Defending Jose Molina’s Defense
With news that Jose Molina might return soon, it’s time to examine why his defensive slights are overstated.
The big knock on Molina’s defense is he allows too many passed balls and wild pitches. Since those events come with a runner on base by definition, they can be costly. But Molina—who is old, plump, and largely immobile—is unfairly targeted with this criticism. Last season, he allowed 0.49 passed balls plus wild pitches per nine innings caught. Jose Lobaton, his younger and seemingly more athletic counterpart, allowed 0.48. The league median among catchers with 300-plus innings was 0.44, which means both were an imperceptible amount away from being average.
Whatever flak Molina has caught about his throwing is also misplaced. Before getting to those numbers, let’s state the obvious: A catcher’s caught stealing rate doesn’t tell much about his ability to throw out runners. So much of a caught stealing is tied to how quick the pitcher is to the plate and how well he held the runner. Still, Molina held a healthy edge over Lobaton in caught stealing rate (29 percent versus 15) and allowed 0.12 fewer stolen bases per game as a result.
Taking things a step further, if we apply generic run values to their numbers, we find that Molina’s blocking skills cost the Rays 10.8 runs. Lobaton’s, on the other hand, cost the Rays 9.9 runs. When the throwing numbers are incorporated and added to those numbers, Molina’s context-free net value is six runs better than Lobaton’s net value. This is, of course, without factoring in the noticeable edges Molina has in framing, staff-handling, and the like. How much is a good mound visit worth? Couldn’t tell you, but the idea that Molina is a liability behind the plate, especially compared to Lobaton, is hogwash.