To say that Jose Molina brings nothing to the table offensively would be an exaggeration, slightly. His offensive production was quite anemic last season, as he was amongst the worst catchers offensively last season. Before his offensive explosion last night, he had been mired in a 0-22 slump, and has produced a batting line of .194/.244/.278. His OPS+ of 48 is dead last amongst players with at least 80% of their time spent as a catcher with a minimum of 80 plate appearances, or Molina’s total on the season.
Yet, his offense is not what keeps him in the lineup. He is known around baseball as one of the better defensive catchers in the game, and has become known for his ability to frame pitches. In fact, it was that pitch framing ability that led the Rays to sign him to a two year contract when Molina was a free agent, giving him his second chance to be a starting catcher, and first since 2008.
Now, other teams have started to realize the value to a catcher who can frame pitches with the ability that Molina does. In an article by Ben Lindbergh, he feels that those who are truly skilled at getting their pitchers additional strikes may become more sought after than ever. Recently, other teams have caught on to the notion that a catcher who has a knack for turning pitches that would have otherwise been balls into strikes is a valuable commodity. This approach is not just limited to smaller market teams such as the Rays; part of the reason why the Yankees gave Francisco Cervelli the starting job at catcher was his ability to frame pitches.
In a time of pitch counts and a general fear of pitchers injuring themselves through overuse, the ability to steal a couple of strikes over the course of the game may go a long way. That pitch could become a strikeout, or lead to an out on a pitch that the batter may not have swung at if the count had been different. Each extra out can add up, and help to decrease the workload on the bullpen, making them fresher later in the season.
That is where a catcher such as Molina truly stands out. By stealing outs, he helps an already excellent Rays pitching staff be that much better. Over the course of the past five years, he has been worth just over two extra wins a year just from framing pitches, which can be a major difference in a division as competitive as the American League East.
While it would be nice to see some offensive production from Jose Molina, his ability to win games by getting calls helps to mitigate his subpar hitting. For the Rays, that ability to frame pitches may be enough.