The cycle for a significant league hitter has been well established for many years. He improves rapidly in his early 20s, peaks around 27, perhaps holds that for a number of years after which begins a slow decline.
After which there’s Paul Goldschmidt.
Goldschmidt was a positive player for the primary a part of his profession with the Arizona Diamondbacks, making six All-Star teams. His peak years, as you may expect, ran from age 25, when he led the league in homers and runs batted in, through age 30.
But when he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals after the 2018 season, a few of his numbers began to drop. While he still provided an amazing deal of value, he stopped making the All-Star team.
His batting average stayed near .300, and his homer totals around 30, but he began slipping elsewhere, notably in walks. His on-base plus slugging percentage, nearly all the time over .900 in Arizona, slipped below that figure for 3 straight years.
This season has been a unique story. Through Wednesday, Goldschmidt was leading the National League within the trinity of statistics, batting average (.332), on-base percentage (.412) and slugging percentage (.611); the batting average and slugging numbers were profession highs. He already had 25 homers — six in need of last 12 months’s full season total — and he returned to the All-Star Game for the primary time in 4 years.
His O.P.S. was 1.023, one other profession high, and trailed only the 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 position players. And he has done it while playing Gold Glove-level defense at first base.
All of this has come at age 34, a time when most players have begun their decline. It has been 16 years since a player ended his 34-year-old season with an O.P.S. as high as Goldschmidt’s: Manny Ramirez had a 1.058 O.P.S. for the 2006 Red Sox. (Mark McGwire’s 70-homer season in 1998, which produced a 1.222 O.P.S., ranks first amongst players of their Age-34 season.) And Goldschmidt’s big Age-34 season has notably come at a time when baseball has way more stringent testing for performance-enhancing drugs.
The large season has accelerated Goldschmidt’s climb up the profession lists, with the primary baseman passing 300 homers, 1,000 runs and 1,000 R.B.I. this season.
“Whenever you drive the ball in addition to he does and also you hit for power, hit for average and are a well-rounded hitter — and never just hitting .220 with a 30 percent strikeout rate with 30 homers, but, like, actually being a hitter that’s feared in all situations — that’s a giant deal,” Cardinals Manager Oliver Marmol told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch last month.
Marmol was right: Goldschmidt stands likelihood of being only the eighth player since 2012 to hit 30 or more home runs while batting .330 or higher.
The one blemish on Goldschmidt’s profession season has been some recent criticism for declining to be vaccinated against Covid-19, which prevented him and third baseman Nolan Arenado from playing in a two-game series against Toronto last month. (The Cardinals split the games.) That issue would come up again if St. Louis were to face the Blue Jays within the World Series.
While neither team leads its division, Toronto and St. Louis have been on the move in recent weeks, and the Cardinals seem to be a legitimate threat to stop the Milwaukee Brewers from repeating as N.L. Central champions.
Goldschmidt, Arenado and second baseman Tommy Edman rank second, third and seventh in WAR amongst position players; no other team has three players in the highest 10. Combined, they account for 15 WAR.
The Cardinals even have a greater run differential than the Brewers, a significant statistic that St. Louis ranks fourth in amongst National League teams. And that figure could improve after St. Louis bolstered its rotation with trades on the deadline for José Quintana and Jordan Montgomery, a pair of quality left-handed starters.
Even in the event that they fail to win the division, the Cardinals could be in line for certainly one of the N.L.’s three wild-card spots within the expanded playoff field.
And will Goldschmidt get back to the postseason, there’s reason to consider his outlandish season would proceed: In 21 playoff games, he has eight home runs.