>Mo’Lina, Mo’ Problems: Part 1

>This is part one of a two-day look at Bengie Molina. Part one runs today, part two tomorrow. It actually takes two posts to cover the awfulness.

The Mets and Bengie Molina’s excruciating game of chicken appears to be coming to its close, with the Mets reportedly expected to sign Molina to a two year deal sometime this weekend. This may be delayed by kneegate, so who knows when – the sides were reportedly close around New Years as well. Molina wants more than a one-year deal, and the Mets are the only team silly enough to give it to him that haven’t already signed a catcher. It’s going to happen.

I really don’t know what else to say besides this: Bengie Molina is not good at playing baseball. Maybe he was at some point, but not anymore. Paying him a lot of money is not a good use of resources when you can get someone else to do a similar job for less. Signing Molina is like dusting off up the two living member of The Who and convincing them to play halftime at the Super Bowl. Sure, they used to be great at what they did – Keith Moon frantically played drums like someone with ADD because he actually had ADD, and John Entwistle perfected the bored, detached musician look before The Strokes were born – but now they’re old, fat, and half-dead. Which is not much different than Bengie Molina.

But just saying all that doesn’t do anyone much good. If you don’t like Molina, I’m preaching to the choir – but If you do like Molina, give me a shot at changing your mind. Let me deeply and fully explore Molina’s awfulness. A good place to start might be by breaking down the arguments in favor of Bengie Molina, which are . . . well, why don’t I let MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo tell you:

“[Molina] has developed a reputation as one of the game’s most astute game-callers. In addition to leading San Francisco’s pitching staff to the league’s highest strikeout total and second-lowest ERA last season, Molina hit 20 homers and drove in 80 runs as the Giants’ primary cleanup hitter.”

Mike Puma of New York Post can rephrase that:

“The Mets are as much interested in Molina for his ability to handle a pitching staff as his offensive capabilities.”

The 2009 Mets didn’t hit home runs, didn’t score runs, and their pitchers walked a major league leading 616 batters. Those are problems. Over-reactionary GM extraordinaire Omar Minaya (or whoever is pulling his strings) believes Bengie Molina will help both because of his power and his purported staff handling abilities.

Bengie Molina will probably not do either of those things for the 2010 Mets.

Myth 1#: Molina will handle the pitching staff well.

As far as I know, there is no evidence that catchers actually make a pitching staff perform any better or worse. That alone should be enough to say that Molina won’t help the Mets pitching, but maybe I’m mistaken. Let’s assume for the moment that catchers really can change the way a pitching staff performs, and if so, did Bengie Molina make the Giants pitching staff better in 2009?

2009 San Francisco Giants team ERA: 3.55
2009 San Francisco Giants team ERA with Bengie Molina catching: 3.74

The Giants staff did not pitch better to Molina; they actually performed worse when he was behind the plate. People should stop claiming Molina will make the Mets pitching staff better because: A.) there’s no evidence anyone does it and B.) even if some catchers do, he’s not.

Catchers have to do more than just call the game though. Maybe Benige is a strong defensively because he’s a Molina and thus emerged from the womb with his catchers mitt. Yadier is good. Jose is good. Bengie? Plus/minus rates the B-list Molina’s defensive contribution as a -9 runs in 2009 (though -7 of that is his catcher ERA, so cut that down to just a -2), while Driveline Mechanics had him at -3.4 runs. So besides having no effect on the pitching staff, Molina appears to be an overall sub-average defensive backstop.

So will the Mets signing Molina help the pitching staff, either through his game calling or defense? It doesn’t look like it. Saying that he “led the Giants pitching staff” is like saying “Tom Cruise still has an acting career.”*

*Whatever your thoughts on Scientology, the two Hollywood faces of it, Tom Cruise and John Travolta, have been written off as crazies to such a point that they need to be disguised and sneaked into their own movies for audiences to take them seriously. Have you seen Travolta in the preview for “From Paris With Love?”? Tom Cruise hasn’t been on the screen since 2008, when he wore a fat suit, beard, and bald cap to be in “Tropic Thunder” and then just an eye-patch in the semi-flop, “Valkyrie.” Valkyrie probably underperformed because the eye patch wasn’t enough – eye patch and goatee might have done the trick. Again, whatever you think about the merits of Scientology, it’s impossible to see Tom Cruise and not immediately remember images of him spasmodically leaping on Oprah’s couch or rumors about him and Katie Holmes. No matter how well he sells his character, the face of Tom Cruise brings to my mind only images of his deranged cackling and a certain episode of South Park. The character he’s playing becomes unbelievable and the movie becomes unwatchable because I spend all my time thinking about Tom Cruise and not the plot. Does he really think Psychiatry is a Nazi Science? Did he keep Katie Holmes out of “The Dark Knight”? And I forget what’s going on in the movie.

Apparently the only way around this is to make Cruise and Travolta totally unrecognizable to the audience. Travolta put on a fat suit and dressed in drag for “Hairspray”, and now the previews for “From Paris With Love” – creative title – show Travolta with a bald cap, goatee, and a muscle suit. Or he’s just fat now. 

This really isn’t that dissimilar to the way the Mets are now hiding Omar Minaya. It’s hard to watch Minaya talk without recalling a certain press conference that featured unplanned participation with the audience, so the Mets are going to hide him for a bit – or until his contract runs out – behind John Ricco, as you saw yesterday for the Beltran press conference. Minaya should grow a goatee, slap on an eye patch, and put on 50 pounds. That might get it done.

Myth #2: Bengie Molina will hit thousands of home runs for the Mets, and therefore be a productive bat.

Bengie Molina hit a career high 20 home runs in 2009. Good for him – don’t give him a contract based on expecting him to do it again. There are all kinds of fluke warnings and caution signs for the Mets.

Despite a .285(!) on-base percentage, Molina was only -9.1 runs below average offensively in 2009, which is about average for a catcher – catchers get around +10 runs thrown back onto their value on because of positional adjustments, so a season like Molina’s is middle of the pack. An average offensive catcher – that sounds like an improvement. There is a catch. An overwhelming majority of Molina’s value came from his 20 home runs, meaning he’ll need to continue hitting home runs to compensate for his inability to do anything else, or risk becoming a completely useless player – instead of just a mostly useless player.

Let’s take Molina’s 2009 home runs and stick them in Citi Field to see what 2010 might look like (again, black lines are actual Citi, gray lines are the “actual distances” bases on the wall heights):

I count 5-7 that might not make it out of the Citi. Molina hit home runs about even on the home and road in 2009, so he probably loses 3ish home runs to Citi Field. Molina is a little more pull happy than David Wright, meaning his power should play better at Citi than David’s does – though Bengie is still going to lose a few to the dimensions and great walls of Citi Field. Oddly enough, the distances and walls might not be the thing that kills Molina’s power the most. There are some other interesting nuggets about Molina’s power . . .

That I’ll tell you about tomorrow. Come back for part 2 – Bengie Molina does so many things poorly that it took 2000 words to cover most of it. I’ve only just begun.

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