The cycle for the major league hitter has worked well for decades. It improves rapidly in his early 20s, peaks around age 27, perhaps stays that way for a few years, and then begins to decline slowly.
And then there’s Paul Goldschmidt.
Goldschmidt was an excellent player early in his career with the Arizona Diamondbacks, playing on six All-Star teams. His peak years, as you might expect, began at age 25, when he led the league in homers and runs, through his 30s.
But when he was exchanged for St. Louis Cardinals after the 2018 season, some of his numbers began to drop. While he was still a big hit, he stopped making the All-Star Team.
His batting average remained close to .300 and his homer around 30, but he began to drop elsewhere, especially on walks. His on-base percentage plus slugging, which was almost always over .900 in Arizona, fell below that number three years in a row.
This season was a different story. On Wednesday, Goldschmidt led the National League in a trio of stats: batting average (.332), slugging percentage (.412), and slugging percentage (.611); batting average and slugging were both career highs. He already had 25 homers – six fewer than last year – and returned to the All-Star Game for the first time in four years.
His OPS was 1,023, another career high, and was only beaten by American League member Jordan Alvarez of the Houston Astros and Aaron Judge of the Yankees. Goldschmidt is also second only to the referee in WAR version from Baseball Reference for positional players. And he did it while playing gold-glove defense at first base.
All this happened at the age of 34, when most players began to decline. It’s been 16 years since then player completed his 34-year season with the same high OPS as Goldschmidt: Manny Ramirez had a 1,058 OPS for the 2006 Red Sox. (Mark McGwire’s 1998 70-homer season of 1,222 ranks first among players aged 34.) – Stimulants.
A big season has accelerated Goldschmidt’s rise up the career lists, with first baseman hitting 300 homers, 1,000 runs and 1,000 RBI this season.
“When you dribble as well as he does and bat for power, batting average and being an all-around hitter — and not just batting .220 with a 30 percent chance of hitting 30 homers, but, for example, actually being a hitter who being afraid in all situations is a big deal,” said Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol. told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch last month.
Marmol was right: Goldschmidt has a good chance of becoming only the eighth player since 2012 to hit 30 or more home runs while batting .330 or better.
The only downside to Goldschmidt’s career season has been recent criticism for not vaccinating 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 question would come up again if St. Louis were to face the Blue Jays in the World Series.
While neither team leads their division, Toronto and St. Louis have been on the move in recent weeks, and the Cardinals seem like a legitimate threat to stop the Milwaukee Brewers from repeating themselves as NL Central champions.
Goldschmidt, Arenado, and second baseman Tommy Edman are ranked second, third, and seventh in WAR among positional players; no other team has three players in the top 10. They add up to 15 WAR.
The Cardinals also have differential works better than the brewers vital statistics that St. Louis is ranked fourth among the teams in the National League. And that figure could improve after St. “Louis” bolstered his rotation by trading Jose Quintana and Jordan Montgomery, a pair of quality starting left-handers, on deadline.
Even if they fail to win the division, the Cardinals will be in line for one of three NL wildcard spots in the extended playoff field.
And if Goldschmidt returns to the postseason, there’s reason to believe his outlandish season will continue, with eight home runs in 21 playoff games.