An interesting statistical note about Yadier Molina

38 Comments

The beautiful thing about science — any field of it — is that you start out with a hypothesis and you use data to confirm or reject your hypothesis. You don’t simply accept something as fact because a lot of people believe it or because someone in authority told you it was true. Science does have its flaws, especially when performed by humans, but it’s quite a good system, one that has served us well over the years. Sabermetrics, or more generally the practice of statistical analysis, has brought that into baseball, offering us some sometimes cold truths about what we thought we knew about the game.

For years, we have accepted that Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina has a bunch of intangibles that make him better than any other catcher in the game. And it still may be true that he has them, but perhaps the impact of those intangibles has been overstated. Over at FanGraphs, Jeff Sullivan dug into the numbers expecting to find that pitchers performed much better with Molina behind the dish than with other catchers. He was surprised by what he found:

With Molina, the pitchers averaged a .746 OPS against. With non-Molina, the pitchers averaged a .757 OPS against. That’s a difference of 11 points, and if you just look at the guys who had samples of at least 500 plate appearances instead of 250, the difference is 15 points. There’s a difference that exists, but it’s hardly massive at all, and it might be entirely explained by Molina’s quality framing. For as good as Molina’s reputation is when it comes to guiding a pitcher through a game, these numbers right here suggest he’s hardly a wizard. Or, if he is a wizard, then a lot of catchers are wizards.

[…]

But maybe game-calling also just isn’t that big of a thing. By which I mean, maybe there isn’t that much of a spread, once you get to the majors. As in all skills, the majors are selective for elite ability, and calling a game is a big one. There do exist poor sequences, but big-league catchers probably won’t call them. It’s possible they’ll end up with similar approaches, especially given that they tend to work with the pitchers in advance of their games.

Molina was one of the three finalists for the NL MVP award, eventually taken home by center fielder Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates. He was barely edged out of second place by Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. Molina finished fourth in 2012’s voting as well, behind Buster Posey, Ryan Braun, and McCutchen.

Sandy Koufax to be honored with statue at Dodger Stadium

Tim Bradbury/Getty Images
1 Comment

Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reports that Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax will be honored with a statue at Dodger Stadium, expected to be unveiled in 2020. Dodger Stadium will be undergoing major renovations, expected to cost around $100 million, after the season. Koufax’s statue will go in a new entertainment plaza beyond center field. The current statue of Jackie Robinson will be moved into the same area.

Koufax, 83, had a relatively brief career, pitching parts of 12 seasons in the majors, but they were incredible. He was a seven-time All-Star who won the National League Cy Young Award three times (1963, ’65-66) and the NL Most Valuable Player Award once (’63). He contributed greatly to the ’63 and ’65 championship teams and authored four no-hitters, including a perfect game in ’65.

Koufax was also influential in other ways. As Shaikin notes, Koufax refused to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series to observe Yom Kippur. It was an act that would attract national attention and turn Koufax into an American Jewish icon.

Ahead of the 1966 season, Koufax and Don Drysdale banded together to negotiate against the Dodgers, who were trying to pit the pitchers against each other. They sat out spring training, deciding to use their newfound free time to sign  on to the movie Warning Shot. Several weeks later, the Dodgers relented, agreeing to pay Koufax $125,000 and Drysdale $110,000, which was then a lot of money for a baseball player. It would be just a few years later that Curt Flood would challenge the reserve clause. Koufax, Drysdale, and Flood helped the MLB Players Association, founded in 1966, gain traction under the leadership of Marvin Miller.