Still America’s First Baseman: Why Paul Goldschmidt Has Already Sealed up His First MVP Award
There is no shortage of MVP candidates in the National League.
Manny Machado and Juan Soto are worthy contenders from the San Diego Padres, Freddie Freeman has been impressive in his first season with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Austin Riley has blossomed into a legitimate star with the Atlanta Braves.
Even Nolan Arenado’s name should be thrown into the mix. One of his teammates, however, should be the clear favorite at this point.
St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt recently turned 35, yet he’s having the finest season of his career in 2022 – confirming once again that age is just a number.
‘Goldy’ currently leads the NL with a 1.020 OPS. Not only that, but he’s also the only qualified hitter in the NL over 1.000 (Freeman is second at .926). The difference between the two in one of the most basic offensive stats is significant.
Goldschmidt is the best performer on a Cardinals team that is 83-58 and looks to be on their way to the NL Central title. He’s slashing .325/.413/.607 and has a fair chance to win the league’s first Triple Crown since Joe Medwick did it…in 1937!
If Judge is about to do something special in the American League, you can bet Goldschmidt is close to making history, too. He’s second in the NL with a .325 batting average (behind Freeman’s .330), third in home runs with 35 (two behind league-leader Kyle Schwarber) and tied for first in RBI with 109.
Goldy is also third in the NL in runs (101), third in hits (162), tied for sixth in doubles (36), fourth in walks (73), first in slugging percentage (.607), tied for second in extra-base hits (71), second in isolated power (.283), first in runs created per 27 outs (9.23), first in wOBA (.434) and first in WAR (8.2).
Not many hitters are able to put this kind of performance at 35 against players eight to 10 years younger, but here we are: Goldschmidt has been excellent by just about every measure.
All things considered, St. Louis is where it is in large part thanks to the seven-time All-Star’s incredible offensive season. But as a four-time Gold Glove Award winner, he can also play a very nice first base.
But the traditional stats aren’t the only measures that tell the story of a bonafide MVP candidate: more advanced metrics do, too.
For example, raw value (RV) also points to an elite performer. RV assigns a value to each outcome a pitch has, and not just the ones that result in the conclusion of an at-bat. Among other things, hitters can get credit for not chasing tough breaking balls in the edge, but can ‘lose points’ for bad plate discipline decisions or for making weak contact.
We can evaluate hitting by using total RV, which is a cumulative stat, or with RV+, a rate measure of it in which 100 is considered league average, and anything above that threshold is desirable. In both, Goldschmidt rates very highly.
While he’s behind Soto and Freeman in both RV+ and total RV, Goldschmidt ranks third in the NL in both with 151.3 and 35.7, respectively. But he’s not that far from both. The slight gap may stem from the fact that Goldy’s expected strikeout rate (xK%) of 22.1% is higher than that of Soto (14.8) and Freeman (12.7). However, that isn’t a huge concern for the Cards because Goldschmidt is inflicting so much more damage on contact than his competitors.
Only three hitters have a higher BIP+, which measures damage done on contact, than Goldschmidt – and no, they aren’t Soto or Freeman. Riley has a 183 BIP+ and Schwarber is at 182.7, while Goldschmidt is right behind at 171.7. It means that when he hits the ball, good things usually happen.
Goldschmidt also rates highly in two other crucial metrics in hitting evaluation: contact+ and discipline+. Both of them also use 100 as the league average valuation.
While he is slightly below-average at making contact (97.7 contact+), the big first baseman’s elite BIP+ guarantees production, especially if we consider that his very solid plate discipline (110.8 discipline+) puts him in a position to see good pitches and take advantage of them consistently.
What makes Goldschmidt so good is the fact he has no weaknesses at the plate. Considering that we can analyze RV+ for every pitch a batter sees, we can conclude that the Cardinals star is above average against every pitch in the book, thrown by lefties or righties. That’s extremely rare, and we have almost a full season as a sample size.
If the season ended today, the MVP award in the National League should go to the player who was once dubbed “America’s First Baseman” while with the Arizona Diamondbacks – and it may not be all that close.
It’s hard to think of a more influential player to his team. He has seven top-15 MVP finishes in his illustrious career, and three in the top three.
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