Jason Kendall vs. Yadier Molina: A Career Comparison
By Ryan Simpson
I am HERE for the smoke. I am a proud Jason Kendall stan. I will not let that get in the way of presenting the case between the two backstops. I am here to prove to you that Yadier Molina’s career is good, but not a “Hall of Fame” guarantee as most of the world thinks. Jason Kendall is underrated as hell offensively for a catcher, but struggles on the defensive side of the argument. Yadier is considered to be “one of the best” of his generation and maybe all-time for his defense. Get ready to rage.
UPDATED STATS AS OF APRIL 5TH 2021:
Original article below from before the 2020 MLB season:
Something to take into consideration before reading: I understand the issues with comparing across eras. Both Kendall and Molina played 2004-2010 therefore I think using their numbers is still a fair comparison. The game does evolve and I will address this during a part of this piece. *****All Stats are cut off at the beginning of the 2020 season.*****
Traditional Statistics (Let’s get this out of the way)
I have taking into account the traditional statistics because that is still how the majority of the BBWAA will make their decision on voting for Molina. For reference, Kendall’s only year on the ballot was 2016 where he received 2 votes (0.5%) of the vote. Molina loses 10 of the 15 traditional stat categories I believed to be necessary for this argument. Kendall’s all-time rankings are nuts: 8th in games caught, 4th in hits, 8th in doubles and is the live-ball era record holder for stolen bases for players who were catchers for 70% of their career games. Granted, Molina still has time to catch up, but at age 38 one has to wonder how much longer Yadi will put on an MLB uniform. Yadier ranks 13th in games caught, 13th in hits and 10th in doubles. Now it’s time to bring in the more informed metrics.
Advanced Career Metrics:
Now that we have arrived in the 21st century, let’s get into it. I included both bWAR and fWAR because bWAR will favor Kendall and his overall offensive production while fWAR will take Monila’s defensive wizardry into the calculation. I also wanted to give the range of how other catchers in the Hall of Fame stack up to these two; as you can see, neither of these two are CLOSE in terms of bWAR. WAR7 made the cut as both men have played in the MLB for a long time and I did not want their declines to sway your decision. Each split a WAR category and the WAR7 is very close, but still neither are HOF/elite level talents.
This brings me to JAWS created by Mr. Jay Jaffe. JAWS is defined on baseball-reference.com as: the “measure a player’s Hall of Fame worthiness by comparing him to the players at his position who are already enshrined, using advanced metrics to account for the wide variations in offensive levels that have occurred throughout the game’s history.” Through 15 years in the MLB, Kendall edges Molina who today entered year 17. Is the difference neglectable? Probably. Do I care about the difference? Absolutely. Someone has to be crowned the better player.
A look into some more advanced statistics see Kendall gain an edge. Kendall’s wOBA, OBP, OPS all lead Molina. Molina holds a lead in slugging percentage and OPS+, but remember that he is still active therefore these numbers will change.
Defensive Statistics (powered by FanGraphs)
Time to talk defense and I will not deny Yadi’s insane numbers here. I am not going to dive into this much because the winner here is obvious. I mean Yadi is 12% above the league average for catching runners trying to swipe bases while he is behind the dish. Look at the gap in Fielding Runs Above Average (statistic that pre-dates UZR) for the two; 228.1 is BANANALAND territory. Something I did find interesting is how many different pitchers Molina has caught in his career that have made an All-Star game. My opinion on All-Star games is that the players voting in are basically the most popular, not the players who had the best first halves. Still, having 11 different Cardinals selected over your career is impressive, furthering the gap between how dominant Yadier Molina is at his position.
“Best of the Best”
Let’s compare the two backstops against some other catchers. I split Molina and Kendall into two groups, putting them into their respective eras where their full careers are examined using those traditional metrics once again. The only two guys on this list who are not “shoo-ins”: Kendall and Russell Martin. Looking at Molina’s number against Martin and Buster Posey, Molina’s longevity becomes a strength as he smokes the other two in games played. Yadi still does not lead in every category, but his offensive numbers show his productivity.
Kendall has the displeasure of going against two of the GOATs: Pudge and Piazza. Kendall leads in SB and HBP which are basically useless for his case. Pudge and Piazza were just so good with a bat in their hands. Giving a point here is tough because I am stuck between Molina who has a full season of games over Martin and almost five seasons over Posey OR going with Kendall yet he doesn’t really have a case compared to the two GOATs.
The final decision is up to you now. My takeaways from researching for this piece are this: I think that Molina will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer and I also believe that Jason Kendall is not a Hall of Famer. I DO believe that the gap between is very close with Molina getting more exposure because he played for winning teams as well as in a FAR bigger market than Kendall. Let me hear your opinions in the comments and on Twitter. COMON.
UPDATE FOR 2021 SEASON:
Molina did pass Kendall in most games caught and looks to pass Johnny Bench next. He needed an extra three years to do this, so that holds some weight in my eyes. Kendall still has the hit crown, batting average, on-base and OPS leads over Molina. Molina hit the 400th double of his career as the season closed and sits 7th all-time for catchers. He is also two RBIs away from 1,000, where he will be only the fifteenth catcher to accomplish that feat. The star under Gold Gloves is due to the fact that voting for that award will not happen for a while, but Yadi could add another to his resume. The more he plays, the more exclusive clubs he will join. Kendall’s era was much more offense-centric, but Molina is racking up those counting stats that the old heads vote to see next to a player’s name on the ballot.
Molina now leads Kendall in bWAR, but something like 0.4 WAR is not anything that is vote-changing. This now puts Molina twentieth all-time ahead of HOFers Roger Bresnahan and Roy Campanella. They are still well below the Hall of Fame average numbers, but when you have guys like Bench, Pudge and Piazza inflating those numbers for only a group of sixteen players, you have to let some guys in eventually (cough cough Ted Simmons). Kendall stills leads in wOBA, but Molina now holds the lead in OPS+ by a small margin. My feelings here remain the same: Kendall was an offensive juggernaut as a catcher, and MLB didn’t see a hitter of his caliber until Joe Mauer. BUT. Yadi’s offensive numbers are still special.
Onto defensive where Molina still owns not just Kendall, but basically every catcher in MLB history. Foolish Baseball covered this section, video and I suggest you watch that whole video as he does a fantastic job showing how runners like Andrew McCutchen were straight up SCARED to run when Molina was behind the plate. Molina still holds a 40% clip on throwing runners out when they try to swipe a bag. There is a reason Kolton Wong took the base home with him after he successfully made it to second when Yadi’s throw was a hair late.
Now onto the other catchers that these two are compared against; Yadi now has more games than Mike Piazza and is catching Pudge Rodriguez, so these numbers are comparable to his generation and the all-timers. Once again, if the old heads of the BBWAA continue to look for counting stats as the measuring stick, Molina’s HOF case will only get stronger the more he plays.
Something else that was brought up the last time I posted this article is WHEN Molina gets voted in…will he be first ballot? I am a baseball nut, and the only two guys I can tell you about their voting status are Jeter and Mo. First-ballot does not matter to the Baseball Hall of Fame like the NFL or NBA. If you’re in, you’re in. So when Molina gets voted in, it won’t matter if he is first or second ballot, but I don’t see him slipping past that. There’s is going to be a massive drop-off in Hall of Fame talent by the time he is on the ballot, but I do see him getting in his first time on. Maybe by then, Kendall will be voted in by the Era Committee.
Sources: baseball-reference.com, fangraphs.com.