As Josh mentioned yesterday, we are embarking upon a month-long (or so) series of report cards for the 2009 Cardinals, and he kicked it off with his grades at the catcher position yesterday.
Now it’s my turn.
Yadi has long been well regarded in big league circles as an outstanding defensive catcher, one of the best. His 2009 campaign did nothing to tarnish that image.
Molina did, however, continue to improve at the plate – posting a career high .749 OPS. Not ground-rattling by any stretch, but at a premium position with premium defense, Molina is clearly a plus player for the Cardinals.
Using the outstanding catcher defense metrics/research from Driveline Mechanics, Molina ranks as the fifth best defensive catcher in MLB for 2009 at 6.6 runs above replacement, or approximately between 0.6 and 0.7 WAR to the Cardinals just from his defense.
Ranking fifth best in batting WAR among catchers as well, Molina is the only catcher to rank in the top five of both categories, and is joined by Joe Mauer as the only catchers to rank in the top ten of both offense and defense WAR (italicized numbers represent a top-five in the respective category):
Obviously, we’re only talking about one prevailing factor here, Wins Above Replacement, but it’s a pretty convincing one. Yadi was a top four catcher in MLB in 2009.
Jason LaRue saw his catching time decrease by about 160 innings from 2008 to 2009, but he still provided the Cardinals with exactly what they were expecting from him while backing up the starter: very little defensive drop-off.
LaRue threw out one-third of would be base-stealers (5 CS of 15 attempts) during his 26 starts behind the plate (and some mop-up time) and allowed only one passed ball all season.
In fact, LaRue ranked 30th among MLB catchers in the same defensive runs metrics from Driveline Mechanics linked to above.
His bat appears to be fading (what was left of it) with age, as average was up, but walks and slugging were down.
Overall, as Molina’s time increases, LaRue can only do what is asked of him, and he did that admirably.
A 27 year-old rookie, Matt Pagnozzi made his way to the big club in September when rosters expanded and didn’t embarrass himself.
(What else can you say about a guy who plays five games in garbage time?)
Projections for next season are for another time, but I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if Lil’ Pags found his way onto the big league club full-time as the backup catcher next season.
See explanation of LaRue’s 2009 role above for reasoning.
I would’ve rather seen the MLB catching debut of Jason Motte instead of Freese, but I don’t call the shots around Busch III.
Grade: Just get healthy enough to play third base, David
Overall Grade: A
The Cardinal catchers ranked highly in defensive performance, something clearly a focus of the Tony LaRussa years in St. Louis. Molina’s bat continues to improve, and he’s only 27 years old. The Cardinals have Yadi locked up to a very team-friendly contract, and amazingly he still appears to have room to improve.
One last tidbit, as a point of interest of yours truly: Cardinal catchers (and pitchers, arguably) only allowed 44 stolen bases on the season, lowest in the majors. The catchers threw out 28 would-be base-stealers for a CS rate of 39%. That means there was a total of 72 attempts against the Redbird catchers, or 22 attempts fewer (!) than the next team (Houston, 94). MLB average attempts were 127.
The Cards’ catchers are really good.