Only one word can describe St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina's season so far: Ridiculous.
Early in his career some wondered if Molina, who seemed to change his batting stance as often as some people change their socks, would ever be much of an offensive contributor. He batted .216 in his third year in the big leagues and it wasn't until June 3 of that year -- 2006 -- that he got his batting average over the .200 mark to stay. Molina had an on-base percentage of .274 and a slugging mark of .321 that season.
At age 30, a milestone where a lot of full time catchers start to show obvious signs of decline, Molina is reaching heights that would have previously been impossible to believe.
He's batting a National League leading .367 with a .408 on-base percentage and a .514 slugging mark. Molina's leading the Senior Circuit with 94 hits and 24 doubles (thanks to a double added to his record Wednesday by a MLB office scoring correction.)
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It's no fluke, since that miserable 2006 season Molina has hit less than .275 only once. Three times he's completed a season with a batting average above .300. And that's remarkable when you think about where he started. Molina is a student of the game. He's studied pitchers and technique and game situations to maximize his potential when it's his turn at the dish. His enormous baseball intelligence that has allowed him to make the most of his abilities. And, if you're in tune with the subtleties of the game, he's amazing to watch. Sort of like Albert Pujols without the attitude and -- with less overwhelming raw power. But mostly without the attitude.
Molina seems to know what the opposition is going to do before the opposition knows what it is going to do. His eyes are always scanning the field looking for opportunities.
Molina, a leader in the clubhouse because of his work ethic and dedication to being the best he can be, seems to also be the leader in making something happen on the field when games are on the line. He did it again Wednesday when he hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the late innings against the Chicago Cubs to give the Redbirds a two games to one advantage in their current four-game set with the Wee Bears. More importantly, it kept St. Louis 2 1/2 games in front of Cincinnati.
Still, incredibly, I hear a few people complain about Molina's play. A few blowhards like to gripe that occasionally he doesn't seem to run full speed to first base, which they consider to be the greatest sin of baseball. I'm all about hustle. But I wonder if they've ever caught 150 games a summer in the baking St. Louis heat and humidity. Also, some gripe that Molina doesn't throw out opposing runners on the bases at the rate he used to. It's easy to imagine a lot of that is because the word about his throwing arm.
Runners only go against Molina when they get a huge jump off of one of the Cardinals younger pitchers who aren't accomplished at holding runners close. I don't care if you've got a baseball bazooka behind the plate. If the runner is half way to second before the pitcher lets go of the ball, there's not much chance to get him unless he falls down on the way. Meanwhile, Molina's signature move of picking off runners who stray too far from first base has been virtually eliminated because of the fact that opposing players simply don't stray too far off the bag anymore when Molina is in the game.
While some fans might not appreciate his greatness, Molina's peers do. He's twice been named the Rawlings Platinum Glove Award winner, which is given to the best defensive player in Major League Baseball. And now Molina has made it tough to deny that he's one of the best offensive players in the game, too.