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Is Cards Catcher Yadier Molina Worthy of the Hall of Fame? Let’s Make the Case.

Buster Posey’s sore hip aside, Yadier Molina deserved a spot on the National League All-Star team. This isn’t a goodwill-gesture appointment, a nod to sentimentality, or a creating an opportunity for the old catcher to take a final bow in  a national showcase game.

Hell, no.

Molina should be in Washington D.C. for the annual celebration of the national pastime because he is, well, a star. One of the great catchers of his — or any other — generation. It’s sad that MLB players, in their balloting, gave more votes to Posey than Molina. Next time, gentlemen try to take more than, say, 18 seconds to complete a full ballot.

Despite missing a month while recovering from an excruciatingly painful testicle injury — um, aren’t they all? — Molina is tied for the major-league lead among catchers (and is first in the NL) with 13 homers. His slugging percentage (.500) and OPS (.822) as a catcher rank fifth overall at the position. Molina’s 38 RBIs are fourth among MLB catchers (third in the NL.)

What’s that? Oh, Molina has only thrown out 3 of 18 base stealers this season? Probably because his “pop time” and arm strength have slowed  because of age? If Molina has lost a little pop, a little velocity, then he’s made up for it by posting the fastest exchange rate (getting the baseball from his mitt to his hand) since the metric was first tracked in 2015.

And Molina’s pop time is only a smidge slower than in 2015, when he threw out 35% of the stealers. The velocity on Molina’s throws, and the quickness of his pop time, were higher in 2016 — but he only nailed 20% of the runners. Given the superior metrics, that caught-stealing rate should have been higher, correct? Well, no. This isn’t just about quickness of release and velocity. Pitchers have something to do with the other team’s stolen base success.

The quibbling over metrics misses the point, anyway. Among catchers that have worked at least 488 innings this season (Molina’s total),  none have had fewer steal attempts against them. And only one of the 15 catchers has had given up fewer stolen bases … one fewer steal than Molina, actually.

The point: no matter what the metrics are squawking about, Molina is still suppressing the running game. Because teams aren’t real excited about taking longer leads (might get picked off) or testing the supposedly arm-weary Molina. If Molina was as slow and vulnerable as portrayed, then why aren’t teams abandoning caution and running wild on him? Probably for the same reason by the Cardinals have allowed fewer stolen bases than any MLB team since Molina took over as the team’s No. 1 catcher at the beginning of 2005. The scale ranges from the Cardinals allowing 300 fewer stolen bases than Arizona, the second-best team at denying steals … and 905 fewer steals allowed than San Diego, which has yielded the most.

This will be Molina’s 9th All-Star game, and ninth in the last 10 seasons. Any accolade will strengthen his case for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. And Molina, who turns 36 in three days, has plenty of awards. Four Platinum Gloves (best defensive player in a season at any position), eight Gold Gloves (should be at least 10), a Silver Slugger, and two World Series rings.

Then again, I’m one of the nuts that believes Molina already has done enough to earn a place in the Hall of Fame. And though I and many others frequently talk about how it’s impossible to quantify Molina’s total value — because there is no WAR for calming young pitchers, doing things to help older pitchers improve, and working hours to prepare astute scouting reports on hitters — I am here to say he passes the numbers test.

# First of all, the most important quality for an outstanding catcher is endurance. He helps his team by playing as many games as possible. In MLB history, Molina ranks 15th among catchers with 1,773 games, is also 15th in games started (1,710), and is 13th for most innings caught (14,855.) And by the end of the season Molina will have moved up one or two spots on the list for most games, and he needs only five more starts to squeeze by Gabby Hartnett and into 14th place for most starts.

# If we include the postseason, Molina already is 12th all-time among catchers with 1,862 games, ninth with 1,797 starts, and 11th for most innings (15,610 and 2/3). Molina needs to start only four more games to move ahead of Tony Pena and into the No. 8 spot for most games started by by a catcher in regular season and postseason combined. And at that point Molina will be one of only nine catchers in baseball history to start at least 1,800 games (regular+postseason). Also in range is the No. 7 spot all-time; Benito Santiago with 1,823 games. Molina needs 27 to move ahead of Santiago.

# Speaking of the postseason: Molina ranks second in MLB history to the Yankees’ Jorge Posada for most postseason games by a catcher (89), most postseason starts by a catcher (87), most postseason innings by a catcher (755 and 2/3).

# The purpose of this game is to win, yes? And Molina’s valuable performance and presence should be a huge factor in his Cooperstown case. Since Molina took over as the Cards’ No. 1 catcher in 2005, St. Louis leads the NL with 1,204 wins (.549 win%) and 48 postseason wins. Molina has caught in 1,007 regular-season wins as a catcher, starting 969. And Molina has started all 48 of the Cards’ postseason victories since 2005. So he has 1,017 victories to his name as a starting MLB catcher (reg+post). Not to mention two World Series titles and four NL pennants. (Molina started four postseason games for the 2004 NL champions). And given that Molina started those four postseason games for the ’04 Cardinals, the team has won 14 postseason round plus a wild-card game with Molina behind the plate. Please tell me why this shouldn’t matter in his case for Cooperstown. It should matter a lot.

# Catcher ERA has been tracked officially since 1974. And among catchers that have logged 1,500 career starts since 1974, Molina is tied with Johnny Bench for third in Catcher ERA at 3.65. The only catchers with lower ERAs are Gary Carter (3.30), Tony Pena (3.63).

# Among the 26 catchers that have started at least 30 postseason games since 1974, Molina ranks 9th with a postseason Catcher ERA of 3.32.

# Caught-stealing percentage for catchers became an official stat in 1974. And among MLB catchers that have started 1,500 games (minimum), Molina ranks third (40.7%) behind Pudge Rodriguez (45.6%) and Jim Sundberg (41.2%,) But I did want to note that while the throw-out rate info for the late Thurman Munson isn’t quite complete — STATS LLC doesn’t have all of the data — the best we can tell Munson cut down stealers at a rate of 41.3%.

# According to the Play Index at Baseball Reference, Molina ranks fifth in MLB history with 23.8 Defensive Wins Above Replacement. The only catchers above him in defensive WAR are Pudge Rodriguez (29.6), Gary Carter (26.1), Bob Boone (25.8) and Jim Sundberg (25.3.)

# Molina is no lightweight hitter. For some reason lunkheads tend to portray him as one-dimensional; all defense and scant offense. Yeah, OK. Here’s where Molina ranks in various offensive categories among catchers in MLB history: He’s eighth in career hits (1,771); 10th with 812 RBIs; sixth in doubles (338); 13th in extra-base hits (482); 13th in batting average (.284) and 22nd with his 137 homers. Which means Molina will wind up in the Top 20 all-time in homers by a catcher. Sure, he doesn’t have a big slugging percentage (.407) or OBP (.336) or OPS (.739) … but he’s still among the Top 50 in all three categories.  That’s PLENTY of offense for one of the greatest defensive catchers in the history of this wonderful game. Put it this way: if my fellow voters can elect a one-dimensional catcher –a terrible defensive catcher, Mike Piazza, based on his robust power numbers — then what would be the logic and fairness in excluding Molina? If the man is one of top-five best catchers defensively in MLB history, and he’s produced offensive numbers that put his name in the top 10, top 10, at the position … then what the heck do you want?

And there’s this:

# Molina is one of the best hitting catchers in MLB postseason history.  Among the 33 catchers that have a minimum of 100  plate appearances in MLB postseason history, Molina is tied for 5th in batting average (.286), is second in hits (90), second in doubles (17), second in total bases (116), ranks No. 3 with 31 RBIs, and is tied with Yogi Berra for 10th with a .339 onbase percentage. Molina has been credited with five go-ahead RBIs and two game-winning RBIs in the postseason — including the epic home run that became the winning blow in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, with the Cardinals eliminating the NY Mets at Shea Stadium.

# It should matter that Molina is one of the greatest players for one of the greatest franchises, historically, in MLB history. This is overlooked nationally. But after he plays in 15 more games to reach 1,821, Molina will rank 4th in Cardinals history for most games played. The only three legendary Cardinals ahead of him will be Hall of Famers Stan Musial, Lou Brock and Ozzie Smith. Molina already is 10th in franchise history for most hits, 10th in RBIs, ninth in doubles, 11th in extra-base hits, 15th in homers, 26th in runs, and 30th in OPS.

Molina is headed to next week’s All-Star Game.

And he’s bound for Cooperstown.

–Bernie

More: Molina Named as All-Star Replacement for Buster Posey