Over the next two weeks or so, we at Cardsblog will venture around the diamond (and even into the front office) to evaluate each facet of the Cardinals during the 2016 season. Check back each day for a brand new edition complete with commentary and a final grade for every position.
Today, we’ll take a look at catcher, which for years has been one of the steadiest and most productive position on the field. Of course, that’s due in large part to franchise cornerstone Yadier Molina. He’s just one man, though, and it takes more than one catcher to bear the burden of a grueling 162 game season.
It’s funny how going into the year, all anyone could talk about was Yadi’s inevitable demise, and how it could be coming sooner rather than later. Boy, how times have changed. 2016 was one of Molina’s most productive seasons in years. He slashed .307/.360/.427 while appearing in a career-high 147 games without a single stint on the disabled list. As usual, he was a force with runners in scoring position, batting .308 with an .812 OPS in those situations.
Where Yadi really earns his reputation, though, is from his tremendous work behind the dish. His ability to throw out runners may have diminished a bit, but he makes up for it by working hard to get his pitchers extra strikes with pitch framing. He recorded a RAA (runs above average) of 9.3 for his pitch framing skills, good for 8th in the MLB, which might go a long way in explaining the overwhelming success of pitchers when Molina works as their batterymate. When Molina was catching, Cardinals pitchers had a collective ERA of 3.89 compared to an overall team ERA of 4.08. His pitch calling aptitude and overall knowledge of the league as a veteran cannot be overstated as a driving force for the emergence of Carlos Martinez and easy transition of Alex Reyes.
In his short stint as Molina’s backup in the first half, Fryer was impressive albeit in a limited role. He hit .368 in 41 plate appearances, and managed to throw out 4 of 6 runners stealing from behind the plate. He was designated for assignment and picked up by the Pirates in the end of June to make room for Bryan Pena’s return from a knee injury.
Not known as much of a prospect over his 11-year tenure in the minors, Rosario didn’t do much to stand out in his time at the big league level. He hit just .184/.225/.237 in 41 plate appearances during the second half while throwing out a pedestrian 25% of runners in 16 attempts. Rosario was recently outright by the organization, removing him from the 40-man roster.
Kelly, a 2012 second-round draft pick, was called up in September for a cup of coffee with the big league club. Due to the health of Molina and the importance of the late-season games, his exposure to the field was limited. He had 2 hits in 13 major league at bats, but recorded an average exit velocity of 92 mph, just above the 89 mph league average. He’ll look to lock down the backup position in spring training next year, and stick at the big league level under Yadi’s tutelage.
Pena, an established major league backstop, battled injuries all season. Expected to be the primary backup, he appeared only in 9 games, and recorded 2 hits while allowing 4 stolen bases in 4 attempts. With Carson Kelly close to ready, Pena’s spot on the roster may be in jeopardy.
The overall depth at the catcher position didn’t impress, but Molina’s strong season was able to make that a moot point. Going forward, the Cards have to hope for continued production from Yadi combined with some flashes of promise from Carson Kelly to make sure down the line there’s a smooth transition.
Photo Credit to Jeff Curry – USA TODAY Sports