He probably was a star on defense the moment he came to the majors nine years ago. But in the time since, Yadier Molina also has developed into one of the most dangerous hitters, certainly among catchers, in Major League Baseball.
After hitting an unlikely looking go-ahead home run to help power the St. Louis Cardinals to a 4-1 victory against the Cubs on Wednesday, Molina's batting average sits at .365 — the best in either league. He doesn't draw many walks, and Molina's swing-happy approach at the plate isn't something just anyone can get away with, much less dominate with. But he has a freakish way of making connections. And teammates like Matt Carpenter have noticed.
Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes:
“We use the term ‘joke’ around here,” Carpenter said. “He’s a joke. He is that good. It’s like you just know that he’s going to do something great every night. That’s the kind of player he is — just irreplaceable. He’s a joke.”
And the joke is on people like the Chicago Cubs, who can only laugh to keep from crying. Molina's homer against Edwin Jackson came on a fastball that was down and in, one that Jackson said was "the pitch I wanted to throw." Molina not only managed to hit it, but drive it over the left-field fence.
Molina wasn't sounding impressed with himself.
“That pitch was good — good location,” Molina said. “I was looking inside so it made it easy for me to get to that pitch. Sometimes you get lucky.”
OK, so it's better to be lucky, and Molina has been steadily getting luckier at the plate as he's gained experience. He managed but one "major league average" season at bat (based on adjusted on-base plus slugging percentage) in his first seven seasons. But the man with five Gold Gloves is now in the conversation with Buster Posey and others for the Silver Bat, for the best hitter at his position.
The past two-plus seasons, Molina has averaged .321/.371/.490 — really good stats for an outfielder or first baseman, much less someone who plays behind the plate. He was fourth in the NL in wins above replacement in 2012, and he finished fourth in MVP voting. He's fourth in adjusted OPS this season and, with the Cardinals contending again, Molina will be an MVP candidate again if he keeps it up.
His line-drive rate is up, his extra-base hit rate is up and his batting average on balls in play is way up — to .388. He probably won't sustain that, and his overall stats would ease as a result. But judging Molina conventionally also would be a mistake. He's just ... special. And the joke is going to stay funny for a while.
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