Yadier Molina recently passed 2,000 games as a catcher which is a phenomenal milestone. He becomes only the sixth player to do this in MLB and was the first to do with just one team. He is a generational talent who has helped the St Louis Cardinals on and off the field for nearly two decades.
His skills are well known by teams and fans with his ability to catch people stealing probably the pinnacle of these. He was so good at stopping people from stealing bases that runners were afraid to try and steal even when he wasn’t at backstop. Yes, you read that right, and that is what I’m going to show you.
Shut them down
Before the start of the 2021 season, 852 baserunners had attempted to steal a base when Yadi was the backstop and 510 of them were successful. Meaning Molina’s caught stealing rate was 40.1%.
That’s good enough for third for all catchers who’ve had at least 2,000 IP as catcher since 2004 and first for catchers with more than 4,000 IP. He was a beast at mowing them down on the pathways, for context the league average for this period was 27.5%.
Batters need to be successful just over two-thirds of the times they steal to be a net positive to their team and that hasn’t been happening against Yadi. In fact, stealing bases has been worth -32 runs for batting teams over the years.
Molina being good at catching runners doesn’t just mean that he gets more caught, it also means that people try to steal less. Baserunners attempted on average 0.47 steal attempts for each nine innings Molina caught, just under one attempt every two games. And that is significantly lower than any other of his contemporaries.
It’s also way below the league average for 2005-2020 which is 0.79 attempts per nine innings pitched. Baserunners attempted to steal 40% less than the league average when Molina was the opponent.
You may have noticed that some of the other names which were in the top list for caught stealing rate are also in this top list. Roberto Perez, Martin Maldonado, Christian Vazquez and Ivan Rodriguez are also seemingly respected by baserunners for the ability to catch them out. In fact, these two stats correlate quite well.
If we take the 109 catchers who have more than 2,000 IP behind home plate since 2004 you can see that Caught Steal Rate and Attempt Steals Rate are quite well correlated with an r-squared of 0.36.
This does make sense, there are few outliers, but baserunners tend to run less on catchers with good caught stealing rates. And Yadier Molina has been the most avoided for over 15 years.
This really shows when you look at these figures from a team level.
You may have seen this info in a graphic similar to this before or the numeric one which did the rounds during this year’s spring training. But it clearly shows that the Cardinals have had significantly less stolen base attempts (794) against them than any other team; 359 less than any other team.
It is a ridiculous drop off and many have used to it to praise Molina. The issue is that the drop off is too much.
Get in their heads
Molina has played 73% of all innings by a St Louis catcher in the years 2005-2020 and other catchers have been responsible for the remaining 27%.
The team-level attempted steal rate against the Cardinals is 0.5 attempts per nine IP and the rate for the catchers not called Yadier Molina is 0.58. Which if you look back at the table above, you see they are being treated like some of the best stealing catchers in the business, combined they would rank seventh lowest on the attempted steal rate.
And it is still significantly lower than the next best team which has a rate of 0.67.
But do they deserve that? No, they do not.
They have a combined caught stealing rate of 25%, which is not only much worse than Yadier Molina it is worse than the league average of 27.5%.
Using that skill level, we would anticipate that baserunners would have a rate of 0.83 steal attempts per nine IP. The actual steal rate though is 30% lower than what we would expect.
Now this could be put down to a lot of factors but I for one love the idea that teams and players were so afraid of being caught by Yadier Molina that sometimes they forgot to try and steal more bases when he was not catching.
Molina has an amazing legacy as a catcher in MLB but I hope you think about this in the future when discussing him.
Russell is Bat Flips and Nerds’ resident analytical genius, and arguably Europe’s finest sabermetrician. If you’re not following Russell on Twitter @REassom then you’re doing baseball wrong.
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