Paul Goldschmidt is booming for the St. Louis Cardinals

The major league hitter’s cycle has been well established for decades. He improves rapidly in his early 20s, peaks around 27, probably holds it for a few years and then begins a slow decline.

And then there’s Paul Goldschmidt.

Goldschmidt was a prolific player in the early part of his career with the Arizona Diamondbacks, making six All-Star teams. His peak years were, as you might expect, from age 25 when he led the league in homers and runs batted in at age 30.

But when he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals after the 2018 season, some of his numbers began to decline. While he still provided more value, he stopped short of making the All-Star team.

His batting average remained near .300, and his homer total was 30, but he began to slip elsewhere, especially in walks. His on-base plus slugging percentage, always over .900 at Arizona, slipped below that figure for three straight years.

This season is a different story. Through Wednesday, Goldschmidt was leading the National League in a trinity of statistics, batting average (.332), on-base percentage (.412) and slugging percentage (.611); Batting average and slugging numbers were career highs. He already had 25 homers — six fewer than last year’s full season total — and he returned to the All-Star Game for the first time in four years.

His OPS was 1.023, another career high and trailing only American Leaguers Yordon Alvarez of the Houston Astros and Aaron Judge of the Yankees. Goldschmidt is second only to Judge in Baseball Reference’s edition of WAR for position players. And he’s done it while playing Gold Glove-level defense at first base.

All of these have come at age 34, when most players begin their decline. It’s been 16 years since a player ended his age-34 season with as high an OPS as Goldschmidt: Manny Ramirez had a 1.058 OPS for the 2006 Red Sox. (Mark McGwire’s 70-homer season in 1998, which produced a 1.222 OPS, was first among players in his age-34 season.) And Goldschmidt’s big age-34 season came at a time when baseball has a more rigorous test for performance. – Enhancement drugs.

The big season has accelerated Goldschmidt’s climb to the career charts, with the first baseman surpassing 300 homers, 1,000 runs and 1,000 RBI this season.

“When you drive the ball and you hit for power, a hitter for average and a well-rounded hitter — and not just hitting .220 with 30 homers with a 30 percent strikeout rate, but, as in, a hitter who’s feared in all situations — that’s a big deal,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said last month. told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Marmol is right: Goldschmidt has a good chance to become the eighth player since 2012 to hit 30 or more home runs while batting .330 or higher.

The only blemish on Goldschmidt’s career season is recent criticism for refusing to be vaccinated against Covid-19, which prevented him and third baseman Nolan Arenado from playing in last month’s two-game series against Toronto. (The Cardinals split the games.) That problem will come up again if St. Louis faces the Blue Jays in the World Series.

While neither team is leading its division, Toronto and St. Louis have been making moves in recent weeks, and the Cardinals look like a legitimate threat to prevent the Milwaukee Brewers from repeating as NL Central champions.

Goldschmidt, Arenado and second baseman Tommy Edmon are second, third and seventh among position players in WAR; No other team has three players in the top 10. Combined, they have 15 battles.

The Cardinals have a better run differential than the Brewers, a key statistic that ranks St. Louis fourth among National League teams. And that figure could improve after St. Louis beefed up its rotation with trades at the deadline for Jose Quintana and Jordan Montgomery, a pair of quality left-handed starters.

Even if they fail to win the division, the Cardinals will be in line for one of the NL’s three wild-card spots in an expanded playoff field.

And if Goldschmidt returns to the postseason, there’s reason to believe his freakish season will continue: In 21 playoff games, he has eight home runs.

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