The Incredible Catching Molinas have been a mainstay of major-league baseball for what seems like forever, and are the only trio of siblings all to have won World Series rings. From 2004 through 2010, Bengie Molina, Jose Molina and Yadier Molina were all regular starters at catcher, and even though oldest brother Bengie has finally retired from active duty, he's still in the game. Indeed, he'll be working alongside brother Yadier in St. Louis, where he will be their assistant hitting coach in 2013. Jose currently looks likely to be the Rays primary catcher this year, following up on a career-high 102 games for them last season.
But it's Yadier who is the pick of the bunch, a four-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glover, who just finished the best season of his career, hitting .315 with 22 home runs, netting him a fourth-place finish in the National League MVP voting. That came on the heels of Yadier signing a massive contract extension that could keep him in St. Louis through the 2018 season, by the end of which he'll be 36 years old. It seems likely that this deal was factored in to the math when Miguel Montero signed a similar contract extension with the Diamondbacks, at the same age, which will net him $60 million over the next five seasons. Let's see how they stack up against each other.
Career so far
|Yadier Molina||Miguel Montero|
I've started off by putting their stats against each other, matching respective ages - Molina is almost exactly a year older, having been born July 13, 1982, compared to Montero's birthday of July 9, 1983. Yadier broke into the majors significantly earlier, debuting at age 21 and appearing in 51 games for the Cardinals that year. Miguel was a year old and got only a cup of coffee in September 2006, meaning that by the end of their age 22 seasons, Molina had a 165-6 lead in games played. That explains the majority of the difference in playing time: from ages 25-28 (the past four years for Montero), the game is much smaller, only 539-494 in Molina's favor.
Health does certainly play a factor, particularly in assessing catchers, who are likely the most vulnerable of position players. Molina has had excellent health, spending time on the DL only twice, both occasions coming as the result of trauma which led to broken bones in his catching hand - he missed a month each time, in 2005 and 2007. Otherwise, he has been as close to an iron man as you can expect at the position. Over the last four seasons, Yadier has made a total of 531 starts as a catcher, the most in the majors, by quite some distance: second-placed Kurt Suzuki had made 495.
Montero also suffered a broken finger in 2008, but the main question-mark is his knees, which led him to require surgery in April 2010, to repair a torn meniscus in his right joint. That's probably the worst place for any catcher to get injured, though it's a hopeful sign that it wasn't a catching-related injury, but happened when he was trying to leg out a hit to first. Said Miggy, "I was trying to run [the pitcher] over and at the moment I felt something pop. I tried to speed up, and I felt something pop, and I slowed down. I knew there was something wrong with it." There was no apparent ligament damage, and he has been fine since: indeed, since 2011, he has most starts as a catcher.
So far, the advantage in overall performance, at least through age 28, seems to go to Montero. He's definitely been the better offensive catcher, though not in terms of batting average, where they have almost identical numbers (Miguel is one point higher, at .275). Molina's walk-rate of 7.2% is significantly lower than Montero's (9.5%),. though if you care about strikeouts, Yadier is definitely your guy because his K-rate is a mere 8.5%. We all know Miggy's tendency to overswing and strikeout, leading to a K-rate of a whopping 19.3%. Montero also has more power, with a career SLG 54 points above Molina's to the same age.
However, defense is also a vital aspect. It's here that Molina shines - while Gold Gloves are sometimes no reflection of fielding prowess, it's hard to argue with Yadier's domination of the category lately, picking up five consecutive awards. Most obviously, he threw out 44% of base-runners through the end of last season, compared to Montero's 32% - that's Dee Gordon above, one of the fastest men in baseball, being thrown out by an almost embarrassing margin, on an 87 mph change-up. But Yadier also had a great reputation as a pitch-caller, with Dave Duncan estimating Molina is responsible for 75% of selections.
It's an area where Montero didn't spring anywhere near as fully-formed. The first 173 players to steal on Miggy, 23.7% were caught; of the first 172 to steal on Yadier, a remarkable 51.7% died (baserunners have since largely learned better!). But it's an area where Montero has significantly improved, getting his rate up to 41% over 2011 and 2012, must better than the 26% major-league average. With the obvious exception of Trevor Bauer, Montero seems to get on with most of our pitchers, an early issue with Ian Kennedy not having been a long-term problem. Montero is also highly-rated for his pitch-framing, the ability to turn balls into strikes for the umpire.
However, there's no doubt that Molina's 2012 was epic. His 6.7 bWAR was among the ten best by a National League catcher of the last fifth years, and ,you could have made a good case that he should have been the National League MVP, rather than Buster Posey - and some voters did just that. Whether you use fWAR or bWAR, if you rate the stat by games played, through age 28, Montero has had the better career. But Miggy will need to earn every penny of his new contract this season, if we are going to be able to say the same thing in a year's time, through age 29 for both players.
* team option, $2m buyout
Gazing into our crystal ball, we have both men coming off excellent years: but how might they perform going forward. The past two seasons have seen Molina put up a total of 9.3 bWAR/11.2 fWAR, about a win per season more than Montero (7.5/9.3), and that is mirrored in a salary difference for this campaign of four million dollars. However, the price gap narrows to $3m in 2014 and 2015, then vanishes entirely in the two seasons beyond that. Will Montero be able to improve his output to justify his increasing cost? At what point will those extra 12 months of Molina's age begin to catch up with him?
As the Twins have found out, long-term deals for catchers can be problematic - I doubt they're looking forward to paying Joe Mauer $138 million, over the same time frame discussed above for Molina and Montero. But if you were given the choice between taking either of these two contracts going forward, would you go for Yadier or Miguel?