Bengie Molina is a fan favorite of the Giants. I admit that. When you have been as solid behind the backstop as he has been from 2007 through now, you have to like the guy a little bit.
Unfortunately, as likable as Molina is, this is certain: he doesn't offer much anymore as a starting Major League catcher.
This is amplified by the fact that Buster Posey, the Giants' No. 1 prospect according to Baseball America, is tearing up the Pacific Coast League with a .349 batting average and .955 OPS in Fresno.
Now, I know people will point to a few factors in defense of Molina. Here are a few things Molina supporters will bring up about the veteran catcher.
1.) Molina is still a good hitting catcher, and he has become more patient at the plate.
2.) Molina has traditionally been one of the better defensive catchers in the game.
3.) The Giants pitching staff feels comfortable with Molina behind the plate.
Those points are all nice, but they are refutable.
In terms of point number one, yes, Molina isn't a bad hitting catcher when you compare him to Jason Kendall or Eli Whiteside. However, when you look at he number overall, Molina really hasn't been that impressive this year.
For starters, his slugging percentage is way down, which accordingly, has affected his OPS numbers. If you look at his slugging numbers from 2007-2009, Molina posted percentages of .433, .445 and .442. This season? The number sits at a paltry .353, which has also resulted in a .691 OPS (the last time his OPS was under .700 was in 2002 with the Angels when it was .596).
In terms of his OBP numbers (.338 so far this year, which is a 29 point improvement over his .308 career OBP), while they are nice, there are two problems:
1.) They most likely aren't sustainable considering his track record.
2.) Getting on-base doesn't make much of a difference in Molina's value.
Point number one is easy. We're already starting to see a dramatic drop off in May (.292 OBP) from the crazy numbers he posted in April (.402 OBP). Sure, he's swinging at less pitches outside the strike zone (32.8 percent) than in years past (he had O-swing percentages over 40 percent the past two years), but it is still a high number nonetheless. Case in point, his O-swing percentage was 33.7 percent in 2007. What was his OBP? .298.
Now, is he going to dip under .300? Maybe not, but I think Giants fans should be prepared for Molina's OBP totals to be around, if not below the ZiPS rest of the season projection of .310.
Then again, even if Molina beats history and sustains this high OBP, it is a rather dubious honor for him. Why is that? Because even though he may get on-base, his severe lack of speed is an absolute killer in terms of scoring runs. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if pitchers are more aggressive with Molina this year, knowing that even if he gets on base by walk, his slow-as-molasses base running won't hurt them in the runs department. Molina is strictly a station to station baserunner, and even that's putting it nicely.
Lastly in terms of offense, look at the pre-season ZiPS projections on Posey, and Molina's rest of the season ZiPS projections.
Posey: .282 average, .741 OPS, 64.8 wRC, 1.8 wRAA, .333 wOBA.
Molina: .272 average, .724 OPS, 36.7 wRC, minus-1.7 wRAA, .320 wOBA.
As you can see, Posey not only would be a serviceable replacement for Molina offensively, he might actually be an upgrade. Posey, if promoted and given the starting job, would add runs to a team that needs offense. Molina, at this point, only seems to be a detriment to the Giants offense when he is in the lineup.
In terms of point number two, Molina isn't a good defensive catcher anymore. I'm sorry to say it, but it's true. Check out this article from Beyond the Box Score, a sabermetrics blog, that ranks every catcher defensively according to various metrics.
Where does Bengie Molina rank? 74th. The only catchers of note that he is better than are Mike Napoli and Ryan Doumit, and nobody has pined in the past for those guys to win Gold Gloves. To make matters worse, Whiteside is ranked 28th, which only puts more salt in the wound of the "Molina is a serviceable Major League catcher" argument.
If you don't like the advanced defensive metrics of Beyond the Box Score (and believe me, it did take me a while to comprehend the rankings), just look at the steal rate between Molina and Posey. Baserunners have stolen 34 bases out of 39 attempts this season (a 12.8 percent CS rate). Baserunners have only stolen 15 bases out of 27 attempts on Posey this year (a 44 percent CS rate).
Sure, Molina is in the Majors and Posey is in the PCL. However, the difference is so disparaging that Posey couldn't be any worse than Molina in the Majors.
Lastly, I understand the pitching staff may like Molina. However, it's not as if Molina plays every day. Eli Whiteside has played in 21 games this year, and is usually the regular catcher for Jonathan Sanchez and sometimes Barry Zito. So, it's not as if EVERY member of the pitching staff needs Molina. Furthermore, with Molina's declining athleticism, how dependable do you think a pitcher like Tim Lincecum thinks Molina is when his control is off? I guarantee you the confidence Lincecum has in Molina now, isn't quite at the same level it was when Timmy started pitching full-time in 2008.
I understand the financial commitment that will be required if the Giants bring up Posey. I understand the financial loss the Giants would incur should they designate Molina for assignment. I'm not completely blind to the situation the Giants management have at hand.
However, Posey is a very special catcher, much like Matt Wieters and Joe Mauer before him. With those guys, when they were ready, the Orioles and Twins, respectively brought them up and took a chance on them, regardless of their status and who was holding the job before them. Sure, the Giants could move up Posey and have him split time at first and catcher, but Molina doesn't want to share the job, and Posey is a franchise-caliber player. He deserves to be playing in his future position, not messing around at other positions. This is the Major Leagues, not a high school summer league.
Who knows what Brian Sabean will do when he brings up Posey. This is certain though: Posey is an upgrade over Molina at this point, and if you don't believe me, just look at the numbers. Posey beats the pants off of Molina in every category.