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Jose Molina's legendary power outage

Jose Molina isn't just wielding a powerless bat, he's wielding a historically powerless bat.

Hannah Foslien

Rays catcher Jose Molina is not paid to hit baseballs. He is probably the only human being alive who is paid primarily to frame baseballs. This is just as well considering he sports a .234/.283/.329 career batting line. This year the fact that his defense is his calling card is extra important, as he's hitting a mind-blowing .186/.242/.196.

No one should be surprised when a 39-year-old catcher fails to be a good hitter at the major league level. However, it is kind of alarming to see any player in the big leagues hit for that line, even if they are a defensive whiz.

A .186 average is far from unprecedented, and the .242 OBP is dreadful, but comprehensible. What really stands out here is the .196 slugging percentage. Jose Molina, even in an admittedly small 215 plate appearances sample, is currently sporting a .010 ISO.

That number jumped out at me and it got me considering how rare it is for someone to hit with such little power. So I looked at the last 50 seasons of position players with at least 200 plate appearances to see the worst power seasons of all time (17,195 total player seasons). The chart below shows the bottom 10 seasons by ISO.

Num Player Year ISO
1 Brett Butler 1982 .008
2 Rick Dempsey 1976 .009
3 Willy Miranda 1957 .010
4 Julio Cruz 1986 .010
5 Juan Pierre 2000 .010
6 Jose Molina 2014 .010
7 Ted Kubiak 1974 .014
8 Ossie Alvarez 1968 .015
9 Ed Brinkman 1973 .016
10 Enzo Hernandez 1961 .016

Molina isn't right at the top but he is in the mix.  The sortable table below shows how each of these ten players fared in other offensive categories, and the Rays backstop does not compare favorably.

Player Year PA BB% K% wOBA wRC+
Brett Butler 1982 268 9.3% 13.1% .247 46
Rick Dempsey 1976 240 7.5% 8.8% .229 47
Willy Miranda 1957 349 6.9% 12.0% .211 30
Julio Cruz 1986 256 16.4% 10.9% .279 66
Juan Pierre 2000 219 5.9% 6.8% .310 55
Jose Molina 2014 215 6.0% 23.3% .205 29
Ted Kubiak 1974 243 7.4% 6.2% .236 49
Ossie Alvarez 1968 217 7.4% 12.0% .233 36
Ed Brinkman 1973 215 8.8% 14.4% .210 39
Enzo Hernandez 1961 267 6.4% 5.2% .242 49

Molina has the lowest wOBA and wRC+ here while walking the second least of anyone in the group. Although given the era in which he's playing it's not surprising that Molina has struck out the most among these ten players, the extent of his lead in strikeouts is pretty significant.

The obvious disclaimer to this is that we are looking at a pretty small sample. Molina's career ISO of .095 is unimpressive, but not a travesty. There's a fairly good chance he adds an extra-base hit or two down the stretch and makes his way off this list.

However, for the time being this is pretty nasty company to be in. The average MLB pitcher sports an ISO of .027, and Molina's mark is just over a third of that. On a basic level that's embarrassing. If Molina were to hit two doubles tomorrow, it would be seen as anomalous but it probably wouldn't make headlines. What many don't realize is that it would increase his season extra-base hit total by 100%.

The Tampa Bay Rays aren't paying a lot of money for the services of Jose Molina, and what they are paying is almost solely a reflection of his defensive value. In fact, at this point the catcher's career, a pretty heavy negative offensive contribution was likely accounted for when the Rays gave Molina a two-year deal prior to this season. Tampa Bay can get value from Molina even if he's a thoroughly sub-par hitter.

If he transforms into a historically bad hitter, though, that's when things could get dicey.

. . .

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.

Nick Ashbourne is an Editor for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @Nick_Ashbourne.