It would be hard to overstate the value of Yadier Molina’s contributions to the Cardinals so far in 2013. His ability to manage the pitching staff is well publicized. His canon of an arm is well known to virtually every big league runner. The way he frames pitches behind the plate gets his pitchers the call, even when the pitch is questionable. Since Albert Pujols left for Anaheim, he’s quickly become the new fan favorite, and it’s easy to see why: simply put, the Cards win more games when Yadi is in the game.
There’s a new skill Molina is becoming famous for: hitting baseballs.
In his 10 years in the majors, he’s failed to hit .250 or better just one year…his first.
While he’s always been respectable with the bat, something special started in 2011. In that championship season, Molina saw his offensive numbers explode. His average climbed above .300 for just the second season in his career. His homers jumped from six in 2010 to 14 in 2011. His OPS went from .671 to .814. In a year where the Cards got rings, and Yadi picked up 4 fourth Gold Glove, it might be tempting to dismiss this breakout as an outlier – a very pleasant surprise.
In the two years that followed 2011, however, he’s done nothing but improve at the plate. In 2012, he saw his average climb to a career-best .315, and his OPS climb to .874. In the offensive collapse that ended the Cardinals season against the San Francisco Giants, Yadi was one of the last men standing.
As a slump swept over the Cardinals’ bench, Molina stubbornly refused to stop. He hit the ball well when the club really needed it most, and he hit the ball well when they didn’t. He’s just seeing the ball very well, and doing everything a good hitter should do at the plate.
2013 has just turned into offensive pandemonium for the Platinum Glove catcher. He currently sits at a .358 average, and that’s about 10 points lower than his season high. He’s already hit 25 doubles this season, while he mustered just 28 in all of last year. His OPS is at .912 and he’s on pace to beat last year’s RBI mark having already driven in 41 before the All Star break. His team mates use words like “joke” and “ridiculous” to describe his performance. Those seem appropriate if the joke is on the opposing pitcher attempting to keep Yadi off the bases.
So, can Yadier Molina win the batting crown in 2013?
All signs point to that being a strong possibility. Troy Tulowitzki currently trails Yadi in the race, at .347, with Jean Segura behind him at .334. In Tulowitzki’s case, he’s injured right now. If he returns on schedule, he should be able to get the required number of plate appearances. It’s probably unrealistic to assume Yadi’s average will stay at .358, but last year’s Triple Crown winner, Miguel Cabrera got the job done with a .330 average.
Assuming Yadi can hit above .300 in the second half, he should be close to that.
The main variables at this point appear to be whether or not Tulowitski returns to the Rockies on schedule (and can pick up where he left off), and whether Segura can maintain his .334 pace. If neither of those events transpire, Molina’s batting crown seems to be a near certainty. Of course, if Yadi continues to hit at his current pace, then Tulo and Segura become completely irrelevant.
It’s tempting to dismiss the possibility that he could keep this going, but then again, when has Yadi ever slowed down? A runaway year at the plate for the Cardinals’ catcher would serve to put the exclamation point on a season in which the team seems practically unstoppable.