St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt is no stranger to the Most Valuable Player discussion. Now in his 12th season, he’s been a top-three vote getter in three different years (albeit all with his former team, the Arizona Diamondbacks). But this year is different. Goldschmidt isn’t just among the game’s top performers; statistically, he is the National League’s best hitter and also its best overall player, earning his status as the betting favorite for the MVP.
So after years of coming up short, 2022 could be the year Goldschmidt finally takes home the shiniest of individual hardware. No matter how you slice it, Goldschmidt is having the best year of what is already a decorated career. In fact, it’s the type of year that should push him into a different discussion —– the one of the Hall of Fame persuasion.
Goldschmidt has always been on the shortlist of baseball’s top talents. Although he was taken in just the eight round of the 2009 amateur draft, Goldschmidt was an above-average MLB hitter in a 48-game sample during his debut season of 2011 — and he became an everyday player the following season, when he put up an impressive 126 OPS+ and 3.6 wins above replacement, per Baseball Reference. Heading into the 2013 season, the Diamondbacks rewarded his performance, signing him to a five-year, $32 million extension. He would reward them right back by becoming one of the game’s best players by WAR over the next six seasons.
From 2013 to 2018, Goldschmidt was 50 percent better than the average hitter, a perennial All-Star and a three-time Gold Glove Award winner. If all of that wasn’t enough, he also stole 102 bases during that span, which was far and away the highest total among first basemen. (One of the hallmarks of Goldschmidt’s sneaky stardom has long been his elite baserunning prowess.) In five of those seasons, Goldschmidt accumulated at least 5 WAR, putting him firmly in superstar territory.
In an effort to rebuild following the ’18 season, the Diamondbacks traded Goldschmidt to the Cardinals, who would then sign him to a mega extension worth $130 million a few months later. But his Cardinals tenure didn’t get off to the greatest of starts, as 2019 saw a big dip in Goldschmidt’s offensive production (though his power numbers remained intact). By the time he turned 32 at the end of the season, it looked like Goldschmidt may have fallen victim to the aging curve, as he suddenly struggled to hit fastballs.
What’s remarkable about Goldschmidt’s career, though, is that his peak didn’t end when it seemed it would. Instead, after making an adjustment to his batting stance, Goldschmidt bounced back nicely in the years following his down performance, even putting up another superstar-level season in 2021.
According to WAR, Goldschmidt, currently sitting at 58.4, is already the 21st-best first baseman of all-time, with his name ahead of several players already in the Hall. While Goldschmidt is unlikely to catch his still-productive teammate Albert Pujols, who will retire in the exclusive 100-plus WAR club, he could potentially catch the likes of other active first basemen such as Joey Votto (64.3) and Miguel Cabrera (67.9), both of whom are regarded, to varying degrees, as future Hall of Famers themselves.
Even though Goldschmidt celebrated his 35th birthday earlier this month, it is a pretty safe bet that he has a few more good — even great — seasons left, especially based on his world-class performance this season. This bodes well for his own chances of Cooperstown enshrinement since his career already stacks up more than adequately against the average first basemen in the Hall and has already surpassed them by metrics such as peak WAR (also known as WAR7 at Baseball-Reference) as well as WAR per 162 games (referred to as WAR/162).
By WAR7, which looks at a player’s top seven years to quantify how great he was at his very best, Goldschmidt’s 45.3 WAR is more than three whole wins better than the Hall of Fame average. If he can produce another season better than 5.0 WAR, which certainly seems possible, he can widen that gap even more. By WAR/162, which extrapolates a player’s WAR over 162 games played, Goldschmidt’s 5.9 mark is a win better than the HOF average. That number will fade as he ages, but for context, Pujols has maintained a 5.3 WAR/162 despite being 12 seasons removed from his peak.
Goldschmidt does fall short in a few important categories, for now. By career WAR, he’s still roughly seven wins behind the pace, and by the JAWS Hall of Fame metric,1 which averages a player’s total WAR with his seven-year peak WAR in an attempt to balance longevity versus peak value, his 51.8 mark falls just below the 53.8 standard set by the rest of the first basemen in the Hall. But given how close he is to both averages, it won’t be long before Goldschmidt is above water in all four of these important Hall criteria.
All of this is to say that this is not just a career-best or MVP-level campaign for Goldschmidt. He was a great player earlier in his career, but this is the type of season he needed to ascend from merely being one of the game’s great players to one of the game’s greatest players. As the Cardinals continue to pull away from the Milwaukee Brewers for the NL Central division title, Goldschmidt should carry his storybook year into the postseason next — where he can add even more to his case for being immortalized in Cooperstown.
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