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Molina's workload behind plate stands above

Extension would keep All-Star catcher with Cards as he climbs all-time leaderboards
MLB.com

At a demanding, grueling position, Yadier Molina has endured year after year, providing the Cardinals with a rare degree of stability behind the plate.

That era appeared in danger of ending, with 2017 the final guaranteed season of Molina's contract. But the two sides avoided a split, agreeing Sunday to a three-year, $60 million extension that will keep the franchise cornerstone in place through '20.

At a demanding, grueling position, Yadier Molina has endured year after year, providing the Cardinals with a rare degree of stability behind the plate.

That era appeared in danger of ending, with 2017 the final guaranteed season of Molina's contract. But the two sides avoided a split, agreeing Sunday to a three-year, $60 million extension that will keep the franchise cornerstone in place through '20.

Although Molina's 35th birthday looms in July, don't expect his his heavy workload to lighten significantly. Manager Mike Matheny has said he has no plans to ease that burden in 2017, even with Molina having taken on some extra work for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.

Last year, Molina set career highs in regular-season games (146), starts (142) and innings (1,218 1/3) behind the plate. Each of those numbers also led the Majors by a sizable margin, as the Royals' Salvador Perez finished second in starts (128), and the Marlins' J.T. Realmuto second in innings (1,113).

That came in a season during which Molina batted .365/.398/.529 after the All-Star break, despite the position's unforgiving nature. Among players Molina's age or older since 1913, only Jason Kendall of the 2008 Brewers has started more regular-season games behind the dish, though Kendall did so while posting a .651 OPS.

That effort pushed Molina up to 16th on the all-time list for innings caught, with more than 13,000. Not counting the unsigned A.J. Pierzynski, Molina leads active players, about 1,600 innings ahead of Russell Martin. And that doesn't include Molina's 89 games (87 starts) across the Cardinals' many postseason runs.

Video: Molina's impact on the Cards heading into 2017

While Molina debuted in 2004, he took over St. Louis' starting job from Matheny the next year. In the 12 seasons since, Molina's 12,901 regular-season innings behind the plate are the most in the Majors by a margin of more than 1,000 over Pierzynski, Martin and Brian McCann. Molina also is responsible for seven of the top 24 individual seasons with the most innings caught since '09.

Yet perhaps the best way to appreciate Molina's workload is not to line him up against other teams, not just other individual catchers.

Going back to when Molina became the Cardinals' primary backstop in 2005, MLB.com compared his innings count against those of the other 29 clubs, using their primary catcher's total for each season. For example, in '16, Realmuto led the Marlins with more than 1,100 innings, but Robinson Chirinos led the Rangers with only 399 -- just ahead of Trade Deadline acquisition Jonathan Lucroy.

While Molina has logged nearly 13,000 regular-season innings since 2005, the only other team whose primary catchers have crossed the 12,000 mark during that span is the White Sox (12,045 2/3), thanks mostly to Pierzynski. The Dodgers, A's, Braves and Royals come next, each reaching at least 11,500.

The 29 teams other than the Cardinals have used an average of 5.5 different primary catchers over those dozen seasons and received an average of about 2,344 fewer innings from them, compared with Molina. (Considering that the average team caught a total of 1,444 innings last year, that is a significant gap). The Angels bring up the rear on the list, more than 4,100 innings behind St. Louis, with their primary catchers ranging from Molina's brother Bengie in 2005 to Carlos Perez in '16.

During this period of Cardinals catching continuity, the club has averaged 89.6 wins per season (second in the MLB), made the postseason eight times, and won six division titles and two championships. As St. Louis tries to add to those totals, Molina figures to remain an integral -- and hard-working -- part of that quest.

Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

St. Louis Cardinals, Yadier Molina