Yadier Molina is not a Hall of Famer.
Let that sink in a bit.
Yadier Molina is not a Hall of Famer, but that’s based on if Molina never played another inning as a professional. It’s almost a foregone conclusion in St. Louis that Yadier Molina is a Hall of Famer right now, but that doesn’t seem to be the case nationally especially for those more sabermetrically inclined individuals. So what does Molina need to do to punch his ticket to Cooperstown?
Before we get into Molina’s future production, let’s get a sense of what Baseball Hall of Fame voters look for in a player. I had the chance to discuss this and Molina’s future Baseball Hall of Fame chances with ESPN Senior Writer and Baseball Hall of Fame Voter Jerry Crasnick. Every voter looks at players differently. Some focus solely on statistics, some take a hybrid approach of stats and the “eye test”, and one voter submits a randomized vote of the eligible players on the ballot. For Jerry Crasnick, it seems like more of the hybrid approach.
“I’m probably more of a “Big Hall” guy than some voters. I’m willing to give a long look at players who were either very good for a long time or dominant during their peak years. I look at the rate stats, the counting stats, the All-Star Game appearances and the big awards. And I try to keep an open mind when it comes to PED use. I’ve held my nose and voted for certain candidates that I suspected were PED users because I lacked definitive evidence that they took part. I also think character is important, but a candidate doesn’t have to be a Boy Scout to make it.”
As someone who is not a Baseball Hall of Fame voter, I appreciate when those that do have a vote are transparent about the process in which they go about casting their vote. Jerry Crasnick has always done this, and most recently provided his take on how Robinson Cano’s recent failed drug test impacts how he looks at Cano’s Baseball Hall of Fame chances. If you get a chance, it’s well worth the read here but in the mean time back to what other areas Jerry looks at when evaluating a player on the ballot.
“Finally, I take my gut instincts into account when I watch a player. Does he feel like a Hall of Famer to me? Do I get that sense when he takes the mound in a big moment or in the postseason? Is there that special feel in the ballpark that a great player is in our midst? Hall of Fame voting is such a personal thing, I don’t think “presence” is something you can overlook.”
So if Yadier Molina retired today, would he be on Crasnick’s ballot when eligible?
“I’m a big Yadi fan, but I think he needs to do a little more. The eight Gold Gloves, eight All-Star Games and two top 5 MVP finishes are obviously huge. But he has a .739 career OPS. I checked on Baseball-reference.com, and among catchers with more than 1,500 career games on their resumes, that places him 27th — behind guys like Russell Martin, Elston Howard, Ramon Hernandez, Terry Steinbach and Jason Kendall.
Jorge Posada ranks fourth in that group with an .848 career OPS, and he fell off the ballot with 3.8 percent of the vote after one year. Yadi is obviously the superior defensive catcher, but was he so much better to make that big a difference?”
When digging further into Molina’s career numbers, the comparisons to other players begin to make Molina’s Hall of Fame status appear murky. Crasnick expanded on those comparisons and Molina’s current numbers just don’t seem to be quite there.
“In addition, Yadi is tied for 371st in BB-Ref career WAR with Eric Chavez and Dick McAuliffe. Posada, by comparison, has a 42.8 career WAR. Wins Above Replacement isn’t the go-to stat for me that it is for some voters, but I do find that somewhat telling. Yadier was a solid offensive producer for a few years, but he has 1,761 career hits at the moment and a career OPS+ of 98. He’s never scored 70 runs in a season. When you add up the numbers, they just seem a little light to me.”
It’s not what Cardinals fans want to hear, but at this point Molina just isn’t a Hall of Famer. The good news is that his career isn’t over and he’s got plenty of time to push the needle forward. So what numbers would Molina need to achieve by the time he retires to make the Hall of Fame? No one is absolutely sure, but by comparing the top 15 HOF catchers on Baseball Reference, the average catcher’s career WAR is 53.5. If Molina can get close to that, I think he’s in. He currently needs 16 WAR to reach the 53.5 mark, but I don’t know if that is attainable at this point. I do think 8-10 WAR is more realistic, which begs the question do all of the intangible aspects of Molina’s game give him the boost he needs to make it? I asked Crasnick if the intangibles weigh in on how he compares players while preparing his ballot, and how this applies to a player like Molina.
“I do think it’s important that Yadier is held in such high esteem by opposing players and the pitchers who threw to him. I’ve interviewed several Cardinals pitchers who’ve talked about the impact he has behind the plate — how deftly he calls a game, how well he moves behind the plate, or frames pitches, or shuts down the running game. He’s so respected in baseball’s inner circle. I think there are some parallels to Omar Vizquel that outweigh the raw numbers.”
2 time World Series Champion, memorable postseason moments, and being the guy behind the plate for some of the best pitching performances in Cardinals history all mean something. How much do they weigh in on Crasnick’s vote?
“In some cases, a winning pedigree or the ability to perform on the big stage can be huge. I think of John Smoltz, Kirby Puckett, Jack Morris, Curt Schilling and Carlos Beltran as examples of players whose performance or big moments in October elevated their stature in the eyes of voters. Yadi was obviously a big contributor to winning teams in St. Louis. But he has a .286/.339/.368 slash line in the postseason, so it’s not as if he’s authored a ton of memorable moments in the playoffs and the World Series. He did have an excellent 2006 World Series, but David Eckstein was the Series MVP. And David Freese and Lance Berkman will be remembered as the big heroes of the 2011 Series team, even though Yadi hit .333 in that Series.”
That’s a fair assessment when I take off my Cardinal colored glasses. We’ve got at least three more years of watching one of the best catchers to ever play the game and that’s plenty of time for more moments that Cardinals fans will always remember. Those moments, combined with the performance we’ve grown accustomed to over the last 15 years will push Molina over the statistical threshold needed to get enough votes for the Hall of Fame. With only a few more weeks before Molina returns, I can’t wait to see what his return does to this lineup. It’s going to be a fun Summer in St. Louis, and I’m going to enjoy watching it unfold.