The cycle of a major league hitter has been well established for decades. It improves rapidly in your early twenties, peaks around 27, maybe holds that for a few years, then begins a slow decline.
And then there is Paul Goldschmidt.
Goldschmidt was a good player for the first part of his career with the Arizona Diamondbacks, making six All-Star teams. Predictably, his peak years lasted from 25, when he led the league in homers and hit runs, until he was 30.
But when he was traded to St. Cardinals Louis after the 2018 season, some of his numbers started to drop. While he still provided a lot of value, he stopped making the All-Star team.
His batting average remained close to .300 and his homer totaled around 30, but he began to slip elsewhere, notably on the steps. His more slugging on-base percentage, almost always above .900 in Arizona, has slipped below that number for three straight years.
This season has been a different story. Until Wednesday, Goldschmidt led the National League in the trinity of statistics, batting average (.332), on-base percentage (.412) and slugging percentage (.611); batting average and slugging count were career highs. He’s already hit 25 home runs — six shy of last year’s full season total — and returned to the All-Star Game for the first time in four years.
His OPS was 1.023, another career high, and trailed only American leaguers Yordan Álvarez of the Houston Astros and Aaron Judge of the Yankees. Goldschmidt also ranks second to judge in Baseball Reference’s version of WAR for post players. And he did it by playing Gold Glove-level defense at first base.
This all happened at age 34, a time when most players began their decline. It’s been 16 years since a player has completed his season aged 34 with an OPS as high as Goldschmidt’s: Manny Ramirez had an OPS of 1.058 for the 2006 Red Sox. their 34-year-old season.) And Goldschmidt’s big 34-year-old season notably came at a time when baseball has much more rigorous performance testing. -enhancing drugs.
The big season accelerated Goldschmidt’s rise up the career rosters, with the first baseman topping 300 home runs, 1,000 runs and 1,000 RBIs that season.
“When you drive the ball as well as he does and hit for power, hit for average and are a well-balanced hitter – and not just hit .220 with 30% strikeout with 30 homers, but, like , actually being a feared hitter in any situation – that’s a big deal,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. says The St. Louis Post-Expedition last month.
Marmol was right: Goldschmidt has a good chance of being the eighth player since 2012 to hit 30 or more home runs while batting .330 or more.
The only flaw in Goldschmidt’s career season has been recent criticism for refusing to get a Covid-19 shot, which kept him and third baseman Nolan Arenado out of a series of two games against Toronto last month. (The Cardinals split the games.) That issue would return if St. Louis were to face the Blue Jays in the World Series.
While neither team leads its division, Toronto and St. Louis have been on the move in recent weeks, and the Cardinals appear to be a legitimate threat to keep the Milwaukee Brewers from repeating themselves as NL Central champions.
Goldschmidt, Arenado and second baseman Tommy Edman rank second, third and seventh in WAR among position players; no other team has three players in the top 10. Together they represent 15 WAR.
The cardinals also a better racing differential that the Brewers, a vital statistic that St. Louis ranks fourth among National League teams. And that number could improve after St. Louis bolstered its rotation with trades at the deadline for Jose Quintana and Jordan Montgomery, a pair of quality left-handed starters.
Even if they don’t win the division, the Cardinals would be in contention for one of three NL wildcard spots in the expanded playoff field.
And should Goldschmidt return to the playoffs, there’s reason to believe his extravagant season would continue: In 21 playoff games, he has eight home runs.