Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Catching up

In the same day that Tim Lincecum appeared in a Vancouver, Washington courtroom to put an end to his October misdemeanor charges (which were reduced to a civil infraction and $513 fine) and asked for $13 M in salary arbitration (the Giants are hoping to pay a figure of $8 M); the Giants did the unthinkable and resigned their starting catcher of the past 3 seasons (and cleanup hitter of the last 2) for one year and $4.5 mil. It appears they will be catching up with Molina a lot sooner than originally thought.

Brian Sabean believed way back in October that Molina would leave the city by the bay for a more lucrative offer (he was fairly hotly coveted by the other oft criticized GM by the saber community, Omar Minaya (Mets)). However, Molina was reported to of declined their latest offer in the last 24 hours. I don’t think the details are yet known, but it seems that Molina and the Mets never could quite agree on dollars are probably more so guaranteed years. Molina was asking for somewhere between 2-3 years and the Mets only willing to offer 1-2.

Surprisingly, after I looked at the numbers, he was worth more than I thought in 2008 and 2009. He was paid about $6.5 mil a season but was worth (according to fangraphs) $13.3 mil in 2008 and $8.1 mil in 2009. Of course, players are rarely paid what they are actually worth. For example, Lincecum was worth $33 mil in 2008 and $37 mil in 2009. Some players are worth negative values if they are seen to be below “replacement level.”
There currently are no reliable defensive metrics for catchers (UZR, etc). FanGraphs doesn’t even bother listing defensive value for catchers. So, when compiling his value he is considered equal amongst his peers defensively. This probably isn’t the case. Though he did not win the 2009 AL Gold Glove, most advanced scouts believed Gerald Laird to be the best defensive catcher in the AL. Thus his true value would probably exceed that listed by FanGraphs. In terms of Molina, he no longer is particularly good at throwing out runners (though pitchers like Lincecum don’t do him any favors) and at times looks more than a little lazy. He simply doesn’t block the ball well anymore. Furthermore, any player at a skill position (C, SS, 2B, 3B, CF in this order) gets additional value points for simply playing that position. For C (12.5 runs) and SS (7.5 runs), that extra value is pretty substantial (especially when compared to 1B (-12.5 runs) and DH (-17.5 runs) which both get negative values. And because we have no reliable defensive statistic for the C position, Molina is awarded the full 12.5 runs. For other positions, their total value is either diminished or added to depending on their UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating). For example, Adrian Belte’s total value is his offensive value, the 2.5 runs for playing third base and his UZR. Now, one could argue that were Molina an above average defensive catcher his full value is not properly being displayed by FanGraphs. But I don’t know anyone that would attempt to argue that. On the plus side I will say that he’s been quite durable for the Giants.

All in all, Molina is a perfectly fine hitting catcher, especially because most catchers are pretty terrible hitters. My problems are 1) I believe he is at least a lazy catcher 2) I think Bochy might be tempted to continue to hit him cleanup 3) He’s sensitive and sure to complain and gripe if Posey is brought up and 4) the Giants have Buster Posey. Posey who is going to cost $400 K in 2010. I have in the past and will continue to argue that Posey should be able to at least replace Molina statistically if not exceed his contributions.

I do believe this is a clear misallocation of resources. The Giants clearly have a finite amount of money to upgrade their team and I don’t think $4.5 mil towards a catcher, when the Giants already have a catcher capable of equaling his production or exceeding it at a cost of $400k, is money well spent.

Anyway… the Giants clearly hold different evaluations for players than I (or most the rest of baseball) and so it shouldn’t be seen as a surprise. Plus, I’m sure Bochy and Sabean will argue this gives them a good mentor for Posey. Catcher is quite a tricky position (and one which Bochy himself played) and so they probably do have some point. But I am sure to some degree they are overplaying the importance of having a veteran backstop to mentor Posey and anchor the pitching staff. Furthermore, had Posey been given more of an opportunity to settle in offensively (via pinch hitting) and as a catcher (after the Giants were eliminated) down the stretch in 2009 they’d probably have a much better idea of what they could expect in 2010.

On the upside, they’ve reduced their risk to pretty much 0% at the catcher position which can’t be all horrible with all the question marks (see my previous post) they currently have on the roster. What’s more? Sabean will probably take comfort when the bay area writers uniformly praise the Giants for this move.


  1. As you said, Molina is a bad catcher and more or less an average hitter. So, why the $4.5M contract? He's going to call a good game, and mentor Posey? How about Bochy calls the game from the dugout, I mean -being a former catcher and all- he has to be better at that than he is at writing a line-up card. Speaking of that, if he hits BM clean up, we'll know once and for all that there isn't a brain cell in his oversized new era fitted.

  2. I have added your URL. Have fun!

    I posted my thoughts on fangraphs re: Molina, so I thought I would point you to that reply as well as other commentary for you perusal.

    But basically, I have no problem with the signing. The short version: that's not that much more than they would have paid for another catcher, Posey is no guarantee to be as good as Molina in 2010, and this pushes out our control of Posey another year at least, particularly if he struggles for whatever reason this coming season.

    I know I missed other stuff, but I think that is the gist.

  3. is bengie the answer? no, not by any means. Was he the best catcher to fill the spot? I think so, posey needs to prove himself down in Fresno this summer. Right now I dont have the confidence in him to produce for the whole course of the season. Not yet anyway. Show me something in Fresno first. As far as Bengie goes, I think we might see a more motivated player this year, if im not mistaken he took less money to play here, but his potential for incentives could actually pay out more.

  4. The fact that Sabean is willing to not only pay him the $4.5 mil but also incentives is inexcusable. Posey has proven his abilities in Fresno, at least offensively. Perhaps he could sharpen his catching skills but Molina is a lazy catcher that doesn't throw well. Offensively, he has one of the lowest career OBP's around. He just makes way too many easy outs (in 1-2 pitches) for his ability to hit the ball out of the park to make up for it. On top of all this, he seems like that type that will just be a distraction if the Giants do make the move to go with Posey. He's far too sensitive a player.

  5. Do you think Pudge Rodriguez would have been a better a veteran to fill in for the "kid"? Was he even available? Both are at the tail end of there careers( bengie & pudge). Is there anyone else in your mind who could have fit that role better? What about posey getting some PT at another position? for nothing more then to get some experience batting up in the league. Why is posey being developed as a catcher? Is he not a natural infielder? If his bat is really that good, shouldn't they save his legs and prolong his career?

    But yeah, bengie is totally lazy! He has to have a good year for anyone to even give him a contract next year. He needs to go to "Camp Panda" down in AZ.

  6. Pudge has long been off the market as he was signed by the Nationals for 2 yrs $6 mil early in the winter. He got overpaid, and originally, this particular signing had Sabean upset because even he (the King of overpaying) felt it was an overpay and would somewhat set the market for these veteran type catchers. They needed a backup for very cheap, not a 1 year stopgap. Posey doesnt need a year, if he needs any time at all. No one is worried about Posey hitting, it's the catching they're concerned about. Why is he a catcher? He was converted to a catcher at Florida State as a sophmore and immediately became a leader and quality defensive presence with his solid footwork/ athleticism/ cannon for an arm in college. He should only get better and more polished. Also, every single position has a value in terms of who you put there. If you have a guy that can hit AND play catcher, you still him there until he proves he can't catch. Same with shortstop. If Posey moves to 3b, or especially 1b, his value is greatly diminished because it's so much easier to find hitters at those positions. Catcher is by far the most difficult. SS is the second hardest position to fill and thus has the second highest value. Lastly, a prospect that proves unable to play anywhere defensively will get coined a 1B/DH type. It's extremely easy to find a player of this ilk...just look at the Thome's, Dye's, and other aging sluggers still struggling to find work this offseason. The thing about Posey...it's believed he will not only be a good hitter but also above average defensively as a catcher. He's also considered a high probability prospect, with his upside being a frequent all-star.