Yadier Molina

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Yadier Molina
DSC00636 Yadier Molina.jpg
Molina with the St. Louis Cardinals
St. Louis Cardinals – No. 4
Catcher
Born: (1982-07-13) July 13, 1982 (age 31)
Bayamón, Puerto Rico
Bats: Right Throws: Right
MLB debut
June 3, 2004 for the St. Louis Cardinals
Career statistics
(through April 5, 2014)
Batting average .284
Hits 1,188
Home runs 91
Runs batted in 549
On-base percentage .339
Slugging percentage .405
Teams
Career highlights and awards

MLB

Puerto Rican National Team

Yadier Benjamin Molina (Spanish pronunciation: [ʝaˈdjer moˈlina]; born July 13, 1982) also known as "Yadi", is a Puerto Rican Major League Baseball (MLB) catcher who currently plays for the St. Louis Cardinals and is a two-time World Series champion. Since debuting in the Major Leagues in 2004, Molina has spent his entire career with the Cardinals and, as of 2013, has earned five consecutive selections to the All Star Game, six Rawlings Gold Glove Awards and one Silver Slugger Award. In the first ten years of his career, the Cardinals appeared in seven playoff tournaments.

Coming from a baseball family, Molina grew up in Bayamón, Puerto Rico. His father was an amateur second baseman in Puerto Rico, and Yadier's two older brothers, Bengie and José, were major league catchers from whom he learned the art of catching. Scouts observed Molina's pitch-handling and throwing skills, and the Cardinals selected him in the fourth round of the 2000 Major League Baseball Draft. Molina ascended through four levels of the minor leagues in four seasons, batting a combined .278. After debuting for the Cardinals, Molina quickly won a reputation for possessing one of the strongest and most accurate arms in the game. As of 2013, he had thrown out 236 runners (45%) attempting a stolen base over his career and led active MLB catchers with 48 pickoffs.[1] Molina also formulates fielder positioning plans and complete pitching strategies to opposing hitters, earning a reputation as an on-field leader.

Initially a light hitter, Molina significantly improved his offense and raised his career batting average from .248 in 2007 to .284 by 2013. As of 2013, he also had a .294 career batting average in the postseason, and in 2006, became just the third catcher to play in two World Series before age 25, following Johnny Bench and Yogi Berra. He also played for Puerto Rico in all three tournaments of the World Baseball Classic. On March 1, 2012, Molina agreed to a five-year extension with the Cardinals through 2017, worth $75 million.

Early life[edit]

Molina was born in Vega Alta, Puerto Rico, to Gladys Matta and Benjamín Molina, Sr. and attended Maestro Ladíslao Martínez High School in Vega Alta. Molina's father played second base as an amateur and worked as a tools technician ten hours per day in a Westinghouse factory. He was a .320 lifetime hitter and the all-time hits leader in the Doble-A Beísbol league, gaining election to the Puerto Rican baseball hall of fame in 2002.[2] Each day when he completed work, Molina directly went home, ate dinner and crossed the street from his family's home with his sons to Jesús Mambe Kuilan Park, where he spent countless evening hours teaching them the fundamentals of the sport.[3] He remained hopeful that his sons would become professional baseball players.[4]

Molina's catching aptitude showed as early as age five, and he developed quickly.[3] Nonetheless, he played all over the baseball field, and as Bengie Molina recalled, always seemed to "be the first player taken in the youth league draft."[4] Molina concentrated on infield positions until about age 16, when he began developing into the familiar Molina physique; as of 2013, he stood 5'11" and weighed 220 pounds.[5] Molina's father also sought to accelerate him on the diamond. Following a suspension from his youth league about age 15, Benjamín Molina anticipated the desistance would stagnate his development, so he searched for an alternative. Against the wishes of coaches, family members and friends, he scheduled Yadier for a workout with the Hatillo Tigres, an amateur league team. Molina made the team after a single workout and immediately became the starting catcher.[4] The Tigres' first baseman, Luis Rosario, was the one that recommended him to the organization.[6] The Tigres played in a league composed mainly of players ten or more years older than Molina, well before he was eligible for the Major League Baseball draft.[7]

Scouting and minor leagues[edit]

Minnesota Twins scout Edwin Rodríguez scrutinized Molina starting in high school. He observed that Molina's skills closely resembled that of both his older brothers – both accomplished major league catchers[8][9] – and decided that his defense was "polished" enough to be considered more advanced than most high schoolers in the United States. However, Molina's hitting lagged behind his defense. The initial report on his skill set was "defensive catcher, great arm, weak bat"; his closest comparable hitter as catcher was one who the Cardinals eventually placed at the top of their organizational ladder, and his future manager, Mike Matheny.[10] Before he was drafted, Molina worked out for the Cincinnati Reds. He put on a spectacle at Riverfront Stadium with his arm and bat that grabbed the attention of executives, scouts, and prominent former Reds who attended his workout, including Johnny Bench and Bob Boone. As Molina recalled, he left the session with the impression the Reds intended to draft him.[11]

Undeterred by the universal reservations about his offensive ceiling, the St. Louis Cardinals instead took Molina in the fourth round of the 2000 MLB draft and signed him for $325,000.[10][12] In the spring training following his draft, the young catcher was described as "raw" and purposed with fascination to emulate Matheny. Matheny, in turn, told his wife one day that he "saw the kid who was going to steal [his] job."[13]

In that extended spring training, longtime Cardinals instructor Dave Ricketts observed Molina from a golf cart during a game as he was still learning how to catch; he had been transitioning from third base. After allowing a passed ball through his legs with a runner on third base, Molina raced to the backstop to retrieve the ball. Still hoping to prevent the runner from scoring, he instead found Ricketts in the golf cart parked on top of home plate. Ricketts had a reputation for getting upset when Cardinals minor league catchers allowed balls to bounce between their legs; for this, he removed Molina from the game and drove him to the batting cage. There, Ricketts batted 150 to 200 ground balls, as Molina estimated, to improve the young catcher's ability to block pitches.[14]

Even without highly developed offensive skills, Molina proved difficult to strike out. Mainly a singles hitter who favored hitting the ball the other way, he batted .278 with 14 home runs and 133 runs batted in (RBI) with 118 strikeouts in 1,044 at bats in four minor league seasons.[10][15]

St. Louis Cardinals (2004–present)[edit]

2004–06[edit]

Molina's first chance in the Major Leagues arrived when incumbent catcher Mike Matheny went on the disabled list (DL) with a strained rib in the Cardinals' pennant-winning season of 2004. He made his Major League debut on June 3.[13] One of his first game-winning hits occurred on August 7. Molina stroked a broken-bat single to shallow center field in the bottom of the ninth inning against the New York Mets that center fielder Mike Cameron did not recognize had splintered, allowing Jim Edmonds to score.[16] Three weeks later (August 29), the Cardinals were victorious over the Pittsburgh Pirates 6–4 thanks in part to two separate plays in which Molina tagged out the runner at home plate, including a collision with Ty Wigginton.[17] Molina appeared in 51 regular-season games and batted .267 with two home runs and 15 RBI in 151 plate appearances.[1] He made an immediate impact with his arm, throwing out more than 50% percent of would-be basestealers (nine of 17).[12] In the World Series against the Boston Red Sox, manager Tony La Russa elected to start Molina over Matheny in Game 4.[18] The Red Sox swept the Cardinals and claimed the title that game, their first in 86 years.[19] The following offseason, Matheny signed a three-year, $10.5-million contract with the San Francisco Giants, clearing the way for Molina to become the Cardinals' starting catcher.[20]

In 2005, Molina struggled with injuries and saw a drop off in the offensive performance in his rookie season. He doubled and scored on David Eckstein's go-ahead single on his way to three hits in a June 12 defeat of the New York Yankees, 5–3.[21] Molina returned from a 33-game absence on August 19 induced by a hairline fracture of his left fifth metacarpal bone from being hit by a pitch on July 7.[22] Starting pitcher Chris Carpenter, attempting to extend a winning streak to ten games on an August 20 game versus the San Francisco Giants, found himself in a 4–0 deficit in the ninth inning. Capped by Molina's three-run home run, the Cardinals rallied and won 5–4 in the ninth.[23] The next day, Molina's suicide squeeze bunt scored Mark Grudzielanek, tying the game and allowing the Cardinals to win 4–2.[24] Those were just two wins of 100 as St. Louis made their way to another division title following 105 wins the season before.[25][26] In 114 games, Molina posted a .252 batting average with eight home runs and 49 RBIs with just 30 strikeouts in 421 plate appearances. Defensively, he registered a career-highs of nine pickoffs and a 64% caught-stealing percentage from throwing out 25 of 39 would-be basestealers.[1] According to Baseball-Reference.com, as of 2013, that percentage ranked as the 26th-highest all-time season-single caught stealing percentage. Also, as of 2013, it was the second-highest figure since 1957; only Mike LaValliere's 1993 figure of 72.7% was higher during that time period.[27]

Before the 2006 season commenced, Molina participated in the inaugural World Baseball Classic for Puerto Rico. After returning to the Cardinals, he changed his jersey number from 41 to 4. However, the regular season presented some of Molina's greatest offensive challenges as he struggled through a career-worst .216 batting average in 461 regular-season plate appearances. In fact, it was the culmination of a three-year downward trend in his offense, as Molina's on-base plus slugging percentages declined from .684 in 2004, .654 in 2005 and a career-worst .595 in 2006.[1] The low batting average was due in part to a deflated batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .226 (normal is around .300), a career low.[a][28] In a May 27 game at Petco Park in San Diego and a 4–3 Cardinals lead in the bottom of the ninth, Molina picked Brian Giles off first to end the game,[29] the first pickoff to end a major league game in nearly four years.[30] In a Division Series playoff game in San Diego later that season, Molina again picked a Padre off at first, this time Mike Piazza, bailing pitcher Jeff Suppan out of a jam.[29] For the season, he caught 41% of all base-stealing attempts and picked off seven runners.[12]

Molina's defense was instrumental in propelling the Cardinals to the division crown in a season heavily marred by injuries.[31] The 2006 postseason marked the turning point in Molina's overall offensive output. He posted a .358 composite batting average, .424 OBP, two home runs and eight RBIs in 16 games as the Cardinals reached the World Series.[1][12] He batted .308 in the National League Division Series (NLDS), .348 in the National League Championship Series (NLCS) and .412 in the World Series.[1]

One of Molina's landmark playoff performances came in Game 7 of the NLCS against the New York Mets. Starting in the top of the ninth, Molina batted with a 1–1 score. Just three innings earlier, Mets left fielder Endy Chávez had prevented the Cardinals from taking the lead when he leapt to catch Scott Rolen's near-miss home run over the center field fence. This time, however, Molina hit a two-run home run off Aaron Heilman that was too high for Chávez to catch and gave the Cardinals a 3–1 edge.[32] In the bottom of the ninth, rookie Adam Wainwright – filling in as an emergency closer – found himself in a two-out, bases-loaded situation against center fielder Carlos Beltrán (who had already homered three times in the NLCS). Molina called for a mound conference with Wainwright. Initially, he wanted a sinker but changed his mind because he suspected Wainwright would overthrow it and give Beltrán an easy pitch to hit. Molina made an unusual modification by calling for Wainwright to start Beltrán with a changeup. It was called for a strike. Had Beltrán successfully got a base hit, the scheme may have caused tension with La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan because throwing a changeup as a first pitch ran contrary to Duncan's teaching. Molina then called for two curveballs. Beltrán fouled off the first curve, and Wainwright struck out Beltrán looking at a "bender that started up and away and bit hard to the low inside corner", allowing the Cardinals to win the NLCS and a trip to the World Series. The Cardinals proceeded to defeat the Detroit Tigers in five games.[5][33][34] Molina's mask was turned in for display at the Baseball Hall of Fame.[35]

2007–09[edit]

Molina interacting with his brother Bengie in a 2007 game, the first time they faced each other in the Major Leagues

In a game against the Milwaukee Brewers on April 15, 2007, Molina picked Prince Fielder off first base as he leaned far off the bag, tipping off Molina and first baseman Albert Pujols to a hit and run the Brewers were planning.[29] Four days later, Molina faced his brother Bengie for the first time in a game against the San Francisco Giants. It was also the first time they saw each other in about three and one-half years.[36] Injuries plagued Molina in 2007. He was absent for most of the month of June due of a fractured left wrist and suffered a concussion in September before undergoing arthroscopic surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right knee. The knee surgery ended his season early on September 24.[12][37] Despite the injuries, Molina's hitting started to improve. On August 16, 2007, he hit two home runs against the Milwaukee Brewers. It was his first career multi-homer game. Just two weeks later, Molina homered in back-to-back games against the Cincinnati Reds, and he, Rick Ankiel and Jim Edmonds each drove in three runs in an 11–3 victory on September 2.[38] Molina finished the season with a then-career best .275 batting average, six home runs, and 40 RBI in 111 games.[1]

On January 14, 2008, Molina and the Cardinals agreed to a four-year, $15.5 million deal with a club option for a fifth, cementing his position as their starting catcher. He reported to spring training having lost 15 pounds and in improved physical shape from rehabilitating his knee following surgery.[39] After a home plate collision with Eric Bruntlett on June 15 against the Philadelphia Phillies, Molina sustained head and neck injuries and was removed from the field to the hospital via a stretcher. There were no indications of a concussion.[40] He returned to the field after missing just four games.[41] To that point, Molina was batting .295 with three home runs and 24 RBIs. He also had thrown out 10 of 32 baserunners (31.3%) – well below his career average of 45% – but an Associated Press reporter attributed the decline to an inexperienced pitching staff.[42] On September 3, Molina and Felipe López hit consecutive home runs against the Arizona Diamondbacks en route to an 8–2 victory.[43] Overall Molina enjoyed a breakout offensive season, finishing with a new career high .304 batting average and first over .300 with seven home runs and 56 RBI. For the season, Molina successfully caught 35% of opposing baserunners, still higher than the league average of 27%.[1] That November, Molina received his first Gold Glove Award.

Before the 2009 season commenced, Molina participated in his second World Baseball Classic (WBC) with Puerto Rico. When the event concluded, he returned to the Cardinals. In an April 16 game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Molina reached base in all five of his plate appearances in a 12–7 victory.[44] Starting pitcher Joel Piñeiro – struggling with his fastball command in previous starts – experimented with a sinker and shut out the New York Mets on June 24 with just two hits. Molina erased a Mets runner by throwing out Luis Castillo attempting to steal second base.[45] Molina was batting .278 with five home runs and 25 RBIs through July 5, 2009. He was selected through fan vote to represent the Cardinals in the All-Star Game in St. Louis' Busch Stadium – his first All-Star Game.[46] As the top vote-getter among NL catchers with 2,641,467 votes, Molina was named the NL's starting catcher.[47][48] Following the All-Star break on July 18, Molina's four hits and Albert Pujols' two home runs helped cap Chris Carpenter's 6–1 victory over the Diamondbacks, who pitched around nine runners on base in eight innings.[49] On August 15, Molina picked off San Diego's Kevin Kouzmanoff at first on the way to a 7–4 victory, Molina's 33rd career pickoff.[50] With that pickoff, Bill James Online rated that Molina saved his team fifteen total runs from pickoffs alone for his career through that point.[51] A sore left knee sustained after taking a foul ball of his kneecap temporarily disabled Molina on September 26. He was back in action on October 1 against Cincinnati, although he was removed from that game due to a "tweaked" knee.[52] He finished the season with a .293 batting average, six home runs, 54 RBI, and a major league-leading 136 games caught, the highest franchise total since Ted Simmons' total in 1977. He also won his second Gold Glove award after the season.[1][12] The Sporting News announced that major league managers and coaches had selected Molina for the magazine's end-of-season All-Star award.[53]

2010–12[edit]

On Opening Day, April 5, 2010, Molina connected for a grand slam, becoming just the third Cardinals player to hit an Opening Day grand slam.[54] On April 17, he caught all 20 innings of a game against the New York Mets.[55] Molina turned in a productive April, driving in 15 runners, the most for a Cardinals catcher in the month of April since Ted Simmons drove in 20 in 1977. With the bases loaded, he was 4–5 with 11 RBIs.[56] During a game against the Cincinnati Reds on August 10, as second baseman Brandon Phillips came to bat, he exchanged words with Molina that escalated to a bench-clearing confrontation, although no one was ejected.[57] After an examination on his sore right knee on September 23, Molina was shut down for the rest of the season.[58][59] Molina finished the 2010 season with a .262 batting average, six home runs, and 62 RBI. He also led the NL for the third time in caught-stealing percentage at 49%.[1] On November 1, he won his fourth consecutive Fielding Bible Award as the sole catcher. In addition, Molina became the first player at any position to win the award unanimously with a perfect score of 100.[60] Nine days later, Molina was awarded his third consecutive Gold Glove Award.[61]

On August 2, 2011, Molina was ejected during a game against the Milwaukee Brewers for arguing a called strike. Molina bumped umpire Rob Drake in the chest multiple times and it appeared Molina spat upon him. He later apologized, stating that he did not intend to spit on the umpire and that he "was caught up in the moment. That's what happens when you're caught up in the race and trying to win. I didn't handle it the right way." He served a five-game suspension handed down by MLB for "making contact with umpire Rob Drake multiple times and spraying him with spit twice while arguing."[62][63][64] With his 30th double on September 21, Molina became the fourth Cardinals catcher in history to reach that milestone (after Ted Simmons, Bob O'Farrell and Walker Cooper).[65] Molina compiled a .305 batting average, 32 doubles, 14 home runs and 65 RBI during the 2011 regular season. His batting average led the Cardinals and was eighth in the NL. However, his posted a career-low 29% caught-stealing percentage.[1][12] The Cardinals again made the playoffs, and, in Game 1 of the World Series, Molina threw out Texas Rangers' Ian Kinsler attempting to steal in the first inning on the way to a 3–2 win. It was the Rangers' only attempted steal of the game. That caught stealing put Molina at five for seven in the 2011 postseason to that point; the Rangers had been tied with the Cardinals for most steals in that postseason.[66] For the series, the Rangers attempted to steal four bases and were successful just once.[67] The Cardinals won in seven games, giving Molina his second championship ring. He set a team World Series record with nine RBIs.[12] On November 1, he won his fourth consecutive Gold Glove Award.[68]

On March 1, 2012, Molina signed a five-year extension with the Cardinals worth $75 million through 2017. The contract included a $1 million signing bonus, a no-trade clause, and a mutual option for 2018 worth another $15 million.[69][70] The deal made Molina the second-highest-paid catcher in the majors.[71] Molina collected his tenth career four-hit game against the Milwaukee Brewers on April 29 with a two-run home run to lead the Cardinals to a 7–3 win.[72] In a game against Pittsburgh on August 28, Molina sustained head, neck and back injuries – although no concussion – in a second-inning home plate collision with second baseman Josh Harrison at PNC Park.[73] On September 4, Molina collected his 1,000th career hit, an infield single against the New York Mets at home in the second inning.[74] With 12 stolen bases, Molina set a career high and a Cardinals single-season record for catchers.[12] He set other new career highs with a .315 batting average, 22 home runs, 76 RBIs, 65 runs scored, .373 OBP and .501 slugging percentage. His batting average placed him fourth in the NL.[1] Molina became the first catcher in franchise history to lead the team in batting average for two consecutive seasons.[13] He also began to garner widespread notice for MVP consideration.[75][76] He ultimately finished fourth in the 2012 MVP voting. He and winner Buster Posey became the first pair of catchers to finish in the top four in the award's 88-year history.[77] In a Los Angeles Times report that published the top MLB jersey sales in MLB from the All-Star break until October 1, Molina's jersey ranked 18th.[78] On December 4, he won his first GIBBY Award for Defensive Player of the Year.[79]

2013[edit]

Following his 2012 fourth-place MVP finish, Molina's 2013 in-season jersey sales rose to third place, just after Posey and retiring New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, according to a July 11 report.[80] Molina collected two doubles in a three-hit game on June 12, giving him 21 doubles for the season, a pre-All-Star break career high. It was also the second-highest pre-All-Star break total in franchise history following Ted Simmons' 29 thirty-five years earlier. That three-hit game also gave Molina 78 for his career, tied for 43 on the all-time list for catchers.[81] Through July 15, Molina led the NL with a .341 (110 hits in 323 at-bats) batting average. In the final All-Star Game balloting, Molina (6,883,258 votes) edged out Posey (6,474,088) for the role of the NL's starting catcher in the game at Citi Field in Queens, New York City.[82] The Cardinals placed Molina on the 15-day disabled list on July 31 due to a right knee sprain.[83] At the time he went on the DL, Molina was batting .330 with eight homers, thirty doubles, and 54 RBIs.[83] A magnetic resonance image (MRI) indicated inflammation but no structural damage, so the knee was drained of excess fluid buildup and Molina was given a cortisone injection.[84] The knee injury impacted his batting average, contributing to a late-season slump. On September 16, Molina collected four hits with three runs scored to help the Cardinals to a 12–2 win over the Seattle Mariners and break an 0–15 slump, raising his batting average to .317.[85] Eight days later, Molina was behind the plate to call rookie Michael Wacha's one-hit, 8 23 innings of shutout work in a 2–0 victory over the Washington Nationals. It was actually a no-hitter through that point until Ryan Zimmerman broke it up with a high-bouncing ground ball that glanced off Wacha's glove for the Nationals' only hit of the game.[86]

For the year, Molina set new career highs in batting average (.319), doubles (44), runs scored (68), and RBIs (80). He also hit .373 with runners in scoring position (RISP). He finished fourth in the NL in batting average, second in doubles and sixth with RISP. His 44 doubles were the most in the Major Leagues among catchers since Iván Rodríguez' 47 in 1996.[1][87][88] Molina was also noted for his handling of the pitching staff. The Cardinals overcame losing key pitchers Chris Carpenter, Jason Motte, and Jaime García – among others – early in the season by substituting twelve rookie pitchers en route to winning a competitive NL Central division title over the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds (each team finished with at least 90 wins). A continuously evolving core exceeded expectations by filling in for 52 games started, 36 wins, and five saves and Molina was credited with their success in a large part due to his pitch-calling skills and aptness to guide. The rookies' 36 wins are the most in franchise history since 1941.[b][89][90]

The Cardinals squared off against the Pirates in the NLDS. Two weeks removed from just missing a no-hitter, Wacha again nearly repeated the feat with Molina behind the plate in an elimination game, Game 4. Molina threw out pinch runner Josh Harrison attempting to steal second base in the eighth inning to help the Cardinals preserve a 2–1 lead.[91] In the World Series against the Boston Red Sox, Molina became just the ninth player – and the first in the expansion era – in franchise history to appear in four World Series with the club, and the first since Stan Musial in the 1946 World Series, also against the Red Sox.[92] Molina collected more awards following the season, including his first Silver Slugger Award, sixth Gold Glove, and a third-place finish in MVP voting.[93]

2014[edit]

Molina stroked another Opening Day home run and the 90th of his career, helping to deliver a 1–0 defeat of the Reds in Cincinnati on March 31, 2014. It also secured the 100th win for batterymate Adam Wainwright. Molina added a single for two of the Cardinals' five hits.[94]

Puerto Rico (World Baseball Classic)[edit]

Yadier Molina
Yadier Molina on March 17, 2013.jpg
Molina with the Puerto Rico national team in 2013 World Baseball Classic
Medal record
Representing  Puerto Rico
Men’s Baseball
World Baseball Classic
Silver 2013 San Francisco Team

Three World Baseball Classic (WBC) tournaments have been held – 2006, 2009 and 2013 – and Molina has participated in all of them for the Puerto Rican team. He was fellow defensive standout Iván Rodríguez' understudy in 2006 and 2009 and the primary catcher for the 2013 squad.[95]

In his first classic in 2006, Molina played four games and collected three hits in five at-bats. In a 2009 tournament game against the Netherlands on March 9, Molina's eighth-inning double keyed a rally in which Puerto Rico won 3–1.[96] Speaking the next day, Molina stated that the previous night's double had been a bigger thrill than his two-run homer to beat the Mets in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS.[97]

With Molina as the starting catcher in 2013, Puerto Rico earned the silver medal. Edwin Rodríguez, who scouted Molina before the Cardinals signed him, became the manager for the 2013 squad. Shortly after learning he would be the 2013 manager, Rodríguez contacted Molina for input on constructing the roster. Molina prepared for the Classic by playing 14 games for the winter league team in Puerto Rico Rodríguez managed.[10] Molina was voted on the All-World Baseball Classic Team for the first time.[98]

In a 2013 semifinal game against Japan, Molina alertly took advantage of a baserunning mistake to record an unusual putout. With Shinnosuke Abe batting for Japan in the top of the eighth inning, and Hirokazu Ibata on second and Seiichi Uchikawa on first, J.C. Romero was pitching for Puerto Rico. Abe took a pitch from Romero inside for a ball as the runners went in motion. However, Ibata retreated to second as Uchikawa charged toward him. Instead of throwing and risking an error, Molina held on to the ball. He then chased Uchikawa, cornered him by positioning himself between first and second and tagged out Uchikawa - an unassisted caught stealing. The Japanese later stated they were attempting to exploit Romero's slow delivery.[99]

Skills profile[edit]

Defense, pitch calling, throwing and hands[edit]

The winner of six consecutive Gold Gloves,[100] Molina has been widely praised for his defense. Fellow catchers Jorge Posada and Brian McCann stated in 2009 that Molina was "the best defensive catcher in baseball;" Víctor Martínez also called him "the best behind the plate."[5] In 2013, a scout pronounced Molina the "one piece the St. Louis Cardinals cannot lose" while another commented that he is "irreplaceable."[10] He is known to meticulously study and prepare for the oncoming game's opposing hitters by formulating a complete pitching and defensive plan. Molina's preparation includes handling ground balls at shortstop and third base, extending his agility for blocking pitches thrown in the dirt.[33] According to former Cardinals starter Jake Westbrook, Molina was "a part of every aspect of the game: starters, relievers, offense, defense."[10][101] From a sabermetric perspective, Molina ranks fourth all-time among catchers on Baseball-Reference.com's defensive runs saved (DRS)[c] with 107, behind Iván Rodríguez (167), Jim Sundberg (114) and tied with Bob Boone.[1][102] Fangraphs tallied his career DRS at 98.[103]

Molina is known for his in-game pitch-calling skills, and pitchers rarely reject signs that he shows for the next pitch. Matheny stated, "We tell all our young pitchers when they come up to pitch their game. Yadi needs to find out how they work. He's a quick study. But at the same time, they tend to just follow him. We do put them in Yadi's hands."[104] Molina reads opposing hitters and will move fielders with subtle signs and gestures to align them with his pitch calling.[10][101] La Russa commented that “it’s not just instinct. It’s sense, based on how a hitter’s standing, how he responds to the pitch or two before, and he's very creative in how he makes his adjustment based on what he sees with the hitter and knowing what his pitcher can do."[33] "You don't ever have to worry about bouncing a ball to Yadier," said Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright. "He's a human vacuum behind the plate. The only thing you have to think about is making the pitch, because you know Yadi's going to catch whatever you throw."[5] Former Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan remarked, "During the course of games, he would do something and I'd go, 'I can't believe he did that.' But it worked. His pitch calling, sometimes you're thinking he's doing something so out of the norm, yet it was the right thing to do at the time."[105]

Baseball Prospectus estimated in 2013 that Molina saved 35 defensive runs per season through his pitch framing and had moved 301 out-of-zone pitches that were called strikes between April 1 and June 30, 2013. As of July 2013, Molina had also thrown out 45% of would-be base stealers. At one time, an Arizona Diamondbacks official stated a team policy existed not to run on Molina.[101] With pickoffs, Molina throws from behind left-handed batters to obfuscate the runner's view of his motion to first base. Besides studying hitters at the plate, Molina also studies base runners to watch their decision-making process about stealing bases or when they are less guarded against a pickoff.[5] He practices pickoff moves and coordinates signals with the first basemen to indicate when he is primed to move for a pickoff throw.[29] In 2012, a Sports Illustrated poll of 306 players found that Molina was the "toughest catcher to run on."[106]

Batting[edit]

As the publication Viva El Birdos wrote, "Yadier Molina broke into the majors as a light-hitting defensive specialist", who hit mostly singles.[107] Molina pushed to shed the light-hitter label he had in common with his brothers. A fidgeter with his batting stance early in his career, Molina mimicked and vacillated between more accomplished hitters such as Andrés Galarraga and Albert Pujols. However, it was a dip in his swing and an inability to get around on fastballs that sapped his efforts. Over time, with assistance of teammates such as Pujols, Molina found his comfortable stance, sounder mechanics and adopted a line-drive style of swing that eliminated the dip and helped him hit fastballs with more authority. Thus, he became a more consistent hitter as his career progressed, defying the scouting reports that he would have a weak bat. In combination with an improved his ability to pull the ball and hit it up the middle, he improved his batting average, batting .293 or higher in five of his last six seasons. His line-drive pull percentage of 2009–11 increased by about 6% in 2012–13; BABIP increased from .280 in 2005–10 to .327 in 2011–13 and pull weighted on-base average (wOBA)[d] has increased from .290 in 2009 to over .520 in 2013.[101][108] To keep his bat in the lineup but allow respite from the rigors of his in-game catching duties, Molina has occasionally started at first base.

Aside from swinging with increased line-drive contact and hitting fastballs with more authority, very little has actually changed in the catcher's approach.[108] One trait that has always persisted is that Molina is an aggressive and free-swinging – but high-contact – hitter. Through 2012, he swung at more than 51% percent of the pitches he saw – he has a reputation for swinging at pitches in and out of the strike zone, low and away and even in toward his hands.[107] Because of his free-swinging tendency, he naturally has a walk rate (7.1%) below the Major League average (8.4%).[28] Combined with his ability to put the bat on the ball quite frequently (87%) and his improved approach at the plate, he increased his career-high single-season batting average five times between 2006 and 2013.[1]

Despite batting just .238 in his first three seasons and .240 after 1,000 at-bats, Molina increased his average to .284 average after 3,983 at-bats (1,132 hits) as of 2013 due in part to having only one season lower than .293 from 2009–13. He hit into 27 double plays in 2009, but in 2012 reduced that figure to ten.[109] Molina's home run and doubles rates also increased; from 2011–13, he hit 104 of his 226 career doubles.[1]

Awards[edit]

Personal life[edit]

Molina lives in Vega Alta, Puerto Rico, and stays in Caseyville, Illinois, during the baseball season.[119] He married his wife Wanda Torres in 2007. On September 4, 2008, he had a son named Yanuell, and on July 4, 2010, a daughter named Arianna.[120] After signing his $75 million contract in 2012, Molina purchased a home on a four-acre property located in Jupiter, Florida for $7.15 million.[121]

Molina's two older brothers, Bengie Molina and José Molina have played a combined 27 seasons in the Major Leagues. Each of the three brothers has won at least one World Series ring, making them the only trio of brothers with such a distinction (Bengie and José won theirs while with the Anaheim Angels in 2002).[119][122] They are also the only trio of brothers to play as catchers in the major leagues.[3] Of a total of nineteen trios of brothers who have played in the Major Leagues – including the DiMaggios and the Cruzes – only one other trio of brothers has all appeared in a World Series: Matty, Félipe and Jesús Alou.[3][123]

Even while the Molina brothers still lived in the United States playing professional baseball, their parents stayed in the same home near the park where the brothers grew up playing ball, Jesús Rivera Park.[124] Benjamín Molina organized youth teams.[2] On October 11, 2008, Molina's father died from a heart attack. At the moment it occurred, he was tending to a baseball field that he had built for the youth in Bayamón.[125]

Spurred by absences from autograph shows for which he was paid to appear, Steiner Sports Marketing filed a lawsuit for $175,000 against Molina in the New York state supreme court in Manhattan on October 2, 2009. Steiner Sports paid Molina $90,640 in advance when they renewed their contract in July 2008. However, the firm stated that he ignored their agreement to make public and private appearances to sign autographs and did not return the money.[126]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  • a Batting average on balls in play, or BABIP, is the calculation of the batting average of all playable batted balls only. It excludes strikeouts and home runs and includes sacrifice flies. This statistic is widely variable, as defense, "luck," and opposing team's talent levels all affect BABIP. Most hitters' BABIP falls within or close to the range of .290 and .300.[127] According to Baseball-Reference.com, Molina's career BABIP through 2013 was .296.[28]
  • b A group of rookie pitchers including Shelby Miller,[128] Trevor Rosenthal,[129] Kevin Siegrist,[130] Carlos Martínez,[131] Seth Maness[132] and Michael Wacha[133] proved key to the Cardinals' 2013 Central division title run.[134] Miller credited Molina's leadership behind the plate and preparation: "Yadi knows everything about every single hitter, exactly what to throw. If you execute your pitches and throw them where he wants the ball, you're going to get hitters out, have a better ERA, win the game. I seriously believe that all the success I've had is totally on him."[105]
  • c Developed by the organization that awards The Fielding Bible, defensive runs saved (DRS) measures a player's total defensive plays made in terms of numbers of runs above or below what the average player at that position made. A calculation system computes the number of plays made league-wide at each position and a plus-minus total rating for each player compared to a league average player. For example, if Molina made a play that only 20% of catchers would make, he was credited with .8 points – or, 1 point minus .20. If he failed to make a play that 75% of catchers made, then .75 points was subtracted from his score.[135]
  • d Designed to rate a player's overall batting production by assigning different weights to certain outcomes, wOBA takes into account singles, doubles, triples, home runs, hit by pitches, and unintentional walks. wOBA is based on the philosophy Tom Tango developed that not all outcomes are proportionally weighted. Unlike slugging percentage, which assigns one base for a single, two for a double, etc., or on-base plus slugging, which assumes that one base for slugging is equal to one walk, wOBA attempts to measure the impact of each event in terms of their run-scoring value. Further, wOBA finds that OBP is 1.8 times more valuable than slugging percentage. The weight of each outcome also varies from season to season.[136]

Source notes[edit]

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External links[edit]