Major League Baseball | St. Louis Cardinals

Cruz Is Good, But He’s No Molina

Randy Karraker In The 101espn Studio

When I mentioned last week that the Cardinals were finished when it was announced that All Star catcher Yadier Molina would miss eight to 12 weeks with surgery for a torn thumb ligament, I got a lot of blowback from the Redbird diehards. While the vast majority of fans understand my objectivity, there are those who write things like…

“Though it’s a blow to the team…. Cruz and the rest of the players will step up…. Tony has learned the position from the best catcher in the MLB Yadi… Stay calm folks we got this.”

Yadier Molina
Yadier Molina

“Listen up Karraker. We will rally around Tony Cruz and we will play good baseball. So you can roll up your gloom and doom and D.G.B. (smoke) it.”

In a ’99 Rams reference, I got…

“What’s one team that comes to mind when they lose their most important player during the season that went on to win their championship?”

Of course, the big comeback in 2011 is always popular…

“Randy, how dare u count the Redbirds out. Aren’t you the sports mastermind? Have you already forgotten 2011 when we lost Wainwright? Did u forget just last year when we lost Carp? Did u forget 2012 when we no longer had Pujols? Cardinals history is filled with adversity. We get knocked down and even knocked out at times but we get back up. Get your head back in the game Randy.”

And this…

“You’ve been around St. Louis sports enough to know city and teams ALWAYS rally around adversity.  Tony Cruz time #12in14”

OK, I get it. I love the unconditional optimism of the BFIB, but I think we also need to look at some facts.  Think of the Cardinals as a really nice, rugged SUV that just keeps running and running and running. One day, a tire blows on your vehicle and you replace it with the smallish, frail-looking, untested spare. That spare is going to be fine for a while, perhaps a week or two, getting you back and forth from work and the grocery store. But that spare isn’t meant to be one of the four main tires on the SUV. Eventually, it’ll wear down and succumb to the stress of having to live up to the dependability of the tire it replaced, and fail on you. That’s what I fear with Cruz, who is a terrific backup, a good spare tire – but not a cornerstone player.

There’s a reason that we as Cardinal fans think Molina is the best catcher in baseball. He’s a difference-maker. In the last three years, since Cruz took over as the Cardinals’ primary backup, the Redbirds are 202-140 – a .591 winning percentage – when Molina starts. When another catcher starts (usually Cruz, but Rob Johnson and Brian Anderson have combined to start a half dozen games in three years, too) the club is 35-42, a .454 winning percentage.

In those years, the catcher’s ERA’s of the two are: 2012, Molina 3.60, Cruz 4.14; 2013, Molina 3.16, Cruz 4.11; and 2014, Molina 3.26, Cruz 3.70. And as far as shutting down the running game, in those three years opposing basestealers have been successful 82 times and caught 72 by Molina. Yadi throws out 46.7 percent of the guys trying to steal on him. For Cruz, they’ve stolen 39 and been caught 16, a 29.1-percent success rate.

I would love to see Cruz step up and be the man in Molina’s absence. The way I see it, though, is that there’s a reason Molina is regarded as the best of all time and that Cruz is his backup that hardly ever plays. Molina is a stalwart, one of the best in the game. And he is the best at handling and nurturing a young pitching staff. I hope I’m wrong, and that the Cardinals have the two best catchers in history on their roster right now. If they do, they can navigate baseball’s toughest month, September, without their six-time Gold Glove performer. If they don’t, that spare tire will eventually collapse under the weight of that heavy SUV.

More: Molina’s Loss Inflicts Critical Wound on Cardinals