So Chris Ray is gone to the Mariners. That, in and of itself, is unremarkable. Ray gave the Giants 24 innings of forgettable, yet competent work, mostly in low leverage situations. His on-field impact on the Giants pennant run was closer to Lou Seal’s than Buster Posey’s.
And yet! Chris Ray did play an important part by not being Bengie Molina. The Giants return on the former catcher is now officially down to Ray’s 2010 innings and a pitching prospect with a bum hip.
That trade was a big win for the Giants.
I don’t mean that sentence as some sort of slam against Molina. Well, I do, but my slamming doesn’t stem from any dislike of Molina. I still have some fondness for the guy, even if I think giving up on him was one of the key decisions that brought a World Series trophy to San Francisco. Molina gave the Giants two good seasons and one very good one. It’s unfair to hold it against Molina that he seemed to embody what was wrong with hitting evaluation in the Giant organization. And frankly, I’m grateful to any position player who provided any amount of fun during the Jose Castillo era.
A big part of why I still think of Bengie Molina as a Good Giant(tm) is that I didn’t have to sit through this:
That is 195 at bats of pure futility right there. Converting that wOBA into a run value, if a team were to replace a league-average hitting player with Molina’s production over that same number of at-bats, it would cost them an average of 8.6 runs. Coupled with Molina’s leaden base-running and deteriorating defense, it very well could have cost the Giants a playoff berth.
Now it is fair to point out that the Giants did not replace Molina’s bat with an average hitter. Heck, they didn’t even replace him with a particularly good hitter. Even Bruce Bochy’s love of the veteran probably wouldn’t have cost Buster Posey many ABs had the Giants not cashed in on Molina. No, instead the Giants moved Posey off of first base, and started platooning Travis Ishikawa and Aaron Rowand until they acquired Jose Guillen. Lots of weird notions in that sentence, I know. But it worked.
I went back and cobbled together the performances of those players during the times that they were mostly starting.
|Goddamn Jose Guillen||0.266||0.317||0.375||139||0.310|
It doesn’t look pretty, and in fact it all adds up to a slightly below-average hitter. Over the at bats given to them, these three produced about 1.5 offensive runs less than an average player. If you assume that Molina would have gotten a similar number of PAs on the Giants to his stint on the Rangers, you would conclude that Jose Rowikawa was worth about 7 more runs than Molina. So, giving up on Molina was worth 7 extra runs on offense irrespective of what he got back in trade!
This means that Not Bengie Molina was an important contributer to the 2010 Giants. Using Fangraphs Runs Above Replacement (RAR) to compare, Not Bengie Molina was more important than actual Bengie Molina (3 RAR). Not Bengie Molina was worth about as many runs as Eli Whiteside’s whole season (6.5 RAR), and probably similar to the value provided by Nate Schierholtz’s defense (6.4 RAR).
Now, these comparisons are rather crude. I’m not taking into account park and league adjustments, as they go in opposite directions and are probably fairly negligible over 200 some-odd ABs. I’m also not accounting catcher defense and pitcher handling here. Both are tough to quantify. I am an agnostic about such things as catcher game-calling. But I don’t think that Posey was any worse than Molina at controlling the running game, and at least one metric had him as quite a bit better overall. I also reckon that the effect on the rest of the defense was negligible. The new alignment allowed for more defensive innings for Aaron Rowand and Travis Ishikawa (good), but also more innings for Jose Guillen (scary).
For a team that got into the playoffs by one game, every run counted. I have little doubt that just giving up on Bengie Molina at the right time bought the Giants some of those precious, precious runs. It was also a very ballsy trade, and one that many of us weren’t sure Brian Sabean was capable of making. Beyond the on the field results it sent a message that the team recognized that Posey was a guy to build around, and that they were willing to trust him with the pitching staff. It also sent a message that they were going to try to squeeze every last drop of offense out of the players on the roster (though the later insistence on playing Jose Guillen over Cody Ross showed that the Giants were not quite done getting in their own way just yet).
So that’s why I’ll always have a soft spot for Chris Ray. It really has little to do with the player himself, though I’m sure he’s an adequate pitcher. Chris Ray’s acquisition marked an important turning point in the bizarre story of how the Giants won a World Series in 2010, and one that they never really get right on the documentary DVDs.