SweetSpot: Bengie Molina
Washington's decision to start Matt Treanor in Game 5 was ... questionable, at best. But we might at least understand the rationale: Treanor began serving as C.J. Wilson's personal catcher in early July and since then -- including Wilson's two postseason starts -- he was 10-5 with a 3.21 ERA. Now, some pundits have attributed Wilson's second half to the presence of Cliff Lee. But Washington seems to think Treanor had something to do with it.
We know, from countless studies, that it's exceptionally difficult to find a connection between a pitcher's performance and who's behind the plate. But again, at least you can see Washington's rationale, and maybe this just falls under the heading of things that pointy-headed figure filberts like me aren't smart enough to understand.
In the event, the move didn't look good when Wilson struggled, but did look good when Treanor got the Rangers on the scoreboard with a solo homer in the top of the fifth inning.
A home run off CC Sabathia leaves a powerful impression.
Still, Treanor had earlier, over the course of seven seasons in the major leagues, left a significantly more powerful impression. In 978 at-bats, Treanor had hit 13 home runs. At 34, he sports a .310 career slugging percentage. His home run off Sabathia probably qualifies as the second-biggest fluke of this postseason, just behind Roy Halladay's no-hitter (maybe).
When Treanor came up again in the sixth inning, he'd hit one home run in this game. In his previous 101 games, he'd hit five home runs. Which of those groups of games do you think told us more about Matt Treanor's ability to hit home runs? One, or 101?
So he comes up again in the sixth inning. A few details:
Also, CC Sabathia was still on the mound and right behind Treanor in the lineup was left-handed-hitting Mitch Moreland. Lurking in the bullpen: Kerry Wood and Mariano Rivera, both of them perfectly capable of pitching two full innings.
Which is to say, if the Rangers were going to have a real shot at getting back into the game, this was probably it.
And with his No. 8 and 9 hitters coming up -- a terribly weak right-handed hitter, and a left-handed hitter -- Ron Washington did absolutely nothing. Given a chance to improve his percentages, Washington sat on his hands.
C.J. Wilson was already out of the game. The sole reason for Treanor's presence had disappeared (poof!) into the Bronxian dusk. Which should have sent Treanor off into the good night, too. And signaled the entrance of Bengie Molina, who (for all his faults) has a career slugging percentage exactly 101 points higher than Treanor's.
Molina never got off the bench. Treanor drove in a run, with a weak grounder to third base, but the Rangers weren't really in a position to trade an out for a run.
The rally died when Moreland struck out. You might wonder why Moreland was allowed to hit while Jorge Cantu was on the bench. Or you might wonder why Cantu was on the bench, if Washington has no intention of using him. Good questions, both.
But the singular question is why Washington didn't use his power-hitting catcher at the exact moment that he needed, more than anything else, a power-hitting catcher.
Joe Sheehan refers to pixie dust that seems to protect some managers from themselves. If the Rangers wind up in the World Series, Ron Washington should send flowers to whichever pixie has been hovering over his shoulder.
The thing is, those pixies usually get bored and find someone else to favor. Washington might have to win the World Series without any help.
- I can't believe how often people are missing the point on Buster Posey.
Everyone is judging from hindsight. And suggesting how smart they are based on results.
* Posey had 117 TOTAL games as a professional catcher entering this season.
* He was not ready to handle a pitching staff that the team has about $200 million committed to.
* He had 35 games -- TOTAL -- of professional experience above A-ball. Thirty-five.
I saw many of his 80 Class A games, and his footwork and throwing left much to be desired.
He needed the time with Steve Decker to become a major-league catcher.
Yes, the results suggest he might have been ready sooner. Then again, his tremendous success also suggests that the Giants might have done this perfectly correctly. They allowed him to skip AA, and to dominate at AAA for 65 games at catcher, 79 overall.
On the other hand, if he'd come up and done a Chris Carter, 0-for-33, it might have set him back two years; instead, they waited two months and got more than they hoped for.
Wow, there's just no winning, is there?
As for Rookie of the Year or not, in my mind, there's no question. Just look at what San Francisco's pitching staff is doing in the heat of the pennant race. For a rookie catcher with the experience level he brought into the season, and the demands of the position vs. playing OF -- please.
Now, I also acknowledge that (Jason) Heyward will win the award ... because he's in a five-team division that plays in the East, giving him six series of exposure to New York writers, six more to Philly writers, and plenty to the national writers headquartered in the East. But, that's just the way the coastal bias slices.
I don't believe that anyone's ever demonstrated any regional bias in awards voting. Shoot, just look at the past two years! Of the 12 major awards, only three went to players with teams located in the Eastern Time Zone: Dustin Pedroia and Evan Longoria in 2008, and Chris Coghlan in 2009. Shoot (yes, again), eight of the last 10 National League Cy Young Awards have gone to pitchers in the National League West. Twice, those were given to a San Francisco Giant named Tim Lincecum. In recent memory, three different Giants have accounted for seven Most Valuable Player Awards.
When Jason Heyward becomes Rookie of the Year, it will be mostly because he's posted incredible numbers this season. Buster Posey's been incredible, too. But when you miss the first two months of the season, you're going to win that award only if somebody isn't having a great season who's been up for nearly all of the season. And so this just isn't Posey's year.
Now, about your "facts" ... One of them isn't. Your contention that Posey "was not ready to handle" the Giant pitchers is an opinion. It's certainly reasonable and quite possibly valid, but it's hardly a fact. I do believe that Brian Sabean and quite possibly Bruce Bochy -- once a catcher himself, of course -- shared your opinion last winter and well into the spring, which at least partly explains why the Giants brought Bengie Molina back.
There are some funny things about this, though. Most obviously, if Molina was so brilliant a defensive catcher, why has the pitching been so good since he left and Posey took over? Is it possible that Posey, for all his limitations, would have been roughly as good behind the plate and (of course) significantly better at the plate?
Of course we'll never know. But yes, you're right: Hindsight is 20/20, plus all this will probably be moot in a week when the Giants are preparing for the playoffs. But my opinion is that on the 1st of May, knowing not what I know now but what I knew then, given a choice between Buster Posey and Bengie Molina I would have chosen the kid.
The move will give the Rangers a right-handed hitting veteran catcher with a career .275 batting average. Molina, who turns 36 in July, is batting .257 with three homers and 17 RBIs in 61 games (202 at-bats) for the Giants this season. He is making $4.5 million this season.
The Giants can afford to do the deal because they can slip rookie Buster Posey behind the plate as the starter.
Rangers catchers were hitting .212 coming into Wednesday's game against the Los Angeles Angels, the lowest in the majors.
The position has been in flux since spring training, when Jarrod Saltalamacchia wasn't healthy to start the season. Matt Treanor is hitting .237 with five homers and 23 RBIs as the No. 1 catcher. Max Ramirez, his backup, is hitting .227 with two homers and eight RBIs.
You just never know in this game. I've mentioned this before, but not so long ago the Rangers were loaded with promising young catchers: Saltalamacchia, Ramirez, and let's not forget Taylor Teagarden, too. One or two of those young men were supposed to replace Gerald Laird, and with aplomb.
Instead the Rangers have been reduced to relying on veteran Matt Treanor first, and now super-veteran Bengie Molina, the Slowest Man in the Major Leagues.
As poorly as the Rangers' catchers have performed this season, Molina's probably an upgrade ... but how much, approximately? His .257/.312/.332 line this season isn't exactly Mauerian, and while Molina's probably better than that line, moving to the American League isn't likely to help him a great deal. Desperate times, I guess.
Meanwhile, Ray's essentially a throw-in, as the Giants have little need for a replacement-level reliever, their top six bullpen guys ranking among the better corps in the league. This move does probably (and finally) open the way for Posey to strap on the tools and get behind the plate, most days. Which in turn frees up first base for Aubrey Huff. All of which may work out nicely, especially if Pat Burrell keeps hitting.
Supposedly, defense is the reason that the Giants are keeping Buster Posey down in the minor leagues. Posey has excelled with the arm this year; he’s thrown out 44% of basestealers so far this season. That reason, however, breaks down when we see Buster Posey spending time at first base as he is in today’s lineup for the Fresno Grizzlies.
Posey’s MLE for his current line at AAA is a .293/.366/.437 triple slash line. Prior to the season, both CHONE and ZiPS projected Posey as a roughly average major league hitter, just above what they projected Bengie Molina. Taking into account defense, baserunning, and upside, and Posey was surely the correct choice for a team wanting to make a run at the postseason. Posey is producing at an even higher level in AAA this season, suggesting that he’s even better than these pre-season projections.
Especially with the position that the Giants are in right now, there is no excuse for Posey to remain in AAA. He has nothing left to learn there. The Giants need has bat in the lineup, and they need it before they lose any more ground to San Diego and Los Angeles.
Well, there's one excuse, isn't there? I'm hazy on this because Posey did spend some time on the 25-man roster last September. But won't keeping Posey down for a few more weeks potentially save the Giants a few million bucks down the road?
And if Posey's preseason projection was roughly the same as Molina's, isn't it too early to assume those projections were wildly off?
In a vacuum, of course you bring Posey up. Shoot, in a vacuum you brought him up last August and gave him Molina's job. But you can sort of understand the Giants' thinking here, can't you?
At this moment, Molina's under contract. At this moment, the Giants' strength is their pitching and a lot of people still believe that catchers play a significant role in pitching. At this moment, first baseman Aubrey Huff might be the Giants' best hitter. At this moment, Posey's (presumably) learning things in the Pacific Coast League and not racking up major league service time.
Yeah, I'd probably bring him up anyway. But you know, it wouldn't make much of a difference unless Posey was quickly followed by a few, similarly talented Fresno Grizzlies. And I'm not finding those guys on Fresno's roster.
Mike Krukow: "Well, it happened tonight. We showed you early on, he was a couple runs behind Bob Brenly and he has caught him. Most RBIs by a San Francisco Giant catcher, in their career. And that's impressive, considering the guys who have worn the gear."
While Krukow was saying this, we saw this graphic:
Bob Brenly -- 263
Bengie Molina -- 263
Kirt Manwaring -- 205
Benito Santiago -- 171
Marc Hill -- 130
A heading described the list as Krukow did: Most RBI as Catcher -- San Francisco Era.
Looking at that list, I wondered how impressive Molina's feat really was, considering that nobody'd been able to top 263 RBI since 1958. I did trust the list, though, and -- because lately I don't keep any baseball thoughts to myself -- zipped off this tweet:
- Bengie Molina has tied Bob Brenly for S.F. Giants record for RBI by catcher ... with 263? Mike Macfarlane had 398 with Royals! Just saying.
Fortunately, some of you weren't so trusting and actually questioned that list. Which led me to check. And boy, oh boy ...
Yes, there are different ways of looking at this question. Do you count every RBI that Molina's gotten while a Giant? Or do you count only those RBI he's gotten while actually catching? That's a matter of taste, really. But whichever way you do it, that list we've seen on TV is just flat-out wrong.
No more suspense. Here's the list of catchers, but including RBI tallied while playing other positions:
Bob Brenly -- 327
Tom Haller -- 320
Dick Dietz -- 271
Bengie Molina -- 263
Kirt Manwaring -- 207
And here's the list (which I prefer) including only RBI while catcher of record:
Tom Haller -- 312
Bob Brenly -- 263
Dick Dietz -- 257
Bengie Molina -- 250
Kirt Manwaring -- 205
You see what I mean about the first list being so wildly off? Haller and Dietz were ignored completely, and the rules were different for Brenly and Molina; Brenly's non-catcher RBI weren't counted while Molina's were. Frankly, this smacks of an over-eager PR guy looking to get something on TV. But it's a funny thing these days ... we can check. (Trust me, I've been nailed dozens of times over the years. Hundreds, maybe.)
Does any of this matter? No, not really. Not unless you spend some portion of every day obsessing over such trivialities (no need to raise your hand; I'll happily take your sins upon myself). Or unless you were a fan or a relative of Tom Haller, who died six years ago so isn't around to defend himself.
To me, the record is Haller's. Molina has averaged 85 RBI per season over the past three seasons, and so he might actually take that spot sometime this summer. Or he might not, since there's a kid in Fresno with his own claim on Haller's legacy.
Records are (as they say) made to be broken. Let's not get ahead of ourselves, though. And when someone actually does break this record, whether it's Bengie or Buster or some kid playing t-ball this spring, let's raise a glass to the memory of Thomas Frank Haller, who helped the San Francisco Giants win so many games back when Willie Mays was patrolling center field. Ancient history? Not to me.
A small crime was committed in San Francisco last night.
Someone needs to make this right.
- As for the Giants’ other prospect, Buster Posey, [Bruce] Bochy said he wanted to clarify comments he made earlier this month at FanFest in which he said the former Golden Spikes-winning catcher would get some work at other infield positions this spring.
Bochy said Wednesday that he only wants Posey to take some grounders at first base. That way, Posey can provide the organization the option to give him occasional rests from catching to stay fresh while still allowing his potentially impactful bat to stay in the lineup every day.
“He’s a catcher,” Bochy said. “We’re not trying to convert him.”
Bochy reiterated that it’s possible Posey could open as the backup to Bengie Molina and catch two times a week. It’s still far more likely, though, that Posey will begin the season at Triple-A Fresno.
This is the point at which I'm supposed to snort in disgust at the Giants' inability to recognize Buster Posey's imminent greatness.
But I've done that before. Today let's try something different.
First, let me ask you a question: What sort of chances do you give the Giants of winning 85-90 games this season?
Yeah, same here: slim and none.
Here's another question: Would Buster Posey playing (say) 120 games change that?
Right: quite probably not.
Posey turns 23 next month. He's got 168 plate appearances above Double-A. I'm reminded of a certain young Oriole catcher who was absolutely going to be the new Johnny Bench, right out of the chute.
Except he wasn't.
Buster Posey probably won't be Johnny Bench, either. Not in 2010 (and probably not ever, but that's irrelevant at the moment).
He's probably better than Bengie Molina. One or maybe two wins better. But those one or two wins are highly unlikely to make a difference to the Giants in 2010, and might be balanced against 1) the chance that a quick promotion might hurt Posey's development, and 2) the benefit of perhaps delaying Posey's arbitration eligibility for a year.
Is that what the Giants have in mind? Probably not, else they wouldn't have invested $4.5 million in Molina. If they were just interested in a place-holder for Posey, they could have spent half as much on someone else. No, the brain trust really does believe this team is good enough to contend, and is better off with Molina in the lineup than Posey.
Which doesn't speak particularly well for the brain trust. But looked at in isolation, the club's handling of Posey to this point does not seem to me particularly damaging to either the player or the franchise.
- As part of their efforts to improve the fifth-least-productive offense in the majors, the San Francisco Giants parted with catcher and cleanup hitter Bengie Molina, who delivered the most home runs and RBI on the team over the last three years.
That might sound counterintuitive, but the Giants want to change their hitters' mind-set, a process that began when they replaced hitting coach Carney Lansford with Hensley Meulens after the season, and Molina's .285 on-base percentage did not fit with the philosophy.
Plus, when you register the lowest OBP in baseball (.309), relying purely on instinct might not be such a good idea.
Giants hitters drew by far the fewest walks in the majors (392), and it wasn't just because Molina registered 13. Of the 16 batters who logged at least 100 at-bats in a San Francisco uniform, only Fred Lewis averaged a walk or more per 10 plate appearances. Compounding the problem, the Giants slugged .389, third lowest in the majors, so they had no choice but to play small ball.
But they were largely incapable of achieving the most fundamental necessity of such a tactic: getting on base.
"We have some work to do," manager Bruce Bochy acknowledged. "When you're not getting on base and your slugging is way down there, you have an issue."
Said [GM Brian] Sabean: "I think you have to find an identity early on, which we didn't necessarily do last year, and it came back and bit us."
This article was actually published two weeks ago. And, of course, this joke has a pretty good punchline: a week after this was published, the Giants re-signed Molina to a one-year deal for $4.5 million.
Which was hilarious, but understandable because Molina, even with his .308 on-base percentage, certainly is worth $4.5 million. Or would be, on most clubs. As it happens, the Giants have a perfectly good catcher in Buster Posey. I know that Posey's raw, with only 42 starts above Class A. But if you're not going to spend a great deal of money and you've got a serious deficiency, you've got to make some tough choices.
The problem, I suppose, is that Sabean had an extra $4.5 million around, which just wasn't enough to add a hitter who could actually get on base at a good clip. Granted, Johnny Damon might wind up signing for not a lot more, but could Sabean have known that a week ago?
Anyway, left field's not available because Mark DeRosa's playing there. DeRosa can't play third base because Pablo Sandoval's playing there, and Sandoval can't play first base because Aubrey Huff is playing there.
In retrospect, I probably would have played that a bit different. The Giants' only real hope for a better OBP is that Nate Schierholtz hits like he did in the Pacific Coast League, and underperformers like Edgar Renteria and Aaron Rowand remember that they're not terrible.
Hey, it could happen. And Bengie Molina will be there every day, cheering his teammates along.
* Here, all in one place: a dozen of the best pieces of sabermetric research from 2009. I have to admit that I haven't yet read all of them. I promise I will by this time next week.
* But if you're pressed for time, at least read this nifty primer on wOBA, one of my favoritest modern statistical thingamajigs.
* Two good pieces from FanGraphs: 2007-2009's three true outcomes leaders, and Part 1 of Bryan Smith's effort to identify minor-league sinkerballers.
* Hey, if completely changing the outside of Wrigley Field means the old ballpark will outlive me, I'm all for it.
* What's authentic, and what's not? You'd be surprised at how much material Joe Posnanski can find while answering such a seemingly simple question (with a little help from Pudge v1).
* Did Martha Coakley blow her huge lead because she displayed a shocking lack of knowledge about the Red Sox, and a disturbing lack of respect for New England's sports fans? I don't know. Probably not, exactly. But it sure didn't help.
* It's safe to say that the McCovey Chronicles is less than thrilled with the return of Bengie Molina. I mean, why else would you go to the trouble of inventing a time machine, traveling to the future, and recording a news conference?
* Via The Hardball Times, Harry Pavlidis presents the extraordinary rookie pitchers of 2009, as told by PITCHf/x.
* What's a good farm system worth? Sky Andrechek has the goods, as usual.
- Radio silence from Jason Bay and Bengie Molina continued for the Mets over the weekend, leading some within the club to wonder if either player is truly interested in coming to Queens.
The Mets remained at a negotiating standstill with Bay and Molina after offering both free agents contracts on the final day of the Winter Meetings almost two weeks ago.
Mets GM Omar Minaya has indicated a willingness to wait on both players, telling The Post late last week, "It is a long offseason."
But a team source said yesterday that Minaya might soon consider other options in left field and at catcher if Bay and Molina continue to leave the Mets dangling despite appearing to have no serious offers anywhere close to what Minaya has tendered.
The holdup in both cases continues to be an extra year -- the 31-year-old Bay wants a fifth year added to the Mets' four-year, roughly $65 million offer, while the 35-year-old Molina wants a guaranteed third year tacked on to Minaya's two-year, roughly $12 million proposal.
Here's a clue that you might have offered a free agent too much money ... He doesn't have any serious offers close to what you offered. It's probably considered poor form to summarily rescind an offer. Not to mention poor public relations. But the best thing Omar Minaya could do now is tell Bay's and Molina's agents that they've got until sundown to make a decision. Because the best outcome is that they decline. The second-best outcome is that they accept now, so Minaya can get on with things. And everything else falls under the heading of "worst outcomes."
- These may be the final days in San Francisco for Bengie Molina, though it would be wise for the Giants to try to persuade the catcher to return for one more year to split time with Buster Posey -- if Posey proves worthy.
If it is the end, Molina has done enough in three years to warrant comparisons to other all-time San Francisco catchers. In fact, a case can be made that he ranks No. 1 in the team's 52 years in San Francisco.
Plus, pitchers generally like throwing to him, and he's one of two Giants to serve as the primary catcher for a Cy Young Award winner. For Molina, it was Tim Lincecum. For Tom Haller, it was Mike McCormick in 1967.
Haller, who hit .248 with 107 homers and 320 RBIs in seven Giant seasons, played the most games (761), hit the most homers in a season (27 in 1966) and was a two-time All-Star.
Dietz, Santiago and Bob Brenly (.250, 90 homers, 327 RBIs, nine years) also were All-Stars. Kirt Manwaring (.246, 16 homers, 207 RBIs, 10 years) won a Gold Glove, and Mike Matheny is the only other Giants catcher who can say that.
This is not difficult stuff. Molina has played 410 games for the Giants, with a 90 OPS+. What that essentially means is that he's been 10 percent worse than an average National League hitter, OPS-wise. Granted, OPS isn't the perfect metric. But it's good enough for this ...
Tom Haller and Bob Brenly both played more than 750 games with the Giants, with OPS+'s well over 100. Dick Dietz was a Giant for only 536 games and wasn't much with the glove, which is why I rated him (in this old book) behind Haller and Brenly. But Dietz's OPS+ as a Giant was 129. Is Molina's defense really good enough to balance the difference between them in hitting and playing time?
One can easily push Molina past Santiago, and with a bit of charity perhaps even past Milt May. That's as far as we can go, though. At best, Molina comes in fourth behind Haller, Brenly, and Dietz. If he remains a Giant and plays exceptionally well and regularly for another two or three years, he might gain entry into the pantheon. But considering both his and Posey's talents, that doesn't seem real likely.
(H/T: BTF's Newsstand)
• From our story about Bob Melvin's demise:
- Melvin made an immediate impact in the desert. He led the 2005 Diamondbacks to a 77-85 record, a 26-win improvement.
Two years later, the Diamondbacks made a surprise run to the NL West title despite scoring 20 fewer runs than they allowed -- a fact that led many to praise Melvin's ability to squeeze the most out of his lineup.
• Worry not, Yuniesky Betancourt fans. Yes, after finally drawing a walk, he'll rarely be seen in this space. But we've still got Bengie Molina, who's now racked up 104 plate appearances this season without a walk ... and like Betancourt (before his walk), Molina's on-base percentage is lower than his batting average!
• From mental_floss's Scott Allen, a list of nine famous baseball stadium vendors. (It's a solid compendium, but where is Fenway Park's Rob, the champion thrower of peanuts?)
• Murray Chass is not a big fan of Selena Roberts' new book. Steven Goldman's not a fan of Roberts' work, generally. I've decided to read the book only if someone pays me or makes me. (So far, so good.)
• Wow, talk about a potential time sink ... every issue of Baseball Digest, searchable!
• Uh-oh ... This is the last Cardboard Gods post for a while. Don't worry, though; it's for a great cause, and Josh will return.
- It's amazing to consider, but some major league regulars are yet to take ball four and their free base. Okay, I lied, it's not "some" as much as "a pair". Mariners shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt and Giants backstop Bengie Molina have appeared at the plate a collective 100 times entering Wednesday's games, and combined had zero walks. Zero intentional walks, zero hit by pitches, etc.
In fact, Betancourt's career high in walks in a single season is 17, the same number that current walk champion Adam Dunn had entering Wednesday's games. Yeah, he really is that impatient.
Given Betancourt's distaste for the walk, it's no surprise that he's only seen four counts go to three balls, with only one of those being a non-full count. Heck, this isn't even Betancourt's longest dry spell in the past calendar year. Last season, from April 29th until May 28th Betancourt went 103 plate appearances in between walks. Remember, this is a hitter with a career batting average of .283, slugging percentage of .401, and .301 batting average on balls in play. This is not Ichiro Suzuki or Vladimir Guerrero, this is a below average hitter refusing to take a free base. When combined with poor defense, it's easy to see why most Mariner fans would enjoy seeing Ronny Cedeno starting at shortstop.
The problem, as Anderson suggests, is that Betancourt is a bad shortstop, and he seems to be getting progressively worse. According to The Fielding Bible II, Betancourt was eight runs below average in 2007 and 14 runs below in 2008. Betancourt's UZR/150 in those two seasons were -1.4 and -12.7, and this season -- granted, it's only 15 games -- his numbers are off-the-charts horrible.
Would Ronny Cedeno be an upgrade? Cedeno's lifetime OPS+ is off-the-charts horrible: 62. He's been an everyday shortstop in just one season (2006) and didn't exactly distinguish himself with the glove. Is he better defensively than Betancourt? Maybe. Is he better enough to make up for his bat? Probably not.
The Mariners simply don't have a shortstop who won't cost them runs, and wins. If they'd been serious about winning this year, they'd have been smart to sign Orlando Cabrera. But they didn't do that, so now they'll just have to suffer for a while longer (and maybe a lot longer; the M's owe Betancourt $9 million through 2012).