Is Yadier Molina a first ballot Hall of Famer?
In case it wasn't obvious previously, I don't care for Yadier Molina. But most of my dislike doesn't stem from the player or person he is. It stems from the chronic slobbering over his pitch framing and constant overrating of his intangibles. People call him a first ballot Hall of Famer. He's not. He has impressive Gold Glove totals, until you examine the metrics and realize that he really only deserves 6. He has impressive All Star appearance totals, until you realize that doesn't make a HOF level career. Maybe Yadier squeaks in as a Veteran's Committee style candidate, but I have no reason to think he'll be voted in.
I don't want to beat a dead horse, so this will be my final "Yadier Molina doesn't belong in the Hall" article. Today I want to examine the fallacy that Yadier Molina is not only a Hall of Famer, but a FIRST BALLOT Hall of Famer. A shockingly large number of people think that Yadier Molina will get voted in on his first chance. Most of the time I say let people have their opinions, live and let live. But thinking that Molina will get in on his first try is just an insane notion that has no basis in reality. I cannot let it stand. Even respected sportswriters like Buster Olney will argue for it until he is blue in the face.
Here's a list of 57 first ballot Hall of Famers. Notice how the vast majority of players on that list have achieved major milestones: the 3,000 hits, 300 wins, etc. Yadier isn't even close on any of those. Now there are a handful of players that did make it based on them being among the best at their position and enormously popular. Guys like Ivan Rodriguez, Kirby Puckett, Ozzie Smith. In general, it's reserved for the players among the top 5 in their generation. Among catchers, only two have ever been first ballot HOFers: Bench and Rodriguez.
Even if you go by WAR, Molina's 55.8 figure is 32 below the average first ballot Hall of Fame player. Among all first ballot players, there are only four players with a lower total than Molina's. Two of those players had injury shortened careers, and the other is a one of the best closers of all time.
To help explain Molina's lack of first ballot HOF credentials (as well as his overall lack of HOF worthiness), I'm going to be making two arguments:
How Molina does not compare to the best of his generation at his position
How Molina's stats fall short of other more worthy potential Hall of Famers
Let's look at some other comparable players to start:
WAR 55.8, with 5 years over 5 WAR
9 Gold Gloves
9 All Star appearances
1 Silver Slugger
2 top 5 MVP finishes
FanGraphs has their defense score used for combining all defensive stats into a metric. Yadier's DEF of 371.7, first in the list. Second is Pudge at 320, third is Russell Martin at 306.6, fourth is Brian McCann at 288.3
Buster Olney claims that Molina will be a first ballot HOF because he's achieved milestones for a catcher. Here's where he ranks on the all time list among catchers for:
HR: 34th Just ahead of Charles Johnson
R: 32nd, Just ahead of Brad Ausmus
RBI: 19th, About 30 ahead of Benito Santiago
Hits: 16th, just about to pass A.J. Pierzynski
OPS: 130th, just behind David Ross
wRC+: 135th, just ahead of Jason Varitek
WAR: 9th, just a tad ahead of Russell Martin
That list is just not impressive.
Here are a few first ballot Hall of Famers that Molina often gets compared to:
First ballot Hall of Famer (76%, just made the cut). 13 Gold Gloves. 14 All Star Games. 3 years of WAR over 6. 5 years over 5 WAR. 69.2 WAR 104 wRC+. 1 MVP
12 seasons: 10 All Star appearances. 44.9 career WAR. 3 years of WAR over 5. 122 wRC+. No MVPs, but finished in the top 10 seven times, and top 3 finisher 3 times. Six Gold Gloves, six Silver Sluggers.
13 Gold Gloves, 15 All Star appearances, one top 5 MVP finish, 67.6 WAR, with six seasons over 5 WAR. 90 wRC+. His 67.6 WAR is 9th all time among shortstops.
Other Comparable Careers:
Note that none of the following players are Hall of Famers.
111 wRC+ WAR 67, 6 years of WAR over 6, 8 years of WAR over 5. 434 career home runs. FanGraphs DEF score 278.8 (next highest is Willie Mays at 170.1). 10 Gold Gloves.
Voting: 2020 3rd year: 19.4%
Andruw Jones is a borderline Hall of Famer. Lots of pop, and some of the best defense we've seen. His other numbers and short peak hurt his chances. Currently he's a few years into the process and at 20%. While he's a little bit of a casualty of the current logjam, I'm not sure he adds 50% to his totals in 5 years.
11 Gold Gloves, 131 wRC+ 59.4 career WAR. Six years over 5 WAR. 3.3 FanGraphs DEF.
Keith Hernandez maxed at 11% of vote, and never got in. He has more Gold Gloves, a significantly better RC+, and similar WAR to Molina.
83 wRC+ Fangraphs DEF 262 42.5 career WAR. One year over 4 WAR. 11 Gold Gloves.
49% of vote in 2021, in his 4th year of eligibility.
Vizquel is one of the most similar careers to Yadier Molina. Both were weak hitters who piled up Gold Gloves.
110 wRC+ 43 WAR 3 years over 4 WAR. -7.9 DEF. 9 Gold Gloves.
9.5% of vote in first year. Here's a guy with A much better bat and the same number of gold gloves falling way short.
132 wRC+ 64.5 career WAR. 73.3 DEF 64.5 WAR 6 years of WAR over 6. Eight Gold Gloves.
One year on ballot at 2.5%, and dropped off. Edmonds has a similar WAR to Molina, a much better bat, and similar Gold Glove numbers while playing a prime position. He was an afterthought.
98 wRC+, 41.8 WAR, 3 years over 5 WAR. 150.6 DEF. Seven Gold Gloves.
0% of vote, off after 1 year. Another shockingly similar case to Molina. Fewer Gold Gloves and less WAR, but no Hall of Fame votes.
But what about other catchers of this generation? Yadier is considered by some to be the best. And technically, that is true. Since his rookie year, he's put up 55.7 WAR, which leads all catchers for that timeframe. It's an impressive stat for a second. Until you read the list:
Russell Martin 55.2
Buster Posey 54.6
Brian McCann 54.5
Joe Mauer: 52.5
Molina beating Martin by half a win does not make him a first ballot Hall of Famer. His inability to separate himself from the rest of the competition by any significant measure makes that storied career much less special. (Martin also played four fewer years than Yadi. That's right... it's taken Yadi four extra years to compile just half a win more in his career than Russell Martin, non-Hall of Famer.--Staci)
My second point revolves around how Molina has essentially never been around the best of his generation. Molina was great, for approximately two seasons. In 2012 and 2013 he finished 4th and 3rd among NL MVP voting. In those two years, he had 15.5 WAR, good for 4th among all of baseball (position players only). Sidebar: Buster Posey was 2nd with 17.1.
If you go back to 2004 (Molina's rookie year), you'll see that he's 8th on that list in WAR. The top four guys on that list are first ballot HOFers: Trout, Cabrera, Beltre, and Pujols. If you shave that list to the last 10 years, Molina falls to 10th. If I cherry pick 2011-2016 to rank Molina's 5 year peak, he's still just 8th in WAR. Across the last 20 years, his 55.8 is 13th among position players. Factor in pitcher WAR totals, and that ranking becomes 20th.
Why would the 20th best player in the last 20 years be a first ballot Hall of Famer? Why would the 20th best player in a generation be considered a Hall of Famer even?
He was great for those two seasons, but two good years just isn't enough for him to make the HOF, let alone first ballot.
All Star appearances:
Here's a list of the most all star appearances of all time. Baring certain circumstances, if a player has more than 10 All Star games, they are basically a Hall of Famer. Molina is at 9.
There are 22 players with 9 or more gold gloves. 14 of them are in the Hall of Fame. 9 Gold Gloves obviously do improve a players chances, but that is no guaranteed ticket.
If you expand that credential to 8 Gold Gloves, there are 36 players, and 15 of those made it in. Looking over the list, I'd say there's only two defensive first players in the hall of fame: Ozzie Smith and Bill Mazeroski. Considering that Keith Hernandez has 11 Gold Glove wins (8th best all time) and a good bat and he couldn't make it in, I'm not sure how Molina gets in based off these figures. And the Gold Glove totals are the strongest argument to him getting in.
When it comes to Hall of Fame voting, there is a very low annual average for first ballot electees. Ignoring the inaugural five, there have been three years that featured three players that were first ballot. Two first ballot electees have occurred five times. Eight times in all of baseball history have multiple players been first ballot HOF electees. I bring this up, because there is going to be a lot of company in a few years. Players like Ichiro, Pujols, Verlander, Kershaw, Sabathia, Grienke, Scherzer, Beltre, Cabrera, Cano, Utley, Votto, Ortiz, Trout. They all have better WAR totals than Molina. A good portion of them will be eligible right around the same time Molina figures to hit his five year after retirement mark.
Obviously writers can put in up to 10 players per ballot, so it's not like Pujols is going to take a bunch of votes from Molina. But considering the odds of how rare it is to have multiple first ballot Hall of Fame players, I'm not so sure that Molina sneaks in his first time on a ballot that could include Pujols, Cano, and Verlander.
I'm not sure how else to phrase this is a way that isn't offensive to writers and Cardinal fans. They insist that Molina is first ballot, but that opinion is not based in reality. Molina has had a special career, but his statistics just do not add up to a Cooperstown plaque. His award wins aren't enough to outweigh the mediocre bat. There are better players than him who have no chance of getting in, which means he's not getting in, let alone on his first try. In my opinion, the only way he gets in is via Veterans Committee, because of his contribution to pitch framing. Molina's career standards fall so laughably short when looked at in context. There's just not much chance of this "inevitable" election happening.