Molina Among the Sluggers

There’s a spot that you throw to with significant caution when the big thumpers are at the plate. It’s that high fastball about two inches inside of the plate, about level with the hitter’s biceps. With the ordinary hitters, they’ll jam themselves on the pitch – if they can get around on it at all. But the big guys will turn on that pitch and soar it over the wall.

If you can jam it in there at very high velocity – say 98 mph or higher – you’ve got a chance. But Cincinnati’s Sonny Gray doesn’t have that kind of gas. Last night against St Louis, Sonny threw 86 pitches – none faster than 93.5 mph. This one – the dangerous inside pitch – rode in at 93.1 mph. Not enough.

St Louis’ powerful slugger launched the pitch 400 feet down the left-field line for the home run that set the Cardinals on the path to their 5-4 victory (box score).

And who was this slugger that Gray was so careless with? It was probably Nolan Arenado – a multiple 40 homer man. No? Well, both Paul Goldschmidt and Paul DeJong have 30 homer seasons on their resumes. Surely it would be – no? Dylan Carlson and Tyler O’Neill both hit a lot of home runs in the minors. It guess it could be either of them.

No. It was St Louis’ most dangerous power hitter – thirty-eight-year-old catcher Yadier Molina. Molina, whose fifth home run of the season tied DeJong for the team lead. Yadi – whose .661 slugging percentage leads the team by nearly .150 points. Yadier Molina – who has never hit more than 22 home runs or slugged higher than .501 in any major league season.

Gray can perhaps be forgiven for this one. Maybe he didn’t get the memo that Molina has joined the mashers of the league.

With early season numbers – and, yes, it’s still just April – you always wonder if it’s real or a mirage that will dissipate as spring devolves into summer. Time will tell, but everything about Yadi’s swing and approach at the plate so far this season suggest that Molina – now in his eighteenth major league season – has worked to re-invent himself. On his page at baseball reference (which I will link again here), below the “Standard Batting” and “Player Value – Batting” sections, they have a section called “Advanced Batting.”

I can’t vouch for the collection of these numbers (I think there is a fair amount of subjectivity in determining – for example – what is a line drive and what is a fly ball), but I do consider them useful and probably more accurate than not.

The big takeaway from this section is that Yadi is pulling the ball more frequently than any time in his career. His groundballs and line drives are also way down, and his fly-balls are way up. He is also striking out a lot more than he has previously in his career.

This is a slugger’s profile. Yadi even looks thicker – somehow more barrel chested than I remember him. My feeling is that this is not accidental or a little hot streak. It looks to me like Molina has prepared for the 2021 season with the intent of being a legit middle-of-the order power source for this team.

Whether he can sustain this remains to be seen. Can he adjust as the pitchers adjust? Will he hold up during the heat of the end of the season? All great questions.

Molina, by the way, is not in the lineup today after turning his foot on a swing last night. Durability at baseball’s toughest position is also a concern for his 38-year-old body.

There are a lot of good questions, but for however long it lasts I could get used to seeing this new Yadi at the plate.

More Molina

If Yadi has, in fact, made the leap from slap hitter to slugger, he has done so keeping all his former aggressiveness. Yadi has never been a great taker of pitches. He swung at 7 of the 11 thrown him last night – including both first pitch curveballs he saw from Gray. Nobody swings at first pitch curves – but Yadi did twice, fouling off the first one before hitting his home run. His second time up he slapped that curve into the gap in right-center for an RBI double.

In the National League so far this year, only 28.9% of plate appearances are over before the pitcher can throw ball one, and only 57.4% don’t make it to ball two. Fully 35.3% of Yadi’s PA’s are over before he has seen ball one, and 67.6% don’t make it to ball two. When Yadi is hot, this works very well for him. Thus far he is 11 for 23 when hit hits before seeing ball one (.478) with 3 doubles and 3 home runs (a 1.000 slugging percentage). His home run and double last night came on an 0-1 pitch and an 0-0 pitch, respectively.

There are a lot of sluggers around the league who like to work the count and get the pitcher in trouble. However much Yadi has re-invented himself, I don’t well ever see him morph into that kind of hitter.

Edman

Torrid early in the season, leadoff hitter Tommy Edman has cooled of late. In the 5 games since the last game of his 12-game hitting streak, Tommy is 3 for 19 (.158).

Helsley

He allowed a seeing-eye single, but otherwise Ryan Helsley – one of the fire-ballers I wrote about yesterday – turned in another fine inning. Before his 2021 season was 3 innings old, Ryan had already served up 5 runs. Since then, though, he’s been as advertised.

In his last 7 appearances, Helsley has given just one additional run over 8.1 innings, during which he’s walked 2 and struck out 10. The 31 batters he’s faced in those games are hitting .172 against him – all singles, as Ryan has yet to allow an extra-base hit this year.

Cabrera

Similarly, Genesis Cabrera has strung together a series of excellent outings after he was knocked around a little in the opening series against the Reds. Genesis has pitched 7 innings over his last 7 outings, giving just 1 earned run on 4 hits, walking just 1 and striking out 10. 69 of his last 98 pitches have been strikes (70%). The last 28 batters to face Cabrera are hitting .148 with a .179 on base percentage. 18 of the last 59 swings taken against him come up empty (31%).

Hicks

In a kind of follow up to yesterday’s post, Jordan Hicks got himself in trouble again with control. Half of the 4 batters he faced worked him into three-ball counts, and both walked. And both scored.

Jordan has faced 32 batters this season. 13 have worked him into three-ball counts (40.6%) and 8 of the 13 have ended up walking. It’s a concern.

Reyes

Likewise, command issues from closer Alex Reyes turned a comfortable win into a nail biter. Alex, in a 23-pitch two-thirds of an inning, went three balls to 3 of the 4 batters he faced – and is going deep in the count to almost every batter he faces. Of the 37 he’s faced so far, Alex has gone to three-ball counts 16 times (43.2%). Almost 60% of the batters he faces (22 of 37) have gone to at least two-ball counts.

Alex has also tossed 4 wild pitches in his last 5 innings.

My Designated Hitter Rant

Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter. Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH. While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it. So, I have re-written it here. The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks. I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.