high, but the point is that Allen Iverson is not actually short—he’s just short compared to a group that veers towards the extremely tall.

Following a hitless fourteen inning game on May 7 against the Atlanta Braves, Yadier Molina tallied a hit in sixteen consecutive games, a streak which ended on Monday. Molina’s hit streak was tied for the fourth-longest this decade by a Cardinals player, trailing 2013 David Freese and 2011 Ryan Theriot, who each notched hits in twenty straight, 2013 Matt Carpenter’s eighteen game streak, and equaling streaks of 2010 Matt Holliday and one which Molina himself had in 2016. It tied for the longest hitting streak of Molina’s career, and going all the way back to the beginning of the century, just eleven Cardinals hitting streaks went longer than Molina’s.

During these sixteen games, the veteran St. Louis Cardinals catcher’s OPS rose from .651 to .693. While hit streaks are generally a sign that things are going swimmingly at the plate for the player in the midst of one, Yadier Molina produced an OPS during the streak of just .745, below the .787 mark that Molina produced just one season ago. His wRC+, a park and league adjusted measure of hitting prowess in which 100 is considered league average, Molina’s during the hit streak was 93—hardly terrible, particularly for a catcher, but shockingly mediocre for a player whose run does not include a single o-fer.

Yadier Molina’s statistics during the hit streak were reflective of trends in his overall offensive production. Over the sixteen games, Molina drew zero walks and he struck out eight times—while his 11.3% strikeout rate was hardly disastrous by Major League Baseball standards, it was higher than his career norms, and his low strikeout rate has always been the upside to his relative lack of walks (although zero percent is obviously more than a bit extreme).

The most famous hitting streak of all-time was the record 56 game streak set by legendary New York Yankees center fielder Joe DiMaggio in 1941. DiMaggio was actually only somewhat above his normal level of play during the streak, OPSing only 9% higher than his season total. Of course, it probably doesn’t help DiMaggio’s relative (to himself) dominance during the streak that he was an all-time great at his peak—his season OPS was 1.083, while his OPS during the hitting streak was 1.181.

There have been 430 hitting streaks of sixteen or more games since 2000—this seems like a lot, but it does amount to fewer than one per team per season. And of those 430, ninety-two of them involved a higher OPS than what DiMaggio had produced during his hit streak. Which isn’t to diminish DiMaggio at all—a vast majority of these players had lower OPSes over a 56-game stretch; they just benefit from a smaller sample size. The best of the group was Richard Hidalgo of the Houston Astros, who managed a 1.656 OPS from September 15, 2000 through April 5, 2001. For purists who demand a hit streak only be over one season, there was Colorado Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez’s 1.634 OPS during a 16-game streak in 2010.

The most productive Cardinals hitting streak of sixteen or more games this century came courtesy of Ryan Ludwick over a 21 game stretch from 2008 through 2009, during which Ludwick managed a 1.340 OPS.

Measuring by OPS, of the 430 sixteen-plus game hit streaks of the 21st century, Molina’s was the fourth-worst. Only 2010 Michael Brantley (19 games, .627 OPS), 2001 Adrian Beltre (17 games, .701 OPS), and 2005 Alex Gonzalez (the Marlins one; 17 games, .724 OPS) trailed Molina. Interestingly enough, it was the aforementioned Ryan Theriot hitting streak which ranks fifth lowest on the list, a 20-game streak during which his OPS stood at .759.

While Yadier Molina’s lack of power has created concern over the last few years, this was the least of his concerns during the hit streak. He hit three home runs during the sixteen game stretch, three more than could be said of 45 of the contemporary hit streak havers, and basically average (3.38 home runs) among the group. By slugging, Molina ranked tied for 52nd worst—not ideal, but not nearly as bad as Michael Brantley’s .319 SLG in 2010 (as an aside, I would read an entire book on the 19 games in which Brantley got a hit every game, but just two of those hits were extra base hits, he got one RBI, and he had a wRC+ of 74).

But while Brantley was the worst hitter this century in a 16+ game hit streak, having the lowest OPS and the lowest slugging, he had only the second-worst batting average and the second-worst on-base percentage. And before Saturday, he ranked dead last. But with a .275 batting average and a .282 on-base percentage, Yadier Molina is arguably the modern king of having a hit streak which is shockingly devoid of hits.

Yadier Molina’s batting average over the sixteen games was the lowest in the history of the St. Louis Cardinals over a hit streak so long, with only Ted Sizemore’s .290 batting average during a 17-game streak in 1975 coming particularly close. However, Jose Cardenal in 1970 had a similarly interesting lack of batting average, hitting just .267 over fourteen games with a hit. But Cardenal also drew three walks.

The previous record for longest Cardinals hit streak without drawing a walk was 14, a record shared by Molina himself, in 2011, and Carlos Beltran in 2013. Just three 16+ game hit streaks in the 21st century included zero walks prior to Molina—curiously, two were courtesy of future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre, his aforementioned .701 OPS streak in 2001 and a much more successful one in 2004, in which the Dodgers third baseman had a 1.054 OPS. The other came via Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano, over eighteen games stretching from 2006 through 2007, who had an OPS of .995.

Hitting streaks are always a good thing. There is never a point at which having a game with one or more hits will not be preferable to a game in which a player has zero hits. But there is also an element of luck and arbitrariness to them—had some random game in the middle of Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game streak in which the Yankee Clipper got one single ended with him getting zero hits but in turn, he hit an additional home run in a different game in the streak, DiMaggio would have been better during that stretch, but we also would not remember it as a uniquely excellent stretch in baseball history.

Yadier Molina’s hit streak was mostly luck and reflective of very little going forward. That the streak ended only matters insofar as it would have been nice for the sake of the Cardinals for him to have done better in a game in which his offensive production was lacking. Molina did not “deserve” the attention he got for having a hit streak, but at the same time, a player hitting over a sixteen game stretch at basically the level he’s expected to hit does not warrant extra levels of criticism because he had the audacity to do so in a more aesthetically pleasing fashion.

And yet, the statistical anomaly that is such a mediocre hitting streak is too amusing for me to look away.

As is the case for many of my posts, but this one to an above-average degree, a special debt of gratitude goes to the Baseball Reference Play Index for doing all of the boring legwork of compiling the statistics used throughout—you should subscribe to it here, and I swear on Carlos Martinez’s glorious right arm that they are not paying me to say this.