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Paul Goldschmidt’s way-too-early Hall of Fame case

In which I use Jeff Bagwell and Joey Votto to consider Goldschmidt’s odds.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Arizona Diamondbacks Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Paul Goldschmidt is incredible.

Over his first 48 games and 203 plate appearances this season, Goldschmidt was slashing just .198/.320/.355. But, into early June, he was already regressing to the mean — in the positive direction that we all expected.

On Friday, Goldschmidt’s average jumped to .300 for the first time this season. In the 91 games since he bottomed out at the .198/.320/.355 line, Goldschmidt has hit .350/.443/.661 (1.104 OPS) with 28 home runs and 69 RBIs over 414 plate appearances. For the season, he’s now slashing .300/.403/.561 with 33 homers and 82 RBIs, leading the NL in OPS with his .963 mark. Not bad for a guy who played a quarter of his season hitting below .200.

This type of dominance is not new for the 30-year-old first baseman. In 2018, he was named to his sixth consecutive National League All-Star team. In those seasons, Goldschmidt has averaged a .303/.409/.546 line, with 34 homers and 111 RBIs per 162 games.

It’s still quite early, but Goldschmidt has already cemented himself as one of the best first basemen of the decade, begging the question as to whether he is currently building a Hall of Fame resume.

One of the most popular ways to evaluate a Hall of Fame case is to use the Jaffe WAR Score system, better known as (JAWS). What JAWS effectively does is take a player’s career WAR and averages it with their WAR from their best seven seasons, even if those were not consecutive. The point of this is to equally weight players who have accumulated Hall of Fame resumes more from longevity (along the lines of someone like Jim Thome) and those who had incredible peaks without playing many years (like Sandy Koufax).

Goldschmidt’s numbers may be slightly skewed considering he’s only played eight seasons in the league, but his seven best seasons are quite close to the Hall of Fame average. Yes, already. Goldschmidt’s been playing at a near-Hall of Fame level since the day he became the full-time starter at first base in Arizona in 2012.

He’s accumulated 39.9 bWAR during that time, ranking as the 22nd-best seven-year peak among all first basemen in MLB history. He falls just short of the 42.7 WAR mark, which is the average seven-year peak of Hall of Fame first basemen, but you have to remember that Goldschmidt’s seven-year peak includes the 3.2 WAR he put up in 2012, the lowest mark he has posted since he became a full-time starter.

If we use Goldschmidt’s last six years — his All-Star caliber years — as any indication, his seven-year peak should soon surpass the Hall of Fame average. Goldschmidt has averaged 6.1 WAR during this time. Including the rest of this season, Goldschmidt still needs to produce 6.2 WAR by the end of next year in order to reach the 42.7 seven-year peak WAR that the average Hall of Fame first baseman produced. It seems pretty possible, potentially even more so if he can produce another 0.3 WAR this year.

In other words, Goldschmidt’s “peak” has already been fairly comparable to some of the best first basemen to play the game, despite him playing less than a decade so far.

In fact, Goldschmidt is the only player in the top 58 first basemen in JAWS to have played in fewer than 10 seasons. Surely, his JAWS has been helped by an incredible peak. Even still, since it’s a basic average between “total” and “peak” WAR, longevity does help pull that figure up. Goldschmidt might just have to play seven or eight more “solid” seasons in order to get a JAWS total that would make him competitive for the Hall of Fame.

Potentially helping Goldschmidt’s case is the fact that Jeff Bagwell was recently enshrined in Cooperstown. Through age-29 (which was Goldschmidt’s 2017 season), no batter is more similar to Goldschmidt than Bagwell, according to Baseball-Reference’s Similarity Scores. Take a look at their numbers:

Goldschmidt vs. Bagwell through age-29

Player AVG OBP SLG OPS HR/162 RBI/162
Player AVG OBP SLG OPS HR/162 RBI/162
Paul Goldschmidt 0.299 0.399 0.532 0.931 31 109
Jeff Bagwell 0.304 0.409 0.536 0.945 31 117

Bagwell had a very graceful aging curve, to say the least. He slashed .290/.406/.544 while averaging 38 home runs and 115 RBIs per 162 games over his final eight seasons in the league, putting him at 2,314 career hits, 449 career homers and 1,529 career RBI, all while maintaining a .408 on-base percentage.

It’s hard to expect Goldschmidt to be able to hit like that for the rest of his career, but if 2018 has been any indication, it’s that he certainly has the ability to produce post-age-29 like he did pre-age-29. That is obviously a good start.

Goldschmidt also has the six All-Star nominations, which is something Hall of Fame voters look at. (Whether they should is a different story.) Bagwell had just four, though he also won the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards in 1991 and 1994, respectively. That carries a lot of weight.

Goldschmidt’s Hall of Fame case may also be tied closely to that of fellow National League first basemen Joey Votto. Because Votto has played longer (12 seasons to Goldschmidt’s eight), has better numbers and has an MVP, he seems more like a shoo-in for the Hall at this point. But, in a way, Goldschmidt is like Votto Jr., or Votto with slightly more power. Both are incredibly talented batters with phenomenal plate discipline. From an overall profile standpoint, it’s not a huge stretch to say that Paul Goldschmidt and Joey Votto are similar. Baseball-Reference would agree; Votto was the fourth-most similar batter through age-29 to Goldschmidt.

One area where Goldschmidt does reign supreme, though, is base running. In the last 100 years, the only first basemen to produce more base running runs above average than Goldschmidt are Johnny Hopp and Darin Ernstad. Goldschmidt already has 122 career stolen bases, including a career-high 32 in 2016. The fact that he was able to be a plus base runner at a position that usually houses the worst base runners in the game (other than catcher) adds just another wrinkle to an already interesting Hall of Fame case for him.

Of course, asking whether Paul Goldschmidt is going to be a Hall of Famer, which is something that probably won’t even be discussed for another 15 years, is like asking high school seniors like me about their 401(k). It’s fun to think about (maybe not in the case of money for retirement), but it really isn’t relevant today. Oh well.

Regardless, Paul Goldschmidt is awesome, and maybe we should all appreciate him just a little bit more.

Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter, @DevanFink.