As I type this before Monday's games, Yadier Molina is hitting .353/.397/.502 and leads the National League in batting average and doubles. That triple-slash line won't change before Tuesday since the Cardinals don't play today. (For some absurd reason, baseball has scheduled just four games tonight. Come on, baseball, you're better than that!)
Anyway, while it's admittedly very early to be discussing such matters, Molina's name has popped up into the MVP conversation, as it did last year when he finished fourth in the voting.
Molina is a historically unique MVP candidate, primarily because he's not a big RBI guy nor a big runs scored guy, and it's usually the sluggers who walk away with the MVP hardware (as long as they play for a playoff team). Molina knocked in 76 runs last year, but it was 100-RBI guys Buster Posey and Ryan Braun who received 30 of the 32 first-place votes.
Molina's home run numbers aren't on last's pace -- he's hit five after hitting 22 in 2012 -- but the increase in doubles and batting average have him on pace for 87. You don't have to drive in a hundred to win the MVP Award; Dustin Pedroia won in 2008 when he drove in 83, Jimmy Rollins drove in 94 in 2007, Joe Mauer drove in 96 in 2009 and Ichiro Suzuki drove in 69 in 2001. But those guys scored a lot of runs; Pedroia and Rollins led their leagues, Ichiro scored 127 and Mauer scored 94. Molina, due in part to his lack of speed (and position in the batting order) is on pace to score 70, which would be a career high.
So Molina is on pace for 157 runs plus RBIs; the lowest total in recent years for an MVP winner was Barry Larkin's 164 in 1995, but that came in a 144-game schedule. Otherwise, we're looking at Terry Pendleton's 180 in 1991 (94 runs, 86 RBIs). The last MVP with a total lower than 157 was Willie Stargell, the co-MVP in 1979 (with Keith Hernandez), for a year in which he knocked in 82 runs and scored 60 for the Pirates. Stargell was an odd choice, selected more so for his intangible leadership than his production.
Molina is much better than Stargell was that year, but also brings those intangibles. We can partially measure his defense -- he's thrown out 43 percent of attempted basestealers and has been one of the best pitch-framers -- but we can't account for his pitch-calling abilities or confidence he gives the Cardinals staff. Voters will undoubtedly factor that in when assessing Molina's value.
Then there's this: Molina has started a remarkable 70 of the Cardinals' 76 games. I'm guessing manager Mike Matheny will back off a bit on that playing time as the summer heat picks up in St. Louis -- he started 133 games last year -- but that points to his durability behind the plate and the importance Matheny places on having Molina behind the plate. He is the heart and soul of the best team in baseball.
We have a long ways to go, but even without those intangibles factored in, Molina rates as a strong candidate statistically. He's at 3.4 WAR on Baseball-Reference and 3.3 on FanGraphs, which ranks him 11th and eighth, respectively, among NL position players, but several of the candidates above him play for non-contenders (Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura, David Wright, possibly Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki).
Molina may not be your conventional MVP candidate but he's my first-half MVP.