Yadier Benjamin Molina Matta
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 5' 11", Weight 225 lb.
- High School Escuela Superior Maestro Ladi
- Debut June 3, 2004
Molina was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 4th round of the 2000 amateur draft. He hit .259/.320/.405 for the Johnson City Cardinals in his pro debut the next summer and threw out 43% of attempted base-stealers. Baseball America named him St. Louis's #7 prospect. His offense remained steady with the 2002 Peoria Chiefs (.280/.331/.384) but he showed off an even strong arm, throwing out 52.6% of would-be base thieves. He led Midwest League backstops in assists (140) and double plays (9) and only fanned 36 times in 393 at-bats, the second-lowest rate in the MWL. Baseball America ranked him as the #10 prospect in the Cardinals chain. In 2003, he produced at a .275/.327/.332 clip and threw out 42% of base-stealers for the Tennessee Smokies. Baseball America now put him down as the #4 prospect in the St. Louis system. He began 2004 with the Memphis Redbirds and was hitting .302/.387/.372 after 37 games when Mike Matheny (his future manager) was hurt and Molina was called to the majors for good.
2004-2008: Early years
Yadier hit .267/.329/.356 in 51 games for the 2004 Cardinals, backing up Matheny. He threw out 8 of 17 players who tried to steal. He had a fine MLB debut. His first time up, he was retired by Oliver Perez, but he singled his next trip to the plate then doubled in the 7th and was driven in by Woody Williams. In the 8th, he was retired by Mark Corey. He also tagged out Abe Nunez at the plate. His first MLB homer came in late September when he took Matt Wise deep to break a 2-2 tie. He saw little action in the playoffs, sitting out the NLDS and getting into one game in the 2004 NLCS (1 for 4, a single off Roy Oswalt). In the 2004 World Series, he was 0 for 3 as Matheny's backup as the Cards lost to the Red Sox. He hit .297 for the Gigantes de Carolina in the 2004-2005 Puerto Rican Winter League, finishing 10th in average.
He became the starting backstop for the Cardinals in 2005 at age 22. He was the youngest NL catcher to start on Opening Day since Jason Kendall of the 1996 Pirates. Molina hit only .252/.295/.358 for a 70 OPS+ but was superb on defense, with 9 pickoffs and a 64% caught stealing rate. He allowed the fewest steals (14) by a MLB catcher with 100+ starts, 17 ahead of runner-up Joe Mauer. In the 2005 NL, he was second in assists at catcher (66, 4 behind Matheny), 5th in errors (7), tied for first in passed balls (8, even with Humberto Cota), first in percentage caught stealing and tied for 5th in runners caught stealing (even with Jason LaRue). Matheny won the Gold Glove instead, his third in a row (he was now with the Giants). Molina missed over a month after being hit by Claudio Vargas on July 7, giving him a hairline fracture in his left hand. He was back in form by the postseason. He was 3 for 13 with a run and 3 RBI in the NLDS and 7 for 22 with 3 doubles and a run in the 2005 NLCS, which St. Louis lost to Houston.
In the 2006 World Baseball Classic, he backed up the legendary Ivan Rodriguez for Puerto Rico and did very well, going 3 for 5 with a run and a RBI. He had a miserable offensive campaign for the 2006 Cardinals (.216/.274/.321, 53 OPS+, 29 R, 49 RBI) but they kept him in for his defense, as he fielded .995 and threw out 47% of runners who tried to steal. On May 28, he ended a game by picking off Brian Giles, the first catcher pickoff to end a game since Rodriguez had done it in 2002. He was among the 2006 NL leaders in catchers' fielding in games (127, 2nd to Brad Ausmus), assists (79, 1st by 7 over Ronny Paulino), passed balls (7, tied for 5th with Mike Piazza), caught stealing (4th), caught stealing percentage (3rd behind Matt Treanor and Chris Snyder) and fielding percentage (4th). Ausmus got the Gold Glove that time. He picked it up a few notches in the postseason, when he led Cardinals in hits (19), total bases (29) and average (.358) and was second to Jim Edmonds in RBI (8). His 9th-inning homer off Aaron Harang broke a 1-1 tie in game 7 of the NLCS. In the World Series clincher over Detroit, he had 3 hits and 2 runs in a game started by Justin Verlander. The World Series MVP went to David Eckstein, who had similar numbers.
In the winter, he again played for the Gigantes, going 3 for 16 with a double, 2 walks, a run and 2 RBI in the 2007 Caribbean Series, his heroics from the 2006 major league postseason not carrying over to the Caribbean. His hitting improved in 2007 as he hit .275/.340/.368 for a 85 OPS+. He threw out 54% of those who ran on him and fielded .991. He missed time with another injury, this one when future teammate Matt Holliday tipped a foul off his wrist. He also had season-ending right knee surgery in late September. Positives for the year included a 15-game hitting streak, best by a St. Louis backstop since Erik Pappas. He tied Miguel Olivo for the most passed balls (16) in the 2007 NL, tied Paulino for third in runners gunned down (27) and led in caught stealing percentage (13% ahead of runner-up David Ross). He led all major league catchers in percentage gunned down, slightly ahead of Mauer. Russell Martin got the Gold Glove.
While Molina's defense was down in 2008 (.986 FLD%, 35% CS), his offense continued to improve (.304/.349/.392, 37 R, 56 RBI, 96 OPS+). He came up big on June 15; in a 9th-inning home plate collision with a 6-6 game, he hung onto the ball to prevent a loss; St. Louis won in the 10th, with LaRue placing Molina in the game as he had to be removed on a stretcher. He missed 3 days due to a concussion. His first game back, he homered off Hideki Okajima in a 5-4 win over Boston. He had the most hits (135) by a Cardinals catcher since Ted Simmons in 1980 and became the second Cardinal backstop to hit .300+ in 450+ plate appearances, following Simmons. For the year, he was among the 2008 NL leaders in assists at catcher (70, tied for third with Brian McCann and Snyder), errors (10, 2nd to Martin) and steal percentage (tied for second with brother Bengie, behind Kendall). Despite one of his weaker years defensively, he still won his first Gold Glove; his brother Bengie had taken two in 2002-2003.
2009- : All-Star
In the 2009 World Baseball Classic, Molina not only backed up Rodriguez but also Geovany Soto. He was 1 for 6, but his hit was a biggie. Down 1-0 in the bottom of the 8th against the Dutch national team, he doubled off Leon Boyd to score Alex Rios with the game-tying run and Mike Aviles with the game-winner. His regular-season progress at the plate continued (.293/.366/.383, 100 OPS+ while his defense rebounded (.995%, 41% CS). He finished among the 2009 NL leaders in double play grounders (27, 2nd to Miguel Tejada), strikeout rate (12.3 AB/K, second to Tejada), games caught (138, 1st), putouts at catcher (884, 4th), assists at catcher (82, 2nd to Martin), caught stealing percentage (3rd behind Ross and Ryan Hanigan), pickoffs (8, 1st) and fielding percentage (tied for third with brother Bengie). He won his second straight Gold Glove. He also started a run as an All-Star. Starting for the NL behind the plate in the 2009 All-Star Game, he drove in the NL's first runs. Down 2-0 in the second, he singled off Roy Halladay to score David Wright; an error on the play brought in Shane Victorino as well. He scored on a double by Prince Fielder. He was retired by Edwin Jackson in the 5th then left for pinch-hitter McCann in the 8th in a 4-3 loss. He was 4 for 13 with a double in the NLDS as the Cards lost to L.A..
Molina's offensive performance fell to .262/.329/.342 for a 84 OPS+ for the 2010 Cardinals while he fielded .995 and threw out 49% of runners trying to steal. He hit a grand slam on Opening Day off Nick Masset to a cap a 11-6 win over Cincinnati, the third Cardinal to hit a grand slam on Opening Day (Mark McGwire and Scott Rolen had done it before). He finished among the 2010 NL leaders in double play grounders (19, 9th), lowest strikeout rate (9.1 AB/K, 6th, between Orlando Cabrera and Jose Reyes), putouts at C (895, 2nd to McCann), games caught (135, one behind McCann), assists (79, 1st by 15 over McCann), double plays (10, 2nd to McCann), passed balls (7, tied for third with Yorvit Torrealba and Jason Castro), caught stealing (33, tied for second with Olivo behind McCann), caught stealing percentage (1st, 6.2% over Olivo) and fielding percentage (4th) en route to a third straight Gold Glove. He missed the last 12 games of the year with right knee soreness. Among MLB catchers, he led in percentage caught stealing, 4.4% ahead of brother Jose. In the 2010 All-Star Game, he started and hit 9th for the NL. He singled off Andy Pettitte in the third inning before being yanked in favor of pinch-hitter McCann in the 5th.
Molina's offensive game picked up incredibly (.305/.349/.465, 32 2B, 14 HR, 124 OPS+) in 2011 while his defense was much worse (29% CS, .995 FLD%). He was a backup to McCann in the 2011 All-Star Game, replacing him in the 5th and doubling off Chris Perez in the 6th. Jay Bruce batted for him in the 8th. He was 8th in the 2011 NL in average (between Aramis Ramirez and Michael Morse), tied Holliday for second in double play grounders (21), was second in lowest strikeout rate (10.8 AB/K, behind Reyes) and first in games caught (137). Despite not making the leaders in any other defensive department, he still won the Gold Glove, while he had not won earlier in his career when his defense was sharper and his offense worse (reinforcing claims the Gold Glove honors offense as much as defense). He was 4 for 19 with a run and a RBI in the NLDS, then improved to .333/.385/.458 with 5 runs in 6 games in the NLCS. In the 2011 World Series, he batted .333/.417/.407 for the champion Cardinals, with 9 RBI in 7 games; he had 4 RBI in game 3, 3 hits in game 5 and 2 RBI apiece in games 6 and 7. It was the most RBI by a catcher in a World Series since fellow Puerto Rican Sandy Alomar Jr. in 1997 and the most hits in a postseason (20) by a catcher since Ivan Rodriguez in 2003. David Freese was named Series MVP.
He had an all-around strong season for the 2012 Cardinals: .315/.373/.501, 22 HR, 65 R, 76 RBI, 137 OPS+, .997 fielding percentage, 48% of runners caught stealing. He led major league backstops with 12 steals and was four homers shy of Simmons for the record by a Cardinal catcher. He also became the first catcher to lead St. Louis in average in back-to-back seasons. He was picked for the 2012 All-Star Game but missed due to bereavement leave for his wife's grandfather. He finished on the 2012 NL leaderboard in average (4th behind Buster Posey, Andrew McCutchen and Ryan Braun), OPS+ (tied for 7th with teammate Allen Craig), strikeout rate (9.2 AB/K, 6th, between Darwin Barney and Martin Prado), putouts at C (962, 3rd), games caught (136, 2nd, 3 behind Miguel Montero), assists at C (88, 1st by one over A.J. Ellis), double plays at C (12, tied for first with Ellis), caught stealing (35, 3rd behind Posey and Ellis), fielding percentage (2nd to McCann) and caught stealing % (2nd to Hanigan). He won the Gold Glove and finished 4th in voting for the 2012 NL MVP behind Posey, Braun and McCutchen. He was 0 for 4 in the 2012 NL Wild Card Game and 2 for 17 with 5 walks, 3 runs and a RBI in the NLDS. In the 2012 NLCS, he had 11 hits (.393/.393/.429) in 7 games but St. Louis fell to San Francisco as his teammates hit just .193.
He finally got his chance to start for Puerto Rico in a World Baseball Classic in his third try, 2013. He was 7 for 27 with a walk, two runs and no RBI in 7 games as Puerto Rico went to the finals. In the finale, he hit cleanup but came up with a poor day, fanning against Samuel Deduno in the first. In the fourth, he came up with Carlos Beltran on board, no outs and a 2-0 deficit but hit into a double play. He grounded out against Octavio Dotel in the 6th and Santiago Casilla in the 8th and Puerto Rico fell, 3-0, to the Dominican national team. Despite his mediocre performance, he was voted as the tourney's All-Star catcher, following in Rodriguez's footsteps from 2009.
He hit .319/.359/.477 with 44 doubles, 80 RBI and a 131 OPS+ for the 2013 Cardinals. In the 2013 All-Star Game, he started and hit 6th for the NL, retired by Chris Sale and Matt Moore before being replaced by Posey. He finished 4th in the 2013 NL in average (behind Michael Cuddyer, Chris Johnson and Freddie Freeman), second in doubles (11 behind Matt Carpenter), 5th in strikeout rate (between Andrelton Simmons and Denard Span), first in games caught (131), 1st in putouts at C (976), tied for 5th in catcher assists (63, even with Nick Hundley and Wilin Rosario), second in catcher double plays (11, one behind Hundley), third in fielding percentage at C (behind Martin and Ellis) and third in caught stealing percent (behind Hanigan and Ellis). He won another Gold Glove. He hit .294/.400/.529 with a homer off Gerrit Cole in the NLDS. In the 2013 NLCS, he fared worse at .227/.320/.277 but St. Louis still advanced to the 2013 World Series, his 4th World Series appearance in 10 seasons to that point. He showed good contact in the Series (7 for 23) but had only one walk, one double, no runs and two RBI as St. Louis fell to Boston. He finished third in voting for the 2013 National League Most Valuable Player Award behind Andrew McCutchen and Paul Goldschmidt, getting the two first-place votes that did not go to McCutchen.
Molina was once again voted the starting catcher for the National League in the 2014 All-Star Game, but this time, he did not get to play, as he suffered a ligament tear in his thumb when sliding into third base in a game on July 9th. The injury required surgery and forced him to miss many weeks of action, as he only returned to play on August 29th. As a result, he played only 110 games, his lowest total since his rookie season, hitting .282 with 7 homers and 38 RBIs. His health was also a concern in the postseason, as he had to leave Game 2 of the NLCS against the San Francisco Giants on October 12th, when he aggravated a pulled oblique muscle. He doubled over in pain after hitting a ground ball and was unable to run to first base, resulting in a double play. He was escorted from the field and it looked like he was done for the series, and possibly even beyond, but the next day the Cardinals said he would not be placed on the disabled list, implying that they were hoping for a return before the end of the Championship Series. In the meantime, the Cardinals had veteran A.J. Pierzynski, who had been acquired at the time of his mid-season injury, and regular back-up Tony Cruz, were both available to fill in. Molina did not return as the Cards were eliminated by the Giants.
In 2015, Molina had another All-Star season as the quiet leader of the team with the best record in the majors. He hit .270 in 136 games, his lowest average since 2010. While he did hit 23 doubles, he had only 4 homers and 34 runs scored, very low totals for him, but he did drive in 61 runs. Defensively, he was as good as ever, however, as Cardinals pitchers had an ERA of 2.79 when he was behind the dish, the lowest by any catcher since Alan Ashby caught for the 1981 Houston Astros. His season ended early, though, as on September 20th, he suffered a torn ligament in his left thumb, putting him out for a minimum of ten days, but there was still hope he could return to play in the postseason. He did play 3 games in the Division Series, but had only 1 hit in 8 at-bats as his injury was one of a number of key ones that caused the Cards' season to end early.
- 7-time NL All-Star (2009-2015)
- 8-time NL Gold Glove Winner (2008-2015)
- NL Silver Slugger Award Winner (2013)
- 20-Home Run Seasons: 1 (2012)
- Won two World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006 and 2011
- Bob Nightengale: "Yadier Molina: The constant in the Cardinals' decade of dominance", USA Today Sports, September 9, 2015. 
- Jorge L. Ortiz: "Yadier Molina looks like a thumbs-up for Opening Day", USA Today Sports, March 29, 2016.