Bengie NO-lina

There’s this ‘idear’ floating around that Bengie Molina is a good player. Adam Rubin and Joel Sherman have indicated that the Mets believe it and have made him a target. Let me break up this brainstorming session with a HELL NO.

Clean Up “Hitting” Catcher

After Barry Bonds’ “retirement”, the Giants installed Bengie as their clean-up hitter for the 2008 (133 games) and 2009 (116) seasons.  He brought average power, managing ISO’s of .153 and .177. Over his three seasons in San Francisco, he posted .266/.308/.418 slash line. At the surface, this is offense you can live with from the catching position. 

But, man, that plate discipline – it’s atrocious.  His career walk rate is 4%, yielding a .308 on-base percentage. Molina’s detailed swing profile (courtesy of FanGraphs) unearths a more troubling trend:

Season

BB%

Swing %

O-Swing %

Z-Swing %

Contact %

O-Contact %

Z-Contact %

2007

2.9

52.7

33.9

69.4

86.1

76.8

90.1

2008

3.5

57.9

40.8

74.7

87.7

79.9

91.9

2009

2.6

59.5

43.9

77

81.4

71.7

87.7

Isn’t plate discipline supposed to improve with age? Somehow his flawed approach is getting worse. Over the course of his stay with the Giants, “Big Money” posted walk rates below his career average. Molina became even more swing happy, increasing his swing rate each season and showing an even higher propensity for swinging at balls out of the zone (O-Swing%). It worked okay in 2007 and 2008, but this past season he made less contact across the board. He’s 35, so this should be expected as contact tends to erode with age. The fact that he’s getting older and becoming more aggressive does not bode well for his offense going forward.

Sundial

With a no-walk, contact-reliant offensive profile, Molina’s value as a hitter is tied into popping a few homers and batting average in balls put in play. The BABIP aspect doesn’t favor a player as slow as Bengie. His career mark is .281 and slipped to .266 this season. It’s difficult to say whether that was attributable to luck or to his body type. Molina’s listed at 5’11”, 225 lbs, which seems awfully generous. Not to be a Deadspin-esque savage, but the dude is really freaking fat.

And to nobody surprise, he’s rated one of the very worst baserunners in baseball, according to Baseball Prospectus’ EQBRR statistic. His base running value from 2007-2009 was a whopping -15.2 runs below average. Bengie runs doubles into singles, can’t score from first on a long double, never goes first to third and can’t score from second on a single. Forget about sacrificing him from first to second, too.

Man Those Molinas Can Catch!

Season

BP’s FRAA

Driveline Mechanics

Fans Scouting Report

2007

3

n/a

39

2008

8

n/a

65

2009

-2

-3.4

n/a

Baseball Prospectus thought highly of his defense in 2007 and 2008 (after not liking it very much with the Angels), but showed a decline in 2009. Driveline Mechanics’ catcher defense metric ranked Molina as one of the very worst defensive catchers in baseball this season.  Tom Tango’s Fans Scouting Report found Molina to be below average in 2007 and above average in 2008 (50 is average). The 2009 results have yet to be published, but I can’t imagine them boding well for him.  The family reputation supersedes his actual talent level. He’s no Yadier.

Great Clubhouse Guy

I’m unqualified to make judgments of a player’s worth off the field. The Mets, should they sign him, will tout him as a player that adds to the chemistry of the team and can mentor young Josh Thole. Molina is a reputed to be a “stand up guy” and a “great influence on his teammates” and far be it for me to refute that. However, there was a feeling that the Giants didn’t play elite catching prospect Buster Posey such not to upset Bengie. Molina was banged up at the time and awful journeyman Eli Whiteside saw most of the action.

“But how will he handle New York?” That’s a self-serving New York media question the Mets too-often feel obliged to answer. It doesn’t matter really, but I’ll play the game just this once: he’s too sensitive. Andrew Baggarly relays a story about the catcher freezing out the Los Angeles media because a writer made fun of how slow he is.

He Didn’t Tip the Service Guy

I have it from a credible source that Bengie Molina did not a tip the service man that installed his dishwasher…

Seriously though, I cannot hide my distaste for Bengie as a player enough. He’s exactly the type of player the Mets should not be looking to acquire: he turns 36 years old next season, fought nagging injuries this season and will likely come at the expense of a draft pick. He made $6M in 2009 and is reportedly seeking a raise and a multi-year deal.  He’s decidedly old, slow and un-athletic – the opposite of the tenets Omar preached five years ago. Call him a slightly below average defender next season, factor in continued offensive decline and poor base running, Molina is about a 1 win player, worth $4.5M. I’d rather allocate those dollars elsewhere.

Plus, the nightmare of Francoeur, Molina and the pitcher’s spot batting 7-8-9 frightens the crap out of me. Is it possible for an opposing pitcher to retire the side on two pitches?

7 Responses to “Bengie NO-lina”

  1. tjv101 says:

    I guess you’ve never played “Guess that Molina” on ESPN huh? We all know he lacks the arm of his brother Yadier or the youth of Jose but he still has a good amount of power. 20 HR’s and 80 RBI’s is nothing to sneeze about even at 35 yrs old as catcher playing in 130 games. It’s ok, interesting read about Bengie though. I think you delve too deep into his lack of walks though. I must remind you that the Giants didn’t necessarily have much offense aside from Molina which means the bulk of the offense had to come from him or Kung-fu panda. On a Mets lineup with Beltran, Wright, Reyes, Francoeur, power-hitting unknown left fielder no name, and probably Delgado again…should ease Molina and give him better pitches and hopefully make him more patient at the plate. Let’s also be clear the Mets need a catcher. The days of Brian Schneider and Omir Santos platooning at catcher aren’t gonna cut it in NY. This team needs to score runs and get a 70 win last season monkey off their back. Brian McCann, Joe Mauer, and Victor Martinez aren’t available so you have to take what you can get this offseason. Either way he’s a big upgrade offensively and more than anything thats what this team needs.

  2. Chris Wilcox says:

    I don’t think you can overlook the lack of walks. When you’re a man of Molina’s girth, you aren’t going to beat out many infield hits. Meaning, when he doesn’t walk (and Molina doesn’t walk AT ALL), he can only help the team when he hits the ball hard. Whatever power he does have is negated by some piss-awful baserunning and patience.

    A starting lineup that featured both Francoeur and Molina would be one that is taking next to no pitches lower in the lineup, which makes it harder to run a starting pitcher’s pitch count up and more likely he stays in the game, and in a division that features Javy Vazquez, Cliff Lee, Josh Johnson, and Cole Hamels in 2010, that’s nothing to overlook. The Mets can get away with having one hitter in the lineup with a complete and utter lack of plate discipline (although I’d rather that they get rid of Frenchy, to be honest). Having two players like that would be a huge problem.

  3. TJV, when you’re getting on base at a .285 clip, you’re making an out over 71% of the time. I don’t care if he hits 30 home runs; that’s not a productive hitter.

    Also, don’t ignore the plate discipline profile. He’s making less contact across the board, so bad balls he’s put in play for hits in the past are going to be a less frequent occurrence. There’s really no incentive to throw Molina a strike since he’ll happily swing at whatever slop you throw his way.

  4. astromets says:

    So Molina joins the Giants, is put at clean-up and has no protection and you are surprised he is expanding the strike zone a little? I am surprised he still managed to be as successful as he was. We hear about it all the time though, players who are asked to do more than they should will try to do that by trying to force the issue, or swing at bad pitches. I am not saying that is the only reason, but I feel he would have a different mindset batting eighth because everyone will be telling him to be patient and he won’t hit until he is. I am not saying he would become a walk machine, but in the eighth hole his walk rate should improve. He would also probably get intentionally walked a lot in big spots.

    Look, I know Molina has his shortcomings – no speed and no walks and aging, but what catcher available doesn’t fall into two of those three categories? Who are we going to get who could give us some extra offense and not embarrass us in defense? I don’t want an almost 40, career major league backup. What we are going to spend a lot of money making a Mets team ready to compete in 2010 and then not give us a decent catcher?

  5. tjv101 says:

    It’s nice to have someone agree with me since Cox never ever does. Thank you AstroMets. I have to again re-iterate what better catcher is out there and available? Answer…there’s not! You make great points Will and Cox. Certainly, it scares me that Molina’s OBP is .285 and walks as little as Haley’s Comet comes. I have to imagine that it would improve especially if the guy was playing hurt last year and he is probably aware he was very impatient at the plate. He will have protection in that batting order and plain and simple, the Mets need an offensive improvement at catcher. Who else would you rather put out there to give u 20 HR’s and 80 RBI’s and hit .275? This team’s offense was terrible last year and clearly besides their odd statistic that they had the highest batting avg. in the NL, the team didn’t score runs (injury ridden or not). If the Mets do sign Molina, I would hope that it wouldn’t be more than a guaranteed 2 year $10-12 million dollar deal. Anything more I will be writing a supplementary column on “Bengie No-lina”

  6. Chris Wilcox says:

    Better catchers than Molina: Gregg Zaun (who you also recommended pursing as a free agent) and even somebody crappy like Miguel Olivo, whom I wouldn’t recommend going after, but that’s the level of catcher Molina is.

    Just because this is a bad catcher’s market doesn’t mean that the Mets should overpay for a particularly bad one. Because Molina comes with the tag of “best catcher available,” he’s going to get the best contract of what’s out there. He just isn’t going be worth whatever dollar figure he winds up signing. The Mets have their catcher of the future waiting in AAA this year. It would be a mistake to commit dollars and years to a below average catcher.

    Don’t underestimate the poor on-base percentage, either. Think of it as the rate at which baseball players make outs. Bengie Molina made outs in 71.5% of his plate appearances last year. For his career, he has made outs in 69.2% of his plate appearances. His best season was five years ago, and he’s done nothing but get fatter since. He’s going to be 36 years old next year. He doesn’t run the bases well, and there’s no evidence that he’s good defensively. Literally the only reason anybody is even thinking about him as their catcher next year is the 20 home runs (by the way, a career high). This team can find better options.

  7. Astromets,

    Why would teams “pitch around” Molina? There’s never anyone on base for the Giants. They’re always trailing in on-base percentage.

    Whether protection exists is a different debate entirely, but let’s say it does — why does it excuse Bengie for “expanding the strike zone” every single plate appearance. He walked ~3% of his PA’s over the last three seasons; that’s over 1500 times at-bat! That’s awful and enough of a sampling to indicate what kind of hitter he is. He’s just not good. I’d rather start Thole. Spend those millions on someone who’ll actually make a difference.

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