Friday, March 02, 2012

Arguing Yadier Molina's New Contract

For as long as there have been people watching sports, there have been people vehemently arguing the sports they are watching. That's part of the fan experience. And just because you start writing about what you are watching, that doesn't mean you stop arguing. The key, of course, is to argue without turning such differing opinions into personal attacks. Twitter has become a place where friendship can develop with people you would never meet otherwise. This just increases the amount of people you can argue with. Such an argument occurred yesterday between yours truly and Andrew Martin. The subject was Yadier Molina.

Martin is a writer that is much admired here. He writes for, and his own site, He can be found on Twitter @HistorianAndrew. The guy is simply terrific. And as such, a worthy opponent for such a conversation. Martin basically believes the St. Louis Cardinals are crazy for signing Molina for five years at $75 million, the equivalent of $15 million per season. The signing makes Yadier Molina the second highest paid catcher in baseball. Andrew Martin believes that Molina is not an elite player and thus the contract is way out of line. Here's how the conversation went:

Obviously, Andrew wasn't swayed at all in his thinking. And that's okay. But here are some thoughts concerning his arguments. First, contracts are always based on past performance and how those performances predict future performance given what we know about age cycles, etc. For obvious reasons, the only leverage a player has is what he has done in the past. But Andrew's original point was that Yadier Molina hasn't done enough. The counterpoint made was that player pages at sites like and do not yet include all that we now know about catching.

This seems like a broken record here, but this writer has become enamored with the work done by Mike Fast found here and the work done by Bojan Koprivica found here. The great service that Koprivica did in his piece was incorporate Fast's work and created an adjusted WAR for the catchers based on both of their work. This is much closer to the true value of catchers than what we get on B-R or Fangraphs (to this point). 

Fast's work suggests that Yadier Molina's worth at framing pitches (getting extra strikes for his pitchers) is about seven runs per season. Ten runs (roughly) equals a win. Koprivica assigns Molina as the second best catcher in baseball at blocking pitches in the dirt and that his skill in doing so has been worth roughly five runs a season. If you combine the two as Koprivica has done, you can give Molina's value another 1.3 wins a season above replacement. Since wins are currently valued at roughly $4.5 million a piece, then Molina's hidden catching skills are worth $5.86 million a year. What does that do to this value proposition?

As stated in the tweets, Fangraphs has valued Yadier Molina for $41.2 million over the last three seasons. That is an average of $13.73 million per season. On the face of that knowledge, yes, the Cardinals have apparently overpaid Molina's value. But if you add in the $5.86 million per year calculated in the previous paragraph, you now have a catcher whose real worth was $19.59 million per season. That changes the value proposition completely.

Yes, there are risks involved with this deal. Yadier Molina needs to stay healthy during these five years and continue to produce the value that he has displayed over the past three seasons. The amazing Dave Cameron fairly calculates this risk for us and is worth reading. To be sure, the Cardinals are paying a premium to who many believe to be the best catcher in the game today. The Cardinals believe that Yadier Molina was a vital part of them winning two World Series titles with him behind the plate. So who is to blame them for putting their money behind their belief system. The reward of tying up the best catcher in the game is worth the risk.

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