Paul Goldschmidt Is Making a Run at the Triple Crown(s)

© Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

While Francisco Lindor is having an MVP-caliber season — that is, one that would not be out of place given historical precedents and that belongs in the discussion of this year’s potential honorees — he’s not the leading candidate for National League hardware. Particularly after what he’s done in August as the Cardinals have pulled away with the NL Central lead, Paul Goldschmidt must be considered the favorite, as he not only leads the NL in all three slash stats (and wRC+), but he has a shot at winning the league’s Triple Crown.

The 34-year-old Goldschmidt finished the weekend hitting .338/.421/.639 with 33 home runs, 105 RBI, a 194 wRC+, and 6.9 WAR. All of those figures lead the Senior Circuit except for his homers, and he’s tied for the RBI lead. Here’s how those numbers stack up versus other NL players:

Paul Goldschmidt vs. the NL Field
Stat Goldschmidt Closest NL Player Margin
AVG .338 Freddie Freeman, .326 +.012
OBP .421 Juan Soto, .413 +.008
SLG .629 Nolan Arenado, .567 +.062
wRC+ 194 Nolan Arenado, 162 +32
HR 33 Kyle Schwarber, 35 -2
RBI 105 Pete Alonso, 105 0
WAR 6.9 Nolan Arenado, 6.8 +0.1

From a traditional standpoint, Goldschmidt is vying to become the first player to win the Triple Crown (league leads in batting average, homers, and RBI, for you whippersnappers) since the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera in 2012, and the first NL player to do so since the Cardinals’ Joe Medwick in 1937:

AL/NL Triple Crown Winners Since 1901
Year Lg Player Team AVG HR RBI
1901 AL Nap Lajoie PHA .426 14 125
1909 AL Ty Cobb DET .377 9 107
1912 NL Heinie Zimmerman CHC .372 14 104
1922 NL Rogers Hornsby STL .401 42 152
1925 NL Rogers Hornsby STL .403 39 143
1933 AL Jimmie Foxx PHA .356 48 163
1933 NL Chuck Klein PHI .368 28 120
1934 AL Lou Gehrig NYY .363 49 166
1937 NL Joe Medwick STL .374 31 154
1942 AL Ted Williams BOS .356 36 137
1947 AL Ted Williams BOS .343 32 114
1956 AL Mickey Mantle NYY .353 52 130
1966 AL Frank Robinson BAL .316 49 122
1967 AL Carl Yastrzemski BOS .326 44 121
2012 AL Miguel Cabrera DET .330 44 139
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Note that because RBI did not become an official stat until 1920, Lajoie, Cobb and Zimmerman are considered unofficial winners in the eyes of Major League Baseball, though the efforts of researchers that have since been incorporated into Retrosheet have confirmed them as such. Zimmerman’s status as a winner wasn’t really settled until 2015.

Meanwhile, Goldschmidt is trying to become the first player to win the slash-stat Triple Crown over a full-length season since the Brewers’ Christian Yelich in 2019 (Soto did so in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season). There have been 48 such winners overall according to my former colleague Cliff Corcoran, including eight during the Wild Card era:

AL/NL Slash Stat Triple Crown Winners Since 1995
Year Lg. Player Team AVG OBP SLG
1999 NL Larry Walker COL .379 .458 .710
2000 NL Todd Helton COL .372 .463 .698
2002 NL Barry Bonds SFG .370 .582 .799
2004 NL Barry Bonds SFG .362 .609 .812
2009 AL Joe Mauer MIN .365 .444 .587
2013 AL Miguel Cabrera DET .348 .442 .636
2019 NL Christian Yelich MIL .329 .429 .671
2020 NL Juan Soto WSN .351 .490 .695

The last player to combine both feats — the Triple-Double? the Double Triple Crown? — in the same season was Yastrzemski. It’s been done 10 times since 1901:

Traditional and Slash-Stat Triple Crown Winners Since 1901
Year Lg Player Team AVG OBP SLG HR RBI
1901 AL Nap Lajoie PHA .426 .463 .643 14 125
1909 AL Ty Cobb DET .377 .431 .517 9 107
1922 NL Rogers Hornsby STL .401 .459 .722 42 152
1925 NL Rogers Hornsby STL .403 .489 .756 39 143
1933 NL Chuck Klein PHI .368 .422 .602 28 120
1934 AL Lou Gehrig NYY .363 .465 .706 49 166
1942 AL Ted Williams BOS .356 .499 .648 36 137
1947 AL Ted Williams BOS .343 .499 .634 32 114
1966 AL Frank Robinson BAL .316 .410 .637 49 122
1967 AL Carl Yastrzemski BOS .326 .418 .622 44 121

I’ll leave it to Dan Szymborski to figure out the odds of Goldschmidt joining that select company if his chase gets closer. For now it will suffice to say that while Lindor, Arenado, Freeman, Manny Machado, and Mookie Betts are having strong enough seasons that one of them going bananas over the final six weeks while Goldschmidt tails off could tip the balance in their favor, the 34-year-old first baseman has to be considered the heavy favorite to bring home the hardware that eluded him in 2013 and ’15, when he was the runner-up in the voting.

Goldschmidt has rocketed into this position thanks to an absolutely torrid second half during which he’s hit .359/.442/.744 (225 wRC+) with 13 homers and 35 RBI. At the All-Star break, he led the NL in the slash categories and advanced ones, but trailed Schwarber in homers and Alonso in RBI; he’s made up a lot of ground since, particularly on the former, who has homered just twice in August:

Paul Goldschmidt vs. the NL Field (Through 1st Half)
Stat Goldschmidt Closest NL Player Margin
AVG .330 Freddie Freeman, .321 +.009
OBP .414 Juan Soto, .405 +.009
SLG .590 Austin Riley, .575 +.015
wRC+ 184 Freddie Freeman, 158 +26
HR 20 Kyle Schwarber, 29 -9
RBI 70 Pete Alonso, 78 -8
WAR 4.6 Dansby Swanson, 4.5 +0.1

On June 1, Ben Clemens wrote about Goldschmidt’s hot start and observed that he was having success when swinging at inside pitches, as well as pulling the ball in the air with greater frequency. For the first of those, Ben used a more esoteric definition of “inside” than the standard Gameday zones, though I think those get the point across well enough. Here’s what he’s done on pitches on the inner third of the plate and further inside:

Paul Goldschmidt vs. Inside Pitches
2015 186 26.8% .343 .289 .671 .575 .458 .405
2016 219 31.1% .297 .256 .512 .474 .386 .360
2017 167 25.1% .312 .289 .617 .583 .434 .415
2018 211 30.6% .286 .254 .486 .429 .373 .342
2019 198 29.0% .244 .222 .403 .383 .307 .294
2020 74 32.0% .281 .282 .491 .492 .401 .407
2021 190 28.0% .343 .317 .614 .612 .429 .423
2022 168 31.8% .366 .277 .761 .551 .503 .398
SOURCE: Baseball Savant
Gameday zones 1, 4, 7, 11, and 12.

Goldschmidt is getting better results on those pitches on the inner third and in than at any other time in the Statcast era, though that’s in part due to a wider-than-usual divergence between his expected results and his actual ones (a point to which I’ll return). His SLG on those pitches is more than 200 points above his 2015-21 SLG of .540 as well as this year’s xSLG of .551. As you can see by the PA% column, such pitches are also accounting for a larger share of his results than at any other time in the Statcast era.

As for those pulled fly balls, they account for a greater share of Goldschmidt’s batted balls than at any other time in the Statcast era, and his slugging percentage on those is higher than in any other full season since 2017:

Paul Goldschmidt Pulled Fly Balls
2015 21 5.0% .714 .714 2.714 850
2016 31 7.1% .452 .452 1.645 444
2017 35 8.4% .629 .629 2.371 662
2018 34 8.1% .500 .500 1.882 532
2019 46 10.6% .511 .500 1.822 474
2020 10 6.7% .667 .600 2.222 577
2021 38 8.1% .405 .395 1.459 370
2022 43 12.3% .512 .488 1.951 550

At times during the Statcast era, Goldschmidt has been more productive on such balls in terms of AVG and wRC+, but the larger footprint of this year’s batch more than makes up for it.

So, how often is Goldschmidt producing fly balls on these inside pitches? With the caveat that Statcast and Sports Info Solutions’ batted ball classifications tend to differ at times, Goldschmidt has 21 such batted ball events so far, one off his Statcast era season high, set in 2019; he had 21 combined in 2020-21. Those account for 6% of his batted balls, one percentage point ahead of his high set in 2019; he’s generally been in the 3-4% range. His .632 AVG, 2.421 SLG, and 1.145 wOBA on those pitches are all his highest marks since 2018, and miles ahead of his expected numbers (.351 xBA, 1.348 xSLG, .641 xwOBA).

On that note, while Goldschmidt is hitting the ball hard — his 91.0 mph average exit velo, 12.6% barrel rate, and 47.3% hard-hit rate are all in the 83rd to 86th percentile — those numbers are still down a bit from last year. He actually has the majors’ largest gaps between his expected and actual batting average, and the same is true in terms of his slugging percentage and wOBA:

Statcast xwOBA Leaders
Rk. Player Team PA BA xBA Diff SLG xSLG Diff wOBA xwOBA Diff
1 Paul Goldschmidt STL 529 .338 .265 .073 .629 .506 .123 .446 .375 .071
2 Nolan Arenado STL 500 .306 .269 .037 .567 .457 .110 .398 .345 .053
3 Jeff McNeil NYM 448 .321 .276 .045 .460 .379 .081 .364 .316 .048
4 Manny Machado SDP 508 .304 .267 .037 .537 .448 .089 .387 .341 .046
5 José Ramírez CLE 527 .283 .266 .017 .548 .426 .122 .378 .334 .044
6 Randal Grichuk COL 431 .275 .235 .040 .432 .368 .064 .327 .285 .042
7 José Iglesias COL 432 .306 .270 .036 .400 .328 .072 .326 .285 .041
8 Xander Bogaerts BOS 508 .303 .254 .049 .448 .376 .072 .357 .317 .040
9 Ian Happ CHC 511 .279 .243 .036 .462 .383 .079 .352 .312 .040
10 Luis González SFG 294 .255 .214 .041 .371 .308 .063 .307 .270 .037
11 Jonathan India CIN 295 .253 .229 .024 .401 .325 .076 .318 .281 .037
12 Mark Canha NYM 408 .278 .242 .036 .418 .348 .070 .354 .317 .037
SOURCE: Baseball Savant
Yellow = top two in stat category among qualifiers.

I suspect that the extra share of pulled fly balls — which so often go for extra-base hits – is a major driver of the gaps between expected and actual production; Happ, Canha, Arenado, Bogaerts, Machado, Goldschmidt, and Iglesias all have wOBA-xwOBA gaps of at least .393 on pulled fly balls, which places them in the 82nd percentile or above among players with at least 10 such batted ball events. But as my recent looks at Machado, Lindor (and, peripherally, McNeil) and others have illustrated, there’s more than one route to exceptional production.

I do think that those aforementioned gaps point to some potential for Goldschmidt’s regression over the final six weeks. But particularly with his recent surge coinciding with the Cardinals taking control of the NL Central race — making the games he and Arenado missed in Toronto due to their unvaccinated status (which the Cardinals split) a moot point — the die may be cast when it comes to the NL MVP award. If he does win, Goldschmidt would be the first first baseman to win a full-season MVP award since Joey Votto in 2010. So long as he continues to clean up in the aforementioned statistical categories, it will be tough to mount a convincing argument in any one else’s favor — including that of teammate Arenado, who has hit for “only” a 200 wRC+ in the second half.

Particularly in this impressive season of his, I’ve been asked several times about where Goldschmidt stands regarding the Hall of Fame. I wrote a few paragraphs about him in that context last month, but even since then, he’s made impressive progress. He entered the season ranked 25th overall at 46.5 JAWS, and 0.1 above the peak standard of 42.1 for first baseman. At the time I wrote the aforementioned piece, he had produced his seventh-best season by bWAR, thereby accelerating his climb the rankings. He’s now at 7.1, his second-best season by bWAR, and his overall line has jumped from 50.7/42.2/46.5 at the start of the season to 57.8/44.7/51.2 today. He’s 15th in peak, and 18th overall, 2.6 points below the JAWS standard, and he’ll keep gaining double traction for the remainder of the year; ZiPS projects him for another 1.1 WAR, which would push him past Mark McGwire in JAWS (52.0). I strongly suspect he’s well on his way, regardless of how he fares this awards season — but of course, an MVP award and a Triple Crown (or two) would only further his cause.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
1 year ago

I have to wonder if his vax status will cost him votes. Doesn’t “valuable” imply making yourself available to the team for every game you’re healthy for?

1 year ago
Reply to  Nathaniel

Not really. Only 7 batters played in 160 or more games last year; just about everyone gets several off days per season even when healthy.

1 year ago
Reply to  Nathaniel

Maybe if there is a dead heat, but it seems unreasonable to ding him so severely for missing one series. If you wouldn’t disqualify someone for getting a three-game suspension for fighting or something else, then it hardly makes sense to disqualify Goldschmidt here. Of course, he could miss other games and even these games already missed could cost him the triple crown.

1 year ago
Reply to  TKDC

Yeah I would argue the penalty is already baked in by missing games. It’s not great but it’s not hard to figure it out.

I’d be ticked if I was his teammate though.

1 year ago
Reply to  TKDC

Technically, it was only a two-game series, which seems a little odd in hindsight for an out-of-country game. And frankly, it doesn’t seem to have mattered. The Cards lost one blow-out 10 to 3 from a bullpen collapse (highlighted by Springer grand slam), and won the other handedly 6-1. Pujols replaced Goldschmidt and had 3 hits, including a HR, 1 BB, and 4 RBIs in the series.

As a fan I was a little annoyed, but it’s hard to separate my feelings from my view that the vaccines are good and he should vax.

1 year ago
Reply to  Number20

Toronto isn’t some far off exotic destination. Might be the most pain in the ass ever, in that you need to hit some checkboxes and answer a couple questions to someone in a uniform.

It’s several hours longer flight to California than Toronto from St. Louis.

Pepper Martin
1 year ago
Reply to  Nathaniel

One of the criteria for the MVP award is “general character, disposition, loyalty and effort” and if you — like me — take the position that people refusing to get the vaccine kept COVID alive long enough for more transmissible and vaccine-resistent variants to develop, leading to millions of additional needless deaths, then there simply is no possibility that you could vote for someone who’s voluntarily unvaccinated as MVP, since they’re an unrepentant mass-murderer. Sad but true; my kids were too young to get vaccinated when they caught COVID in May of 2022, and I lay their inevitable early deaths at the hands of Goldschmidt and everyone like him who let this pandemic draw on longer than it had to. He, personally, is responsible for the murder of my children, and I will never forgive him, and everyone like him, for it.

1 year ago
Reply to  Pepper Martin

What an absolutely absurd comment. At first I was like hmm, ok, maybe. Then I was like ok slow down a little bit, then by the end I feel like I need to call your local dhs office if that is your opinion on your kids future.

Last edited 1 year ago by carter
1 year ago
Reply to  carter

I think I stopped following the plot at “unrepentant mass murderer.”

“Potentially unrepentant manslaughterer”…Maybe. But only if I was in a cranky mood.

free-range turducken
1 year ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Based on my years of experience watching Law and Order, I believe the proper term is “depraved indifference”.

Ukranian to Vietnamese to French is back
1 year ago
Reply to  Pepper Martin

One of the criteria for the MVP awards is “general character, success, loyalty and perseverance”, if you – aka aa – occupy a location, aka a petrified, loaluknoestu a0, kao ao aaa you akao, kao aaa you are necessary instruction busivnøstu, simply it is possible , and you can blame them for the speed, who volunteered to be vaccinated against MVP, because they are unrepentant mass murderers. Sad, but true; you can’t do it, but you don’t want to beat the government because they caught the Pandemic in 2022. Now, this will allow random damage to the hands of Goludshmådt and everyone else who allowed this pandemic to drag on until it was supposed to

1 year ago
Reply to  Pepper Martin

Aside from your excessive judgments overshadowing the nuggets of truth that are included in your rant, the vaccines weren’t able to be developed and deployed quickly enough to prevent most of the variants from developing no matter how many people refused to vaccinate

Jeff in Jerseymember
1 year ago
Reply to  Pepper Martin

I’m sorry for the loss of your children.

1 year ago
Reply to  Pepper Martin

@Pepper Martin To be constructively consistent you’d have to claim (and perhaps you do) that anyone supporting either major party is guilty of a similar complicity.

1 year ago
Reply to  Pepper Martin

seek help

1 year ago
Reply to  Nathaniel

clown comment bro