On Thursday, Paul Goldschmidt won his first ever MVP award. It was a long time coming, as Goldschmidt is a frequent name on MVP ballots for pretty much his entire career. He placed runner-up twice, 3rd once, and has been in the top 6 in MVP voting six times in his career. He did not receive an MVP vote in his debut two-month season, nor his first complete season, but starting at age 25, he received at least one MVP vote in every season but the one where injuries limited him to 109 games. He’s the type of player who deserves an MVP and it’s good to see him finally get one.
The MVP is important for other reasons. Prior to 2022, Goldschmidt did not necessarily have a great case for the Hall of Fame. He had a case, certainly, just not one I imagine would have gotten him elected. I think things have changed drastically. It seems weird that just one season could take a player from “probably not making the Hall even if he should” to “will probably make it, assuming reasonable decline in future,” but well if any season could catapult a player to the Hall, it would probably be the 2022 one Goldschmidt had. And again, look above: he has been establishing his case for years, it’s not like it’s literally just one season.
At the beginning of the season, I questioned what both Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado needed to do in order to make the Hall of Fame. Interestingly, both kind of needed to have the seasons they just had. I felt Arenado’s peak was kind of weak for a Hall of Famer, and he shut me right up with the best season of his career. And Goldschmidt had a stranger situation to deal with:
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.
I’m not sure I’d go as far as to suggest he has an especially strong peak, but he has a clear Hall of Fame peak which few would debate. The average Hall of Famer has a 7-peak season of 42.1 bWAR. Goldschmidt’s seven best seasons are now 45.1 bWAR. Before his 2022 season, his peak was 42 bWAR. Like I said above, it fits within a Hall of Fame peak, but he would not have had the career accomplishments, the milestones, or the WAR to make it despite that. He does not need to add to his peak whatsoever. He needed “one or two” peak seasons, and the second best season of his career seems like it will be enough (by both bWAR and fWAR, his 2015 was better actually).
But it’s not a sure thing quite yet. Because there’s still the matter that Goldschmidt debuted late in his career (for a Hall of Famer) and misses out on some good old accumulation that the typical Hall of Famers get. For example, Goldschmidt debuted on August 1st of his age 23 season. When Manny Machado reached August 1st of his age 23 season, he had nearly 20 WAR for his career already. And Goldschmidt only had 0.6 fWAR that season. It’s a huge disadvantage to start that late and make the Hall of Fame.
Bill James has a few Hall of Fame stats that may not necessarily be the best system for inducting Hall of Famers, but it’s probably a good measure of the traditional argument. By the Black Ink Test, Goldscmidt is not looking good. Black Ink Test is a measure of how many times a player led the league in “important stats.” Goldschmidt has just 16 against a Hall of Fame average of 27. He’s not very likely to add to that number either. By the Grey Ink Test - the same principle but you simply need to be top 10 at the important stats - Goldschmidt looks better. He’s at 134, with the average Hall of Famer being 144. He is much more likely to add to this total than the Black Ink Test. But these stats do penalize more recent players because there are more teams than for most of MLB history, so it’s harder to league the lead or be in the top 10 than it was in 1934.
By the Hall of Fame Monitor - which is intended to asses how likely an active player will make the Hall of Fame - Goldschmidt is probably in the right place - 100 is likely Hall of Famer and 130 is a virtual cinch. He’s not in the latter category and shouldn’t be, but at 105, he’s more likely than not. Which is exactly right. Lastly, the Hall of Fame standards has Goldschmidt needing some work to do. He’s at 38, when the average Hall of Famer is at 50. But this is a career stat.
For example, James awards a player one point for every 150 hits they get past 1,500 hits. Goldschmidt is at 1,750 hits, and assuming he doesn’t retire when his current deal is over, it seems like 2,100 hits is doable. That would give him three more points on the Hall of Fame monitor. He also gets one point for every 100 runs past 900 and for every 100 RBIs past 800. He’s at 1,045 for runs, 1042 for RBIs. 1,300 for each stat is doable, which would be six more points. All of a sudden, he’s at 47. He can add a point if he gets to 1,100 walks (174 away), 900 extra base hits (181 away), and if he gets 400 homers (75 away). The possibilities of all these depend on how long he wants to play. If he plays for five more years, even if he’s bad, they seem like a given. If he stays reasonably healthy, he can actually do most of these stats in just three seasons or less.
He actually has a weaker case on Fangraphs. On Baseball-Reference, Goldschmidt has 58.5 career bWAR, while the average Hall of Famer has 65.5 bWAR. If he plays three more seasons, he just needs an average of 2.3 bWAR per season to reach that. He has the peak and the career. For Fangraphs, he’s at 54 fWAR. In order to reach 65 fWAR, he needs 3.7 fWAR per season. This seems unlikely.
He also has a weaker than average peak by Fangraphs, although I don’t know what Fangraphs average 7-season peak season is, unfortunately. I suspect it’s lower than Baseball Reference actually. But his 7-season peak by Fangraphs is 40.5 fWAR. Again, the 2022 season was vital for him. His 7-season peak before 2022 by Fangraphs was 37.7. That’s a huge jump, especially given he did it at age 34.
Lastly, you may have been following along with the Hall of Fame voting for historical players. Well, why not apply the same standard to Goldschmidt’s Hall of Fame case? Here are the standards for position players that aren’t catchers at both career and peak:
PP: 68 WAR (4.4 WAR per 600 PAs)
PP: 43.1 bWAR Peak, 55.8 JAWS
And here’s Paul Goldschmidt’s statistical resume:
Career: 58.5 bWAR, 54 fWAR, 51.9 JAWS (per 600 PAs: 5 bWAR, 4.7 fWAR)
Peak: 45.3 bWAR, 40.5 fWAR
Acc: MVP, 7-time All-Star, 5-time Silver Slugger, 4-time Gold Glover
4-WAR seasons: 8 by both bWAR and 8 fWAR
As you can see, Goldschmidt is pretty weak on the career WAR by both stats and it’s questionable if he’ll reach either, though if he does, he’s a slam dunk Hall of Famer. While the number will go down if he plays for a long time, assuredly, he currently is playing at a Hall of Fame pace at a career level by both bWAR and fWAR. You can only control the plate appearances you’re given, and he’s played better than the average Hall of Famer per 600 PAs. He’s a 7-time All-Star and maybe more importantly, he’s certainly played like a 7-time All-Star. The hardware isn’t necessarily a selling point, but looks Hall of Fame worthy. (Compare that to Jim Edmonds, who won eight Gold Gloves, but made just four All-Star teams and won one Silver Slugger)
How does he project? Well, we don’t have ZiPS and I don’t trust Steamer, but what we do have is ZiPS projection of his 2022 season. Which was wildly off, but can give us a solid floor. There is no way his projection is going to be worse than his 2022 projection this coming season. ZiPS projected Goldschmidt for 3.4 WAR entering 2022. Now, your first instinct will be that his projection will obviously be better than that, but I don’t think it’ll be as much of a difference as you’d think. Just because Goldy will be 35 next year. Age is hugely important in projections.
While I usually use more a 0.5 decline assumption, I think the older Goldschmidt gets and the farther away from the current year we get, you actually assume more than that in decline. That won’t affect my two-year projections for his current contract. 3.4 WAR for next year and 2.9 WAR for the year after might not be strictly accurate, but I also think he may get just a bit higher than 3.4 next year for a projection. Which is 6.3 WAR for the next two years. I would be surprised if ZiPS is lower than this, personally.
For his age 37 and 38 seasons, I’m going to project him to decline a bit sharper. We’ll say, 2 WAR and 1.5 WAR for those seasons. I don’t feel comfortable projecting any WAR for his age 39 season, so we’ll say either he retires after 38 or that at 39, he hangs on for one more year, but doesn’t accumulate any value - which is fairly typical for a last season of just about any player. That’s 9.8 WAR for his career. I don’t feel like I’m making any large assumptions in this. Feels like a typical decline. Now, Goldschmidt may either age like Adrian Beltre or fall off a cliff, who knows, we can never predict these things. But 9.8 seems like a decent median projection to me for the rest of his career.
Which would mean he’d fall just short of 65 career WAR by Fangraphs, but he’s probably close enough for it to not matter. He blows past the average Hall of Famer by Baseball-Reference. His JAWS, which combines his career WAR with his 7-year peak, would be 56.8, over the 55.8 JAWS average for the position player Hall of Famers.
In other words, Paul Goldschmidt is very much on track to make the Hall of Fame and he doesn’t really need to do anything special for the rest of his career to make it.