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The Emergence of Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina has been a tremendous asset to the St. Louis Cardinals this year. With his strong bat and even stronger defense behind the plate, he has arguably been the Cardinals’ MVP. However, it’s the emergence of the former that continues to wow both Cardinals fans and baseball fans in general.

When Yadier Molina made his Major League debut in 2004, it looked like he would follow the mold of Jose Molina, one of his two MLB catcher brothers, with maybe a little bit of Bengie, his other brother, mixed in. Jose (who currently plays for the Tampa Bay Rays) has been a primarily backup catcher, who is known for being a great backstop behind the plate who runners don’t dare to test, but isn’t much of a threat with a bat in his hands. Bengie (who retired after the 2010 season), on the other hand, didn’t have the same penchant for throwing out runners, and was solid, but not spectacular, offensively. For Yadier, from 2004-2006, he tallied a .238 average with only 16 total home runs, to go along with tremendous defense, so the comparison to a Jose-heavy hybrid of his older brothers was valid. He seemed to be an “all field-little hit” player, which would be acceptable for a catcher, a position in which defense is considered more important.

However, perhaps energized by his heroic 2006 postseason–in which he hit .358 with the game-winning home run in game 7 of the NLCS–Yadier made significant strides in 2007, raising his average to .275 and OBP to .340, and the following year to .304 and .349. Clearly, this elevated him from a good overall catcher to an elite catcher. If one wanted to nitpick though, Molina still couldn’t get past the plateau of homering about once a month. That changed last year, when he belted 14 dingers to add to a new career high in batting average, .305. The one negative to last year? His throw-out percentage of base stealers tanked to a career low of 29.2%. Not atrocious, but very bad for him. It appeared as if his newfound offensive prowess may have caused him to lose some focus behind the plate.

If that was truly the case though, Molina’s focus came roaring back this season, coupled with an even more impressive offensive step-up. His throw-out percentage sits at an outstanding 45.3% clip, good for a close second in the majors. He has an exceptional average and OBP of .324 and 372, with 17 home runs and 63 RBI. The home runs are, of course, already a career high for Yadi, and barring some sort of September disaster, the other categories will easily set new career highs as well. At age 30, the youngest Molina has truly found his swing.

If someone had told the average Cardinals fan a few years ago that Molina would be putting up these kinds of numbers eventually, they’d tell that person to take their crazy theories elsewhere. Molina has proved the doubters wrong though, as he has become not just the best defensive catcher in baseball, but the best all-around catcher as well. The only other catcher having a superior offensive season to Molina is San Francisco’s Buster Posey–barely–but given that he only throws out 27.1% of runners, Molina truly deserves the title of 2012’s best backstop. And as surprising as that has been for most, Cardinals fans could not be happier.

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