The Cardinals, as an organization, are a team that usually has a Hall of Famer on their roster. This has been true for a long, long time. We may not know it at the time, but eventually most Cardinals’ rosters have at least one Hall of Famer. From (probably) Yadier Molina to Albert Pujols to Ozzie Smith to Lou Brock to Stan Musial to Johnny Mize to Frankie Frisch to Rogers Hornsby. There is a slight gap when Mark McGwire played and if the steroid dominoes fall, McGwire should also make it eventually.
Yadier Molina is the currently likely Hall of Famer and whether or not you agree with his case, he probably has nothing left to do. Going out on a high note certainly couldn’t hurt, but from the chatter about his Hall of Fame chances, it seems as if he will make it regardless of his 2022. The Cardinals will have a gap, possibly, of not having a Hall of Famer when Yadi leaves.
Except maybe not. They have two players who will have a case to make the Hall of Fame. Depending on how the rest of their careers go. Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt have both done the hard work towards making the Hall. Now it’s time to age well. Which may be just as hard. The question I ask is: what do they have to do in order to make the Hall before they retire?
We’ll start with Paul Goldschmidt, who actually very much has the peak to make the Hall of Fame. His case was extremely weak prior to 2021, which wouldn’t seem to have that much importance. But my rule of thumb for a Hall of Fame peak is 5 seasons of at least 5+ WAR. He did have that by Baseball-Reference.
I prefer Fangraphs, especially for position players, and he kind of had it there. He had four seasons of 5 WAR and one season of 4.9, which is essentially the same. But three of his five seasons were nearly exactly at 5 WAR (4.9, 5.1, 5.3) which is I would not really describe as a Hall peak personally. I’m small Hall though. But then 2021 happened. He had 4.9 fWAR and 6.1 bWAR. When you add a sixth 5 WAR season, it’s a big deal for me. So I think he has the peak.
He just needs the longevity. Now while I say I am small Hall, I am not really a longevity guy. And by that I mean, it’s much less important to me that you’re around a while. I vastly lean on the importance of a Hall of Fame peak. This is maybe a bad comparison because most people agree with this, but give me 10 Sandy Koufaxs over Rafael Palmeiro. I’m not “Hall peak and you’re in” though either. I wouldn’t have voted for Johan Santana.
The difficult challenge for Goldschmidt, honestly, is that his career effectively started at 24. He had 177 PAs at 23, and was a full-time starter. Goldschmidt is already going to be 34, arguably has a Hall of Fame peak, and.... only has 50.7 bWAR and 46.3 fWAR. There’s no real benchmark for how high the WAR needs to be, but there are plenty of 60+ WAR guys who struggle to get in. Goldschmidt plays 1B though. Unlike some positions, 1B does not get screwed and might even be overrepresented in the Hall. Voters like them offense.
Goldschmidt’s three most similar players through age 33 are first basemen without Hall of Fame resumes. You have Derrek Lee as his #1, though I suspect this is because of Lee’s out of nowhere 5.2 fWAR season at 33. Goldschmidt has had a much better career otherwise through 33 and Lee retired two years later. His #3, Fred McGriff, would seem to be a better comparison except McGriff is all longevity, no real Hall of Fame peak. He was certainly a much worse player at 33 than Goldschmidt appears to be right now.
Then we have player #2, who is actually a very good comp for the simple fact that they had a Hall of Fame peak at 33 and simply needed to age well. This guy did not age well. This guy also did steroids, but even ignoring that, he has no shot at the Hall. Player #2 is Jason Giambi. Through his age 32 season, Giambi had 41 bWAR. He then had a replacement season at 33. He bounced back with two more great seasons, and then had 2.1 WAR from age 36 to age 43. Player #4 is Joey Votto, but he’ll probably need to play better than Votto has since he turned 34. Votto does have 2021, but he has a couple years where he added nothing too. Goldschmidt can’t afford that.
Goldschmidt is a 6-time All-Star, four-time silver slugger, and four-time Gold Glover. He has three top 3 MVP finishes, and two more finishes in the top 6 (including 2021). He has 280 homers and 987 RBIs. I don’t think awards or the counting stats are getting him there, so it’s pretty much all up to WAR. Goldschmidt is projected for 3.4 WAR by ZiPS next year. Does that put him on pace?
Well, he’s 34 right now. He has three years left as a Cardinal, and if these projections turn out accurate, he’ll be coming off a 2.4 WAR season when he becomes a free agent. He would probably continue playing, whether it be for the Cardinals or not. Let’s say he plays another three years, which would have him retire at 39-years-old. Using the “minus 0.5 every season he ages” method, he would retire with 59.2 WAR. I think he needs to do better than that.
Because of debuting late for a Hall of Famer, Goldschmidt is in that weird space where he doesn’t really need to add to his Hall of Fame peak, but he kind of needs one or two more peak seasons because he doesn’t have enough time to accumulate. And if your career WAR isn’t especially high and your career accomplishments or hitting magical numbers aren’t going to happen, I think you need an especially strong peak. Which Goldschmidt kind of doesn’t have.
Onto Nolan Arenado. Interestingly, he has that “IT” factor, where people for some reason just sort of think of him as a Hall of Famer already. Some players have it. Yadier Molina has it. Brian McCann and Russell Martin, two similar players, do not. Many people I would bet would think Arenado has a better shot at making the Hall than Goldschmidt, and that may be true because of the voting, but by the numbers, it is extremely not true.
Cause two dirty little secrets about Arenado. One, he doesn’t have a Hall of Fame peak. He has four seasons of 5+ fWAR. Once again, Baseball-Reference likes him better, as he does have five seasons of 5+ bWAR. Actually bWAR has him with nearly 10 more WAR than Fangraphs. This is a combination of B-R liking his defense more and I think not penalizing him as much for Coors Field. At Busch Stadium, B-R and FG are in agreement.
I’m a little shaken by how much different his Hall of Fame case is depending on whether you use Baseball-Reference or Fangraphs. This is a Cardinals website, so I can guess where most people will pick, but keep in mind YADIER MOLINA IS NOT A HALL OF FAMER BY bWAR okay that was a cheap shot, sorry.
Anyway, I’m glad Arenado now plays for the Cardinals because the interesting thing about my perhaps wrong assumption that most people think of him as a future Hall of Famer is that he seems to... defy the odds. Larry Walker was hurt enormously by playing at Coors Field. Took him too long to make it. Coors Field seems to somehow help Arenado as people have consistently overrated his offense throughout his career. (People don’t think of hitters in these terms, but I’d venture to guess most people think of him as better than a 118 wRC+ or 121 OPS+ hitter). Arenado plays 3B, which is sure as shit affecting Scott Rolen, but does not seem like it’ll hurt Arenado.
I’m just fascinated by players like Arenado and peoples’ perception of him, because there honestly is a weird thing where some players just have some factor that people instantly accept as Hall of Famers and he’s absolutely one of them. You could say defense, but again Scott Rolen! Or even Adrian Beltre before he had a weirdly great late 30s career. Again, Yadier Molina, even before the numbers make him look like a Hall of Famer, had that factor.
So truth be told, Arenado might not really need to do anything special. He can just age normally. I think if that happens, he’ll be a weak Hall of Famer and I probably wouldn’t vote for him (I won’t have a vote don’t worry). He has 9 Gold Gloves, though I’m not sure he’ll be adding to that total with Ke’Bryan Hayes in the same league now. It’s a matter of when, not if, Hayes starts winning Gold Gloves. Arenado is lucky Hayes was hurt for half of 2021. Omar Vizquel has 11 Gold Gloves, though 1) Arenado has much better stats than Vizquel offensively and 2) Vizquel was clearly going to make the Hall before the sexual harassment and domestic abuse allegations came to light.
But for me personally? I want another 5+ fWAR season and he’d honestly need to age fairly well. He’s only going to be 31, so he has some time for sure. And he might have multiple 5+ WAR seasons and all my talk about him being a weak Hall of Famer may very well look stupid and I hope it does! I really do. That would be great for the Cardinals, for Arenado, and for the fans.
It will be interesting to see how their careers play out and if they can ultimately have Hall of Fame caliber careers.
Side note: I will be continuing with the VEB Hall of Fame soon. I haven’t finished the list yet, and can’t tell you when I will, but I will get those posts up ASAP.