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St. Louis Cardinals: Molina’s Declining Caught Stealing Percentage

Molina throwing

Plenty has been written this offseason about whether the St. Louis Cardinals should sign Yadier Molina to a contract extension. I don’t get the sense that many people, if anyone, want to see Yadi go. I certainly don’t want to see him go, but one thing that has been bugging me about his 2016 season is his caught stealing percentage.

The flaw in this stat is that it’s pinned entirely on the catcher when, in reality, he only accounts for a portion of what it takes to stop the running game. The catcher can control his pop time and the accuracy of his throw, but that’s about it. Pop time is the amount of time from when the ball hits the catcher’s mitt to when the infielder catches it.

The other element of this equation is the pitcher. He has to be able to keep the runner from getting a big lead and be quick to the plate. So if the pitcher doesn’t do these things very well then Molina likely has no chance at throwing the runner out and it’s reflected poorly in his CS%.

What got me looking into this was a tweet during the World Baseball Classic by Daren Willman from Statcast:

That was on this throw:

I know this is only one occurrence, but it appears that Yadi has still got it. After a lot of searching the Internet I wasn’t able to find pop times anywhere. If anyone knows where those can be found the help would be greatly appreciated. What I do know is that the average pop time for major leaguers is typically a little bit above 2 seconds.

If the pitcher is reasonably quick to the plate and the catcher makes an accurate throw with a 1.88 pop time, they should throw out a majority of base stealers.

Throwing out would be base stealers has been an elite skill of Molina’s for most of his career. He’s led the league in the stat four times and has been above league average in every season except 2016. What is alarming is that his CS% was cut almost in half from 2015 to 2016. In 2015 he had a CS% of 41% while in 2016 it was only 21%.

Fatigue may have been a factor

I looked through all of the stolen base attempts against Molina last season. He threw out five of the first eight stolen base attempts, and through the end of June he had a CS% of 30%. League average is around 27%. It was downhill from there however.

The National League Central is also full of players that run a lot. Five of last year’s top six base stealers played in the NL Central. The most obvious one is Billy Hamilton.

Hamilton has given Molina fits. This past season he stole 16 bases off of Molina and was only thrown out once. Hamilton is the premier base stealer in baseball right now and he was only thrown out 12% of the time last season. Molina’s CS% was bound to take a hit with him getting on base so many times against the Cardinals last year.

I’d like to believe that Molina’s CS% will rebound this season. The reality though, is that it might stay low and it might not be his fault. The pitching staff will be very similar to last season. Plus, players like Hamilton and Jonathan Villar will still be around trying to run like crazy.

Thanks for reading!

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