The cycle for a major league hitter has been well established for decades. He improves rapidly in his first 20 years, peaks around 27, perhaps sustains him for a few years and then begins a slow decline.
And then there is Paul Goldschmidt.
Goldschmidt was an excellent player for the first part of his career with the Arizona Diamondbacks, forming six All-Star teams. His peak years of his, as you might expect, range from the age of 25, when he led the championship in homers and beaten runs, to the age of 30.
But when he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals after the 2018 season, some of his numbers began to decline. Although he still provided a lot of value, he stopped being part of the All-Star team.
His batting average has stayed close to .300 and his homer is around 30, but he has started to slip elsewhere, particularly on walks. Its base most hit rate, almost always above .900 in Arizona, has dropped below that figure for three consecutive years.
This season was a different story. Until Wednesday, Goldschmidt led the National League in the trinity of stats, batting average (.332), percentage-to-base (.412) and hit-rate (.611); batting average and slugging numbers were his career highs. He already had 25 homers – six fewer than last year’s season total – and he’s returned to the All-Star Game for the first time in four years.
His OPS was 1,023, another career record, followed only by American Leaguers Yordan Álvarez of the Houston Astros and Aaron Judge of the Yankees. Goldschmidt is also in second place after Judge in the WAR version of Baseball Reference for position players. And he did it while playing defense-level Gold Glove at first base.
All of this came at the age of 34, a time when most players began their decline. It’s been 16 years since a player ended his 34-year season with an OPS as high as Goldschmidt’s: Manny Ramirez had 1,058 OPS for the 2006 Red Sox. produced 1,222 OPS, ranks # 1 among players in their season at 34.) And Goldschmidt’s big season at 34 came particularly at a time when baseball has much stricter testing for performance-enhancing drugs. .
The big season accelerated Goldschmidt’s rise on the career lists, with first baseman surpassing 300 homers, 1,000 runs and 1,000 RBI this season.
“When you drive the ball like him and hit for power, you hit average and are a well-rounded hitter – and not just hitting .220 with a 30 percent strikeout rate with 30 homers, but, like, actually a hitter. which is feared in all situations – it’s a big deal, ”Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last month.
Marmol was right: Goldschmidt has a good chance of being only the eighth player since 2012 to score 30 or more home runs by hitting .330 or more.
The one flaw of Goldschmidt’s career season has been some recent criticism for refusing to be vaccinated against Covid-19, which prevented him and third baseman Nolan Arenado from playing in a two-game streak against Toronto the month. last. (The Cardinals split the games.) This problem would have re-emerged if St. Louis had faced the Blue Jays in the World Series.
While neither team heads its division, Toronto and St. Louis have moved in the past few weeks and the Cardinals seem like a legitimate threat to prevent the Milwaukee Brewers from repeating themselves as NL Central champions.
Goldschmidt, Arenado and second baseman Tommy Edman finish second, third and seventh in WAR among the position players; no other team has three players in the top 10. Together, they represent 15 WARs.
The Cardinals also have a better running differential than the Brewers, a key statistic for which St. Louis ranks fourth among National League teams. And that figure could improve after St. Louis strengthened its rotation with deadline exchanges for José Quintana and Jordan Montgomery, a quality left-handed starter duo.
Even if they fail to win the division, the Cardinals would be in line for one of NL’s three wild card spots in the expanded playoff field.
And should Goldschmidt return to the postseason, there’s reason to believe his extravagant season will continue: in 21 playoff games, he has eight home runs.