Is Yadier Molina the Best Defensive Catcher in St. Louis Cardinals History?

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Is Yadier Molina the Best Defensive Catcher in St. Louis Cardinals History?
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

After Yadier Molina won his fifth Gold Glove in a row in 2012, one must wonder if the Cardinals' tattooed pickoff-artist is their best defensive catcher in team history.

In a word, yes, and quite easily we might add.

That is no small feat, as the Cardinals have traditionally had some of the finest defensive catchers in baseball throughout their illustrious history.

In fact, Yadi will be in the running for best defensive backstop in major league history when he finally hangs up his facemask. In this article, we will look at some statistical evidence to back up that assumption.

But I must warn you that we will make heavy use of some defensive value metrics. So if your favorite phrase during the AL MVP voting period was, "WAR, what is it good for?," you may not enjoy this article.

But if you have an open mind and see the advanced statics as a simple attempt to bring players from different eras into the same context, you may find this information interesting.

First, we will look at Baseball-Reference.com's list of the top ten Cardinal players by career dWAR (defensive win value above the typical replacement player).

Rank Player Defensive WAR PAs
1. Ozzie Smith 34.6 8242
2. Marty Marion 24.8 5926
3. Yadier Molina 15.1 4060
4. Dal Maxvill 13.8 3492
5. Red Schoendienst 12.2 7447
10. Tom Pagnozzi 10.0 3142

Simply put, dWAR is looking at the defensive contributions of the player and how those provide wins value above what the typical replacement player provides. We are not concerned with offense in this review.

It is quite interesting to see that Molina has nestled in between the three great defensive shortstops—Ozzie Smith, Marty Marion and Dal Maxvill, who were defensive wizards, including of course, The Wizard himself, Ozzie Smith.

Notice too that Molina is already third in franchise history at 15.1 dWAR and Tom Pagnozzi checks in at tenth with 10.0 dWAR, as a Cardinal. Even if the Cards don't pick up the team option in his final year, Yadi will be the longest-tenured Cardinal since Ozzie roamed the Busch infield.

WAR totals are, of course, cumulative, and if Molina stays healthy enough to reach the 8,000 plate appearances that Ozzie had as a Cardinal, he could threaten to be the most valuable defensive player in franchise history, period.

After Pagnozzi, the contestants for best defensive catcher in St. Louis history would have to include current manager Mike Matheny and Joe Buck's current color man, Tim McCarver.

Player dWAR PAs FLD% CS% lgCS% Pickoff GG
Yadier Molina 15.1 4060 .993 45% 28% 46 5
Tom Pagnozzi 10.0 3142 .992 37% 31% 4 3
Mike Matheny 5.8 2168 .994 35% 31% 26 3
Tim McCarver 5.6 4193 .990 34% 37% 20 0
Johnny Bench 19.3 8674 .990 43% 35% 62 9
Carlton Fisk 16.3 9853 .988 34% 35% 20 1
Gary Carter 25.4 9019 .990 35% 32% 52 3
Ivan Rodriguez 28.7 10270 .991 46% 31% 88

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For comparison, I have also listed four of the best defensive catchers in baseball history—three Hall of Famers and one that will be.

Remember, the totals for our Cardinals are just with the Cardinals—the four Hall of Famers show their career totals at the catcher position.

What jumps out immediately is that Yadier Molina is one of the best catchers in history at shutting down the running game. In an era where base stealers are much smarter and more careful than ever, Yadi has the best differential on the list between his caught stealing percentage and the league average.

Molina is also on pace to pass Ivan Rodriquez's 88 career pick-offs.

Pagnozzi was underrated, toiling for some poor Cardinals' teams over the years. But he was far above the league average at throwing out runners and led the National League in dWAR in 1991 with a full 3.0 wins.

But he still can't touch Molina. Amazingly Pagnozzi had just four pickoffs in his career, and we're pretty sure Yadi has had four in one week at some point.

Mike Matheny was a defensive mainstay until his career was cut short due to concussions. He has the best fielding percentage of any catcher on the list, but it's really a negligible difference. The fact is he just didn't accumulate enough playing time to be considered an all-time Cardinal great.

Barring injury, Molina could crack the 30.0 dWAR mark at the end of his career which would be the best total of all-time.

In a nutshell, Yadi is already the best defensive catcher in team history.

Fans need to take it in while they can because Molina's No. 4 will be retired on the Busch Stadium outfield wall in the not-too-distant future, resting nicely between Red's No. 2 and Stan Musial's No. 6.

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