Yadier Molina’s Hitting Approach AND 3 Monkey Sports Giveaway

Photo Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Disclaimer: This will be a shorter post than usual so that we can get to the 3 Monkey Sports Giveaway at the end of the post!

Two and a half years (2004-2006) into his Major League career, Yadier Molina was a .238 hitter. Yet, during this time, Molina threw out 62 of 122 (51%) would-be base stealers, so his lack of offense was not too big of an issue.

In his book, One Last Strike, Tony La Russa said that he would have started Molina at catcher every single game during his tenure as manager even if he had a .000 batting average. This is a testament to Molina’s ability behind the plate. In nine years for the Cardinals, Molina has racked up an ample amount of defensive trophies: 5 Gold Glove Awards, 2 Platinum Glove Awards, and 5 Fielding Bible Awards.

Yet, if the last three seasons are any indication, Molina has shown to have developed quite the ability at the plate as well–hitting .305 in 2011, .315 in 2012, and .319 this year. Here is a quick look at his standard batting statistics from the last three seasons:

stats

As I looked deeper into the statistics, I found that of his 465 hits since the start of 2011, 105 of them (22.6%) have occurred on the first pitch of the at-bat. For perspective against his overall averages, Molina hit an incredible .361 on the first pitch from 2011 through this season. I used to question Molina’s approach when he swings at the first pitch, but after looking at his numbers, I can no longer complain.

Next, I looked at his yearly spray charts, and I found something quite intriguing–something that shows how good Yadi truly is at handling the bat and making season-to-season adjustments.

2011 Spray Chart
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2012 Spray Chart
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2013 Spray Chart
MolinaSprayChart2013

As you can see, the majority of Molina’s hits were to center and right field in 2011–the year in which he hit .305. In 2012, pitchers undoubtedly made adjustments after watching game film of Yadi’s approach in 2011.

Yet, as you can see by the 2012 spray chart, Yadi was one step ahead of the pitchers and made his own adjustments as well. He hit .315, and the majority of his hits were to left field.

Finally, in 2013, a year after he was largely a “pull-hitter,” Yadi reverted back to his 2011 approach by having the majority of his hits to center and right field–while recording a career-best .319 batting average.

Brief Conclusion

Molina is obviously one of the best defensive catchers in the Major Leagues, if not the best. One of the main reasons he is so good defensively is his baseball intelligence–something raved about by both La Russa and current manager, Mike Matheny. Well, over the last three seasons, Molina has applied his baseball intelligence to the plate as well, and here’s how:

1) Molina realized that sometimes the best pitch to hit in at-bat is the very first pitch, and his .361 batting average combined with 12 home runs and 57 RBI on the first pitch have been an integral part of his offensive production over the past three seasons.

2) Molina, as a game-caller for his own pitchers, knew that pitchers would make adjustments to his hitting approach based on his performance the year before. Thus, he made adjustments as well–being an “opposite-field” hitter in 2011, a “pull” hitter in 2012, and an “opposite-field” hitter again in 2013. Is this merely a coincidence? It very well could be. However, with such a big sample size–an entire season–one would think that he has purposely brought different approaches to the plate each year.
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Information on the 3 Monkey Sports Giveaway Contest!

3 Monkey Sports was kind enough to provide a Matt Adams autographed baseball and a Joe Kelly signed photo for two lucky readers of my blog.

How to enter:
1) Follow them on Twitter: @3monkeysports
2) You can follow me on Twitter, too: @stlCupofJoe (optional)
3) Enter your Twitter handle/name into the “Comments” section of this blog post.
4) Only one entry per person, and only legitimate Twitter handles/names will be accepted

How the Winners will be Picked:
1) The contest opens at 11:30 AM CST on 10/3/13 (when this was published)
2) Entries will be taken up until 11:30 AM CST on 10/4/13 (one day later)
3) At this time, I will compile the list and place all names into a hat.
4) The first name picked (AND verified) will get first choice on their prize.
5) The second name picked (AND verified) will get the remaining prize.
6) @3monkeysports will contact the winners on Twitter via Direct Message.
7) Winners must reside in the United States or Canada for shipping purposes.

For privacy reasons, I do not want people to be sharing emails in my comments field because this can lead to unwanted spamming. Thus, this contest is limited to people who have a Twitter account. If you do not have a Twitter account, I am sorry, but this is just the best way to do it. You can always make one if you do not already have one as well.

Be sure to check out www.3monkeysports.com for all sports’ memorabilia! Thank you so much for their generosity in providing two awesome items of two young Cardinal stars!

Good luck to all! Make sure to share this blog and contest with other Cardinal fans!

#12in13

Until next time…

Joe

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Ballpark Village: Cardinals Hall of Fame Exhibit

Photo Credit: Downtown St. Louis Residents Association

Photo Credit: Downtown St. Louis Residents Association

Back on February 8th, the St. Louis Cardinals finally broke ground on the famous Ballpark Village, and team officials implied that the first phase of the project will be ready by Opening Day 2014.

With the amount of excitement that has been built up since 2006, the United Cardinal Bloggers decided that it would be a good idea for all group members to write about what they want to see in the new Cardinals Hall of Fame–an integral part of the Ballpark Village project. Thus, that it was I intend to do here, and to be honest, I hope someone with the Cardinals is reading–I am that pumped about my idea.

In my humble opinion, there is one exhibit that really should be considered as being part of the actual Cardinals Hall of Fame. It is interactive and is able to bring fans closer to the game. It can also be enjoyed by all ages–from the youngsters to lifelong fans.

The Exhibit

Photo Credit: stltoday.com

Photo Credit: stltoday.com

Can You Steal on Yadi? Interactive Exhibit (For All Ages)

Let’s be honest, the answer is most likely a resounding no for most of us.

Regardless of the answer, envision this scene.

The Design

There in front of you sits half of the infield diamond: home plate, first base, second base, and a daunting, life-size figure of Yadier Molina just about to unleash one of his cannon-like throws to second.

Traveling from Yadi’s extended throwing arm to the second base bag (127.3 feet) is a clear tube that is close to the diameter of a baseball. Inside the clear tube is either an actual baseball or a fiber optics image of a ball–whatever the design engineers consider feasible and reproducible for the project. I suppose that if need be, they could even use a long skinny video board instead of the tube, but that is out of my jurisdiction, I am just here for the idea.

The base path between first and second base (90 feet in length) can be a brown field turf–something that does not need much maintenance and is easy on the body in case of a fall. There can also be a rubberized flooring following the same path to second base so that wheelchair-bound fans can enjoy the exhibit as well.

Thus, the scene is set: a half baseball diamond, Yadier Molina with a tube going down to second base, and the base path for the fans to use when trying to steal.

The Action

To provide my readers with a clear image of what to expect, I am going to provide you with a make-believe father and young son using the exhibit. Let’s call the father, Stan. He is a thirty-two year old guy who has been a diehard Cardinals fan since he was born. The son, who is just seven years old, will go by Tony. He, like his father, is a huge Cardinals fan as well.

Stan: “Hey Tony, you know how good Yadier Molina is?”

Tony: “Yea, Dad. He is the best! He hits a lot, and he throws really fast!”

Stan: “Yes, son. He is the best. Let’s try out this exhibit so you can see what it is like to face Yadi.”

Stan sends Tony up to first base. Tony, who has already started playing organized baseball, takes a couple steps off the base as his leadoff. Next, the moderator of the exhibit tells Tony that the video board in front of him will count down: “3, 2, 1, GO!” and that he is to take off towards second base when the board reads GO.

Tony digs his feet into the field turf, sways his arms back and forth, and gives a thumbs up to the moderator. The board reads GO!, and Tony is on his way to second base. Just four to five steps into his run, the ball has already traveled from Yadier’s hand to second base–a mere 1.75 seconds. It will actually have to be around 3-3.2 seconds in order to factor in the time it would have taken for the pitcher to throw the ball to home plate first.

Tony turns in amazement, “Dad, Dad! Did you see how fast that throw was?” His dad replies, “Yes, son. That is why he is the best. I hope this makes you truly appreciate how fast Yadi really throws it now.” Of course, the dad, Stan, could not help himself and tried the exhibit himself right after–he, too, falling victim to Molina’s cannon of an arm.

Conclusion

Thus, there is the exhibit that hyped me up so much. The only engineering part that really needs to be figured out is how to make it so a ball can consistently go from Molina’s hand to second base in a little over 3 seconds. I trust the incredible engineers of St. Louis to be able to make either an air-powered machine that can push an actual baseball at that speed through the tube or come up with some fiber optics contraption to serve as a ball traveling to second.

Some modifications can be made such as scaling the exhibit down to help fit the building. If space permits, it can even become an outdoor exhibit for the Hall of Fame.

St. Louis Cardinals fans, young and old, know that Yadier Molina is the best catcher in the game right now. When his career ends, he very well may be the best catcher ever. Well, this is a fun, interactive exhibit that can help make fans truly appreciate one of Yadi’s many talents on a firsthand basis.

Let’s be honest, who would not want to try this exhibit at least once?

Until next time…

Joe (@stlCupOfJoe)

P.S. If any of my readers have a contact with the Cardinals, please let me know because I would really like to pitch this idea to them.

Just What the Doctor Ordered: A Familiar Foe

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With the Cardinals just being swept by the Texas Rangers and the Pittsburgh Pirates pulling within one game in the Central, the “best fans in baseball” have been unfairly crying for help.

Well, help is on the way in the form of a familiar foe–the Houston Astros. Although the Astros may be performing better than one would think given their minuscule payroll and underwhelming roster, they still are 19 games under the .500 mark.

The Cardinals beat up on the Astros last season–compiling 11 wins to just 4 losses. Thus, with this being just a short two-game series in Houston, I fully expect the Cardinals to win both–improving their overall record to 49-29.

Hitting Matchups for the Cardinals

Expect Yadier Molina to break out of his mini slump (0 for his last 8) in a big way tonight against Astros’ starter, Lucas Harrell. For his career, Molina has 7 hits in 12 at-bats against Harrell with one home run and 4 RBI. It does not stop there, though, because Molina loves hitting against tomorrow’s starter, Erik Bedard, as well. In his career, he has 4 hits in 8 at-bats with one home run and 3 RBI.

I would not be surprised to see David Freese have a big game tonight as well considering he has 5 hits in 10 at-bats against Harrell. Of those 5 hits, one has left the field of play for a home run, and he has driven in two runs. Freese, like Molina, has also had success against Bedard with 3 hits in 9 at-bats, so expect him to have a good two game series as well.

Probable Pitchers for the Cardinals

Jake Westbrook toes the rubber tonight, and I expect him to build on his last outing against the Chicago Cubs. It is only his third start back from the disabled list, so efficiency in his pitch count will be key, especially in the Houston heat.

Lance Lynn is on the mound tomorrow night, and he will be looking to capture his NL-leading 11th win of the season–something Adam Wainwright was unable to do on Sunday night against the Rangers. Lynn will especially have to be efficient in his pitch count as he has shown endurance issues so far this season.

Conclusion

Thus, this was just a very brief overview of the upcoming series with the Astros, but I hope I was able to provide you with some insight and some matchups to look at throughout the two games. I expect the Cardinals to take care of business in Houston. Let’s just hope the Seattle Mariners can tackle the Pirates tonight to help give the Cardinals a more comfortable cushion in the division. Also, I would not mind seeing the Oakland Athletics beat up on the Cincinnati Reds as well.

Until next time…

Joe (@stlCupOfJoe)

Yadier Molina: MVP, but Not Starting All Star?

Photo Credit: ESPN the Magazine

Photo Credit: ESPN the Magazine

Disclaimer: I know I am late to the party on this discussion, but I wanted to give my analysis as well. Thank you for checking in!

Yadier Molina. What else can he do to be considered the outright starting catcher in the All Star Game for the National League?

Molina is hitting .367 this season, has held together a pitching staff full of rookies, and is arguably the most valuable player of the team with the best record, yet he still is not a lock to start the All Star Game. Something is wrong about that. Something is seriously wrong about that. Right now, due to a flawed voting system, Molina trails San Francisco Giant catcer, Buster Posey, by a few thousand votes.

Let’s do a quick comparison of their numbers.

Posey: .319 batting average, .392 on-base percentage, 8 home runs, 42 runs batted in, .907 on-base + slugging (OPS), 2.7 wins above replacement (WAR)

Molina: .367 batting average, .408 on-base percentage, 4 home runs, 39 runs batted in, .914 on-base + slugging (OPS), 3.1 wins above replacement (WAR)

Comparison finished. In short, there really is zero comparison. Posey, last season’s MVP, has great statistics, especially for a catcher, but Molina has incredible statistics, especially with the amount of adversity he has dealt with this season. Sure, Posey has more home runs than Yadi, but as shown by OPS, Molina is managing just fine in the power category.

Home runs will come for Molina, but the fact is, that is the only statistic in which Posey has the advantage. Yadi could hit more home runs, but this Cardinals team does not need him to hit many home runs like the Giants need of Posey’s bat–he hits third in the lineup.

Also, keep in mind, no one can quantify exactly what Molina has done for this year’s pitching staff that has been plagued with injuries all season. In 67 games played (out of  a possible 71), Molina has caught 21 different pitchers. 21 different pitchers! Despite the carousel of pitchers he has caught, he has helped manage the staff to a top two earned-run average (3.28 ERA). The staff also has the most complete games with five and is in the top ten with 42 quality starts.

Posey is a great catcher, but in my opinion, there is no way he would have been able to handle the adversity Molina has admirably handled so far this season. Posey is more of an offensive-minded catcher, and yet, as shown by my comparison above, Yadi has him beat in the majority of the offensive categories as well.

VOTE!

I do not care if you only vote for one person on the entire ballot, but please, go online and vote for Yadi. He is more than deserving, and he needs our help to beat the flawed system. He is the best catcher in baseball, and if he is able to keep this up, he will be the MVP of the National League. If he is capable of being the MVP, he should be starting the All Star Game as well.

Here is the Ballot:
http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/events/all_star/y2013/ballot.jsp

I have voted 35 times a day for him through my MLB.com account, so it would truly mean a lot if you all could vote for him as well. Thank you.

Until next time…

Joe (@stlCupOfJoe)

Clint Fagan Prematurely Ejects Yadier Molina, Mike Matheny

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Yadier Molina was out. Sure, it may have looked like he was not running his hardest out of the box, but let’s be honest, it takes him a while to get his motor running. Also, considering it was an inside pitch, it naturally pulls him away from first base so it took him a while to gain his footing.

Clint Fagan made the worst call of the game while making the correct call on the exact same play. Molina was out–no doubt about it. Upon running through the base, Yadier Molina slammed his helmet to the ground in disgust–but he never once said a word or even looked at the umpire.

What kind of disgust did Molina express? There is absolutely no way that Clint Fagan knows. Thus, he had zero right in throwing out Molina the way he did. He could have been upset with the call, but he did not say a word to Fagan, so he cannot prematurely assume that. He could have been mad that Crawford made an amazing play to thwart a rally. Or he could have been mad at himself for not running his hardest out of the batters’ box.

The thing is we do not know why Molina slammed his helmet; thus, there is no way Fagan knew why he threw the helmet, either. Baseball is a long season that is full of emotions, and we all know Molina is a very passionate player. He takes pride in his craft and has consistently worked to improve every aspect of his game–from hitting to fielding to base running.

Thus, considering he did not say a single word to the umpire nor look at him, one can make a pretty good assumption that he was just mad at himself or upset with the situation as a whole. The way he reacted immediately after the ejection is good evidence to this–he felt wronged for being ejected and wanted to speak his mind about it.

Watch this .gif to get a grasp at the severity of Molina’s reaction.

Based on his tantrum, Yadier Molina unfortunately deserves a 2-3 game suspension because he made contact with multiple umpires. It is just a bad situation where a young umpire made a rash decision because he felt threatened by one of the premier players in the league.

Yadier Molina is one of the best players in the game. He has been around long enough and has gained enough respect around the league (outside of Cincinnati) to be allowed to show some disgust and be given a chance to explain himself before getting ejected.

(By the way, he ejected Mike Matheny as well after he ran out to protect his player.)

Congratulations, Clint Fagan. You made a name for yourself…but for all the wrong reasons.

More of a rant than a blog…sorry!

Until next time…

Joe
@stlCupOfJoe

FINAL UPDATE to story! As of 4:45 CST, with quotes from Matheny, Molina

Matheny said a suspension to Molina would be “further tragedy” and says the umpire was “looking for” the ejection. He also reiterated that umpire “went out of his way” for ejection. (Credit to Derrick Goold (@dgoold) and Martin Kilcoyne (@martinkilcoyne2) for the update)

Molina’s explanation: “I knew I was out. I wasn’t upset that (the umpire) made the out call. I was upset with myself.” (Thank you to Jenifer Langosch (@LangoschMLB) for this quote).

Thus, it looks like my assumption after the play was correct: Molina was mad at himself and the umpire really messed up the call on this one.

Farm Fresh

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Photo Credit: David Freese (via Twitter)

Homegrown Talent. Nothing quite develops a franchise more efficiently than developing draft picks that help contribute to the major league club on a consistent basis. Frankly, I do not know if any other team in Major League Baseball has done a better job at this than the St. Louis Cardinals.

25 players on the roster. Currently, 17 of them have been drafted (or signed from another country, but let’s not get overly technical here) and developed in the Cardinals’ minor leagues. That does not even include David Freese or Adam Wainwright (both received in trades early in their careers) who did the majority of their player development in the Cardinals farm system.

Thus, somewhere between 68% to 76% of the current roster consists of “farm fresh” talent. That number could rise even higher by the end of the season with Oscar Taveras, Kolten Wong, and John Gast (update 1:03 PM EST, 5/12/13: since writing this post, the Cardinals Twitter account has said that Gast has been called up to replace Westbrook who was placed on the 15-day DL) all lingering at the Triple-A level salivating to get their shot in the Big Leagues. That percentage is staggering. If compared to any other contender in the MLB, I can almost guarantee that the Cardinals’ percentage is higher.

One of the best things about homegrown talent is that a team can have a player for his early years without having to pay him the premium prices that quality free agent players demand in order to sign with a team.

For example, the Cardinals have had David Freese produce (when healthy) quality statistics for parts of 4 seasons now. He has also provided a 2011 World Series MVP performance to help lead the Cardinals to their 11th championship. He did all of this while being paid less than $1 million per year–quite the bargain. I realize that if he picks it up this season (keep in mind he is playing through a sore back which is most likely contributing to his slow start) he will be due a hefty raise in order to lock him up long-term. However, the point is that the Cardinals have had him at the Big League level for 4 seasons now and have paid less than $5 million total for his services. In order to get production like that elsewhere (whether through free agency or the trade market), it would cost the team much more.

Another benefit to having a roster full of players who played together in the minors is the team chemistry and friendships they develop along the way. As referenced in my previous blog post on Jon Jay and shown in the picture above, there is a core part of the team that consists of best friends, not just teammates. Jon Jay, Allen Craig, Daniel Descalso, and David Freese are always hanging out before, during, and after the game. They share laughs and celebrations and provide supportive foundations for each other if needed.

Why are they so close? They grew and developed together. They shared long bus rides with each other in the minors with one goal in mind–to make it to the Show. Now that they have made it, their camaraderie has carried over and flourished for the Cardinals. They have had such a positive impact on team chemistry as a whole that they have even gotten veterans to participate in things such as “High Sock Sundays” and the celebratory high-five line in the dugout after home runs. At the end of the day, baseball is a game, and players are at their best when they are enjoying what they are doing.

Thus, I praise John Mozeliak for how he has built the Cardinals. He has been able to use money more efficiently by developing draft picks (instead of trading them for higher-priced veterans) which has allowed him to sign franchise cornerstones, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright. He has also helped put together a team that truly enjoys playing with each other–something that is crucial considering the length of the baseball season.

Fans cannot forget the work that Jeff Luhnowdid for the Cardinals as the Vice President of Scouting and Player Development as well. I wish him all the best in Houston, and I truly believe he has the ability to get that franchise back to its glory days–which is fine with me now that they have been moved from the NL Central.

Until next time…

Joe
@stlCupOfJoe