Mo'Lina Mo'Problems or: Why Bengie Molina To The Mets Is A Bad Idea

A couple months back, I posted about players to avoid this offseason.  One player I regretfully omitted was free agent to-be Bengie Molina, catcher for the San Francisco Giants.  For a 1 year deal at $2 million, Molina would be a nice pickup.  Anything much more than that would be silly to hand to a 35 year-old, 225 lbs. (yeah right) catcher with some mileage.

At first glance, I can understand why Molina would be an enticing pickup in the eyes of some Met fans:

  • His batting average was just south of .300 from 2005-2008 before dropping to .259 this year.
  • He is an "RBI man".  75 this season, 95 in 2008 for a garbage Giants lineup.
  • Owns a World Series ring.
  • Caught 2 Cy Young winners: Johan Santana Bartolo Colon in 2005 and Tim Lincecum in 2008.
  • Gritty veteran.  Leadership.  Will mentor Omir Santos and Josh Thole.
  • As a member of the Molina family, it is assumed he is good at defense.

None of these are compelling reasons to overpay for a player's services.  Before going any further, let me say that this isn't a Rubinesque hit piece.  Molina has been solid in recent seasons  He has some pop and can be counted on for 15-20 homers a year.  Durability is another asset, his recent unlucky finger injury notwithstanding.  After that, the rest of his all-around game isn't very impressive.  Here are some major problems.

1.  Plate Discipline

Molina has the worst plate discipline in baseball.  Worse than Jeff Francoeur.  Worse than Pablo Sandoval.  He is Bizarro Luis Castillo.  No one in the league has swung at pitches out of the strike zone more often than Molina this season.  No one has a lower walk rate.  The inability to draw walks does not automatically disqualify a player from being a useful hitter, but Molina isn't exactly a speedy Ichiro type who can make up for his disciplinary issues with a sky-high batting average.  Unsurprisingly, his OBP this season is a putrid .280, and a ~.300 OBP going forward seems realistic.

2.  Defense

Measuring catcher defense (or any position's defense, for that matter) is an inexact science.  Three outlets that have attempted to do this are BaseballProjection.com, Beyond the Boxscore and Tom Tango's Fan Scouting Report.  Baseball Projection says that Molina has been a better than average defensive catcher just once (2008) in the 5 years before 2009.  BtB pegged Molina at -7 runs this season as of early August.  The Fan Scouting Report rated Molina 2.8/5.0 (translation: not good).  Factor in his, at best, average throwing arm and it's safe to say that he is not a good defensive catcher.  Contrast with his Wikipedia page, apparently authored by Mrs. Molina:

Regarded as an exceptional ball blocker and blessed with a strong arm, he is frequently regarded by both pundits and fans alike as one of the strongest defensive catchers in the game

3. Baserunning

It's no secret that he is among the slowest runners in baseball.  Baseball Prospectus's EqBRR stat attempts to assign a run value to baserunning and agrees that Molina is a major liability:

Year Runs
2006 -3.66
2007 -3.56
2008 -7.08
2009 -4.29

He costs a team half a win a season on the basepaths.  Defense and baserunning are the major reasons why Molina's Fangraphs WAR figures are likely too high.  Sean Smith's WAR database accounts for catcher defense and non-SB/CS baserunning.  Molina's value is probably somewhere between these 2 measures:

Year Smith Fangraphs
2006 0.4 2.1
2007 0.5 1.9
2008 1.6 2.9
2009 N/A 1.4

This whole piece probably could have been summed up more succintly, as reader David G did in a thread last week:

My take on Molina: He’s fat, he’s getting old, he doesn’t walk, he hits into tons of double plays, he’s the slowest player in the league and he occasionally hits homers. Would much prefer a cheaper guy like Chris Snyder over him.

The topic warranted some more words because it appears calls to sign Molina might increase in quantity and volume.  Again, if he could be had for a 1 year commitment and a fair price, fine.  But there's no reason to go multiple years and big money for an old, free swinging, poor defensive catcher.  Take a look at Rod Barajas, Gregg Zaun, Henry Blanco, Miguel Olivo or Chris Snyder. Avoid Bengie and save money for good players.

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