Between the years of 2004 and 2013 the St. Louis Cardinals had a modern day dynasty, making the playoffs seven times during the 10-year stretch. During this time the franchise won four pennants and two World Series titles, an incredible feat to pull off in an era defined by parity. Just two other organizations have won multiple championships since 2000.
The most notable name on most of these Cardinal teams was Albert Pujols, one of the best right handed hitters of all time. Any conversation about the mid 2000s Cardinals has to start with “The Machine”. There were other greats players too. Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds, Adam Wainwright, Matt Holliday, and Chris Carpenter were all big contributors during those years.
But only one player was there for ALL those years, their catcher, Yadier Molina. I can’t imagine there’s a baseball fan alive who wouldn’t have wanted Yadier as his or her team’s catcher over the past decade. We’re talking about an 8x Gold Glove winner who also made eight all-star teams. He's widely considered the best defensive catcher of his generation.
The more I think about it the more incredible it is we’re even having this HOF conversation at all, particularly when you consider where Molina was offensively back when St. Louis began this run of dominance.
In 2006 when the Cardinals won it all a 23-year-old Molina hit just .216 with a 53 OPS+, which means he was 47% worse than a league average as a hitter. Something clicked that next season, however, because Molina improved his average to .275 in '07 and then .304 in '08. Batting average is obviously a flawed stat but huge increases like that can show that a hitter is developing. Between 2007 and 2010 Molina posted OPS+ numbers of 85, 96, 100, and 84. He was a replacement level hitter that became a great baseball player due to his elite defense.
Molina's offensive apex came between 2011 and 2013. During these this year stretch Yadi hit .313/.361/.481 while averaging 16 homers and 74 RBI. I ordinarily wouldn't get too worked up about numbers like that, but when you compare those plus offensive stats with the glove, you get an elite player. Molina deservedly finished fourth in the 2012 NL MVP voting and then third in 2013. Since then he's been similar to the '07-'10 version of himself with the bat.
So how does Yadi stack up with the other great catchers in baseball history? I’m no slave to WAR, but I think it’s a great starting point for any HOF discussion. Just to get a picture of what we’re dealing with, and sometimes the number surprises you. For example I didn’t really think of Robinson Cano as a HOF guy until realizing he had already surpassed third-ballot inductee Craig Biggio in career WAR.
This is where Molina's HOF case takes a hit. According to Baseball-Reference the average HOF catcher accumulates 53.5 career WAR. Molina currently ranks 27th all time at 37.4, below names such as Jorge Posada and Jason Kendall (wtf?). If you go by "peak WAR" AKA WAR7 AKA the sum of the seven best WAR season for a player, Molina ranks 26th, so it's not too different.
I think a lot of people want Yadi to be a HOFer in part because everyone likes him, but also in part because he was so good at one thing: defense. There's a bias in HOF voting where voters push for someone who was really god at a specific skill, whether it be defense or striking batters out or compiling saves. It means the great all around players (think Larry Walker) get overlooked. For years Molina has been a good to really good two-way catcher. And while he had a nice three year peak as an above average hitter, it just didn't last long enough and wasn't good enough to make him an all time great.
Verdict: Hall of Very Good