The Most Extraordinary Thing About Jose Molina

Barry Bonds. You remember Barry Bonds. If he’s been on your mind recently, I’d bet it’s because Hall of Fame voting is again upon us. Bonds is arguably the greatest player in the history of the sport and this is his third year on the ballot. It’s arguably the greatest player in the history of the sport’s third year on the ballot, because arguably the greatest player in the history of the sport wasn’t elected to the Hall of Fame in either of his first two eligible years. But I digress. Despite your personal opinions on Bonds, including recent allegations of him glassing, his numbers are staggering. Search pretty much any offensive leaderboard where a high number is a good thing and Bonds will have some of the highest numbers.

I’m gonna switch gears here, and I’m gonna switch tremendously. We were just talking about Barry Bonds and now we’re going to talk about Jose Molina. Has that ever happened before? It will all make sense in a minute.

The Tampa Bay Rays released veteran catcher Jose Molina on Thursday, ending their three-year stint with the pitch-framing aficionado and perhaps putting a fork in his 15-year major league career. Molina has remained a major league player far longer than many imagined largely due in part to the skill named in the prior sentence; he’s never really been able to hit, but his ability behind the plate has always made up for his lack of ability at the plate. This year, however, his offense dropped to a new low and seemingly tipped the scales. Jeff already wrote about all this when it happened and there probably shouldn’t be two Jose Molina posts in a week, but Jose Molina’s offensive performance in 2014 — similar to Barry Bonds in the early 2000’s — was of historical significance. It was just the type of significance for which one would rather not be recognized. But we might not have another opportunity to talk about this, so it’s now or never. I hereby submit Jose Molina as: Bizarro Barry.

Around the turn of the century, Barry Bonds was putting up numbers baseball had never really seen before. Numbers that put him in the top .0001% of baseball history. Naturally, it was a big deal. There were celebrations. There are still celebrations. People love talking about Barry Bonds’ numbers, because they’re extraordinary. What Bonds did in his time was the kind of thing we just assume is never going to happen again, until it happens again.

With much less fanfare, Jose Molina just had a Barry Bonds season at the plate. He put up numbers baseball had never really seen before – numbers that put him a similarly exclusive group of .0001% of the history of baseball’s population. Naturally, it wasn’t nearly as big of a deal, because people don’t like to celebrate failure as much as they do success. Unfortunately for Jose Molina, I’m here to celebrate that failure, because somebody has to. He was basically Barry Bonds, after all. Don’t believe me? Let’s hit the numbers.

Our data pool goes all the way back to 1920, because that’s when people started playing the game we know today as baseball. We’re going to set our minimum plate appearance threshold at 240, because Jose Molina batted 247 times in 2014. This gives us a pool of 20,993 player seasons, which is so many seasons.

Let’s start with wOBA. It’s the best metric we have to capture single-season hitting production, so it’s a logical place to start. What I’m going to do is list the top three seasons since 1920 and then the bottom three. This is going to be fun.

wOBA

  1. Babe Ruth, 1920, .598
  2. Babe Ruth, 1921, .575
  3. Babe Ruth, 1923, .571
  1. Jose Molina, 2014, .196
  2. Ray Oyler, 1968, .193
  3. Brandon Wood, 2010, .173

“Maybe Jose Molina is more like Babe Ruth,” is a sentence that I, a real baseball writer, am being paid to write. In terms of raw offensive production, only two players out of nearly 21,000 since 1920 have had worse seasons than the one Jose Molina just had. Of course times change, so wRC+, which is adjusted to be relative to league average, is the better metric to compare players across generations. Brandon Wood, for example, had a wRC+ of 1 in 2010. That is to say, he was 1% better than being 100% worse than league average. Offense was down league-wide in 2014, which makes Molina’s 23 wRC+ look a little better than his .196 wOBA in historical context. But even by wRC+, Molina is tied for 20,983rd.

Molina was bad. We get that. But why?

Power. Molina had none. Of his 40 hits this year, 38 were singles. Two were doubles. That leaves a big “0” for triples and homers. Jose Molina had more infield hits than extra base hits in 2014. He also had more hit by pitches and more stolen bases. Here’s a similar leaderboard to the one above, this time with isolated slugging percentage instead of wOBA:

ISO

  1. Barry Bonds, 2001, .536
  2. Babe Ruth, 1920, .473
  3. Babe Ruth, 1921, .469
  1. Rick Dempsey, 1976, .009
  2. Jose Molina, 2014, .009
  3. Brett Butler, 1982, .008

How about slugging percentage?

SLG

  1. Barry Bonds, 2001, .863
  2. Babe Ruth, 1920, .849
  3. Babe Ruth, 1921, .846
  1. Jerry Zimmerman, 1967, .192
  2. Jose Molina, 2014, .187
  3. Ray Oyler, 1968, .186

You may have noticed that the names and years of the top three spots of those leaderboards didn’t change. Two of the bottom three spots changed, but Jose Molina remained. As good as Barry Bonds and Babe Ruth were at hitting for power in their prime, that’s how bad Jose Molina was in 2014.

Hey, here’s a good tweet:

There were only two of them, so we might as well investigate. What could a Jose Molina extra-base hit in 2014 look like?

It took him until June 24 to register his first extra-base hit, a double off of Jeff Locke:

molina1

He had to perfectly place a slow grounder down the third base line into spacious foul territory and even then he barely beat the throw from left field. Funny thing is this hit came with two outs and the play before was a soft fly ball hit to right field that rookie Gregory Polanco should have caught, had he not lost it in the roof at Tropicana Field. This double shouldn’t have even happened.

Molina got his final extra-base hit of the 2014 season a month later, off Lance Lynn on July 23:

molina2

Fun fact: this double extended Molina’s hitting streak to nine games. Molina only had 40 hits all year and 10 of them came during a stretch of nine games from July 4 to July 23. This was Jose Molina at his best.

Of course, this isn’t how we should remember Jose Molina. We should remember him as one of the game’s elite defensive catchers for more than a decade – the face of the pitch framing revolution – because after all, that’s the sole reason he was afforded the opportunity to put up a season like he did in 2014. We should remember him as an elite defensive catcher, because that is his legacy. But we also shouldn’t forget the season he had at the plate in 2014, because it was perhaps the most extraordinary thing he ever did.

We hoped you liked reading The Most Extraordinary Thing About Jose Molina by August Fagerstrom!

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August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

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Bonds Bail
Guest
Bonds Bail

I always find it comical when writers blindly drool over Bonds’ “historically significant” numbers around the turn of the decade – while he was in his late ’30s, BTW – and keep forgetting to say something about, you know, the CHEATING.

Funny stuff.

James
Guest
James

The fact that Bonds was cheating is implicit in every article written about him. This is Fangraphs, do you think the readers somehow forget about Bonds’ PED use?

heyyo
Guest
heyyo

wait… Bonds cheated?

Jon L.
Guest
Jon L.

August does seem to be in complete denial. Bonds is *the best player in the history of baseball* to have his career seasons between the ages of 36-41.

Sammy Sosa doesn’t deserve HOF consideration because he would never have been close without PEDs, and Barry Bonds doesn’t deserve to be in the conversation with the best handful of players in the history of the game.

RandomRedsFan
Guest
RandomRedsFan

Yeah, I remember when all of those guys who used PEDs during that era were putting up those same kind of numbers… oh wait.

Dave (UK)
Guest
Dave (UK)

Ok so he was caught doping, so have hundreds of other ball players and no one else in that time has even come close to what Bonds did. He was a remarkable freak; accept it.

Paul
Guest
Paul

I agree that is the proper context to evaluate Bonds, among a few hundred(?) cheats, not the thousands of players who were not.

a eskpert
Guest
a eskpert

Of course, he was by far the player when he was clean too. And his numbers then were arguably depressed (in terms of WRC+) by the rising environment around him.

Yirmiyahu
Member

I get why we don’t like PED use, and why it’s prohibited, and why we punish people for it. But I don’t understand why some people pretend that the games didn’t occur, that Barry Bond didn’t hit the ball over the fence 762 times.

If some guy gets all hopped up on steroids, HGH, amphetamines, cocaine, and PCP and somehow manages to run a mile under 3 minutes, that incredible achievement should still go in the record books.

RMD
Guest
RMD

It’d be interesting if Bonds didn’t break McGwire’s HR record and he would still have that record to his name. I’d be willing to bet that McGwire’s still be universally associated the PEDs but he’d bee far, far less decried as a cheater, only because he’s not an asshole like Bonds is.

Bonds did break Aaron’s record, but he couldn’t’ve picked a more gracious and well liked person against to do so. He’ll always be associated with a person who’s much more liked and people will never let him forget it.