Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote a statistically well-researched piece (blog…column…article…? Idk.) about Yadier Molina’s recent struggles at the plate. It was well-written, insightful, and full of statistical evidence. You can find it somewhere at http://www.stltoday.com (I couldn’t find it quick enough, so you’re on your own). But ultimately, I think it missed the point.
Bernie tends to focus quite a bit on pitch selection, location, and what a hitter does or does not do with said pitch in said location. That’s not Yadi’s problem. Yadi, the great catcher/player that he is, is a victim of Tony La Russa’s wishful thinking and lineup switching. Constantly being misplaced in the batting order has destroyed Molina’s stats and effectively neutralized one of our more consistent hitters in the bottom half of the order. Let me explain:
In a baseball lineup, hitters and batting positions have roles and a purpose. The leadoff guy gets on. The 2-hole (according to TLR) is a damage-potential hitter who knows what to do with improved pitch selection/location. The third spot is traditionally your best hitter/RBI guy – the one you want to build your lineup around and maximize his number of ABs (see Pujols). The 4 spot? Oh, come on…that’s the big bopper…the cleanup guy. In the 5 spot, a power-hitting RBI threat to pick up what the 3 and 4 guys have left behind. Six spot guys are what I call “mop-up” hitters. If, for some reason, the 3-5 hitters didn’t get it done…the 6 spot guy has a puncher’s chance of driving in a run. Finally, we’re left with the 7 through 9 spots. The 9 spot (excluding TLR) is reserved for the pitcher, but the 7 and 8 spots? They are reserved for what I call “complementary hitters.”
A complementary hitter is a bat in the lineup that must hit but is not relied upon. The heavy lifting in the offense is performed by the 1 through 6 spots (and the 9 spot is a throw-away or sacrifice position). The 7 and 8 guys, however, are seen as a complement to whatever the rest of the offense is able to put together. If they hit, awesome. If they don’t, no big deal. They’re usually on the team for their defense – not their bat (see Cesar Izturis). Their best approach at the plate is to work ABs and try to get on base for the offense to turn over and drive them in. Their secondary concern – to get the pitcher to the plate so the next inning starts in the top of the order.
Okay…you get the point. Comp hitters are not exactly thought of as run-producers. This is where Yadi comes in.
It’s hard to think of Yadier Molina as a complementary hitter based on the job description I’ve provided – but that’s exactly what he is for the Cardinals. He’s a catcher first – a hitter second. But when he does hit, he’s usually one of the hardest in the NL to strike out. He works at bats. And…furthermore…he hits for a respectable average. Throw that together and a manger may be tempted to bump his line-driving hitting catcher up in the order to get his bat involved in the RBI slugfest taking place in the 3 through 6 spots. For Yadi…such a move is offensive suicide.
Take a look at Yadi’s splits based on batting order over his career and during this (2009) season:
4th Spot – 45 ABs .178 BA
5th Spot – 78 ABs .256 BA
6th Spot – 453 ABs .269 BA
7th Spot – 718 ABs .283 BA
8th Spot – 596 ABs .242 BA
4th Spot – 16 ABs .063 BA
5th Spot – 39 ABs .282 BA
6th Spot – 106 ABs .255 BA
7th Spot – 29 ABs .379
Also worth noting, Yadi has 1 HR in only 29 ABs in the 7 spot compared to 3 HRs in 106 ABs in the 6 spot (1 HR in 29 ABs in 7 – 1 HR per 35.3 ABs in 6). Plus, in just 29 ABs – Yadi has 6 RBIs in the 7 spot compared to 9 in 106 ABs in the 6 spot.
Look…enough…the problem is clear. The more pressure on Yadi – the more TLR expects out of Molina in the lineup – the less he produces. Maybe it’s the pitcher’s increased focus on Yadi in a higher batting position, maybe it’s Yadi trying to do too much…who knows? But whatever the reason, Yadier Molina NEEDS to hit in the 7 spot in the lineup. Hitting him anywhere else nearly neutralizes his bat and all but eliminates a valuable complementary hitter.
With all the databases and charts running around the Busch Stadium clubhouse and manager’s office these days…you would think someone would notice.
Ah well…hey…Carp vs. Lee tonight on ESPN…what a treat, eh?