The Best Offensive Player in Baseball

Living in a world where Mike Trout doesn’t suit up nightly leads to some difficult questions about who might be the best player in his absence. Given their similar ages and trajectories, Bryce Harper is a decent choice. That said, we could consider a host of names, including Jose Altuve, Kris Bryant, Mookie Betts, Josh Donaldson, Clayton Kershaw, Manny Machado, Corey Seager… you get the idea. There are a lot of really good baseball players out there who aren’t Mike Trout and all have good cases for second-best player.

If we focus just on offense, the field changes a little bit. Bryant is probably still up there. Harper and Donaldson, too. Joey Votto has a pretty good case, Anthony Rizzo is still very good, and Aaron Judge is certainly a force this season. But if you combine track record, current performance, and expected future performance, Paul Goldschmidt might top them all.

In terms of hitting, patience, and power, Goldschmidt is the complete package. He’s got a career batting average over .300, on-base percentage over .400, and slugging percentage over .500. The only other active players to meet those standards are Mike Trout and Joey Votto. And while those numbers are subject to Goldschmidt’s inevitable decline, players who retire with .300/.400/.500 slash lines tend to end up in the Hall of Fame. Chipper Jones and Frank Thomas are two the most recent examples. And Goldschmidt might be having his best year with the bat. His .323/.448/.596 receives the benefit of his home park, but the 164 wRC+ plays anywhere.

Hitting isn’t the only aspect of Goldschmidt’s offensive profile, either. He’s an excellent runner, both stealing and taking the extra base on batted balls. The list of players with more steals than Paul Goldschmidt since the start of the 2015 season is a short one. They are (in order of total stolen bases): Billy Hamilton, Dee Gordon, Jonathan Villar, Jose Altuve, Starling Marte, Jarrod Dyson, and Rajai Davis. When you take into account runs generated from stolen bases and losses from caught stealing, the list of players better than Goldschmidt over the last two-plus seasons is even shorter: Hamilton, Gordon, and Dyson.

Goldschmidt’s baserunning is curiously good for a first baseman. (Photo: Barry Stahl)

It’s not just on steals where he generates runs. He’s also in the top 10 since 2015 in Ultimate Base Runs (UBR), which measures extra bases taken. So far this season, his percentages of going first to third on a single (50%), first to home on a double (57%), and second to home on a single (63%) are all well above the respective league averages of 28%, 40%, and 60%. He’s done it without making an out.

So Goldschmidt augments his bat with his legs. But does that baserunning really make the difference when it comes to evaluating all players on offense? It sort of does. Let’s go back a ways, to the start of the 2013 and see where Goldschmidt ranks in offensive runs above average.

MLB’s Best Offensive Players: 2013-2017
Name PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ BsR Off WAR
Mike Trout 2990 149 .308 .416 .576 174 28.2 284.8 40.1
Paul Goldschmidt 2877 127 .307 .415 .543 153 16.8 195.0 26.2
Joey Votto 2655 107 .307 .435 .523 158 -11.9 171.7 22.3
Josh Donaldson 2879 139 .285 .377 .523 148 3.8 163.3 32.1
Miguel Cabrera 2747 130 .323 .407 .554 160 -27.0 163.2 22.3
Freddie Freeman 2676 107 .300 .393 .517 148 1.5 152.7 21.2
Andrew McCutchen 2951 104 .290 .383 .487 141 3.8 140.9 22.4
Bryce Harper 2431 115 .285 .396 .519 146 8.4 139.1 21.1
Anthony Rizzo 2975 133 .270 .372 .499 137 -2.9 126.1 20.2
Edwin Encarnacion 2741 163 .267 .363 .532 142 -7.4 124.7 16.2

Trout is lapping everyone, obviously, but Goldschmidt represents a clear number two. His wRC+ isn’t quite that of Joey Votto or Miguel Cabrera, but he makes up the difference on the basepaths. We could go year by year, but I’ll save us all a chart and tell you that nothing changes in 2014. It’s still Trout by a mile, and then Goldschmidt as a clear number two by more than 20 runs over Votto, Donaldson, and Rizzo. If you go from 2015, though, Goldschmidt gets caught by Votto.

MLB’s Best Offensive Players: 2015-2017
Name PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ BsR Off WAR
Mike Trout 1569 86 .311 .426 .592 176 13.9 156.6 21.7
Joey Votto 1657 77 .317 .442 .557 165 -7.1 122.8 15.3
Paul Goldschmidt 1688 72 .311 .427 .540 151 14.6 118.9 15.6
Bryce Harper 1539 82 .292 .418 .557 157 4.8 108.5 15.7
Josh Donaldson 1516 86 .292 .390 .565 156 5.1 105.8 17.9
Kris Bryant 1631 80 .281 .381 .524 143 14.4 99.6 17.5
Freddie Freeman 1339 66 .297 .397 .554 151 4.0 88.2 12.1
Nelson Cruz 1580 101 .295 .368 .558 152 -8.6 88.1 10.5
Anthony Rizzo 1669 78 .279 .386 .522 143 0.4 87.1 12.6
Jose Altuve 1692 48 .325 .377 .498 138 -0.9 75.5 13.9

Votto has been so good with the bat over the last few years, he was able to beat Goldschmidt by a few runs, although Goldschmidt still beats out Harper and Donaldson by a decent margin. Goldschmidt didn’t have a great 2016 season. He had a very good campaign, recording a 134 wRC+, but he wasn’t great. As a result, when we look at the numbers since the start of last season, he fares even worse.

MLB’s Best Offensive Players: 2016-2017
Name PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ BsR Off WAR
Mike Trout 887 45 .320 .445 .594 180 10.6 96.7 12.7
Freddie Freeman 858 48 .309 .411 .602 162 1.2 67.7 8.7
Kris Bryant 981 54 .285 .388 .548 147 7.3 64.9 10.9
Joey Votto 962 48 .319 .429 .567 159 -5.9 64.8 7.8
Paul Goldschmidt 993 39 .305 .421 .520 143 11.4 64.4 8.3
Jose Altuve 1003 33 .333 .394 .525 148 2.8 61.1 9.4
Josh Donaldson 805 45 .288 .406 .563 158 1.1 57.5 9.2
Daniel Murphy 844 36 .344 .389 .582 151 1.6 55.6 7.2
Mookie Betts 1016 42 .308 .362 .525 132 13.5 52.4 10.6
Anthony Rizzo 968 47 .280 .386 .530 141 -1.5 48.1 7.1

So he’s falling behind, which seemingly makes the claim for Goldschmidt as the best offensive player in Trout’s absence a dubious one. Look at the list, though. Like Trout, Freddie Freeman is out, too — and Bryant, Votto, and Goldschmidt are essentially in a dead heat with half a run separating the three players. Now let’s look at this year.

MLB’s Best Offensive Players: 2017
Name PA HR BABIP AVG OBP SLG wRC+ BsR Off WAR
Aaron Judge 264 22 .424 .338 .443 .703 200 -0.5 32.0 4.2
Paul Goldschmidt 288 15 .365 .323 .448 .596 165 6.0 29.8 3.5
Mike Trout 206 16 .361 .337 .461 .742 209 1.3 29.0 3.3
Ryan Zimmerman 237 19 .391 .367 .409 .716 189 0.0 26.9 2.5
Freddie Freeman 165 14 .356 .341 .461 .748 204 0.1 22.2 2.6
Corey Dickerson 278 15 .379 .335 .372 .608 160 1.5 22.1 2.8
Bryce Harper 258 16 .351 .315 .422 .606 161 -0.9 19.1 2.7
Yonder Alonso 206 16 .330 .303 .398 .635 174 0.2 19.1 2.2
Joey Votto 285 19 .280 .303 .418 .607 161 -3.2 19.1 2.8
Aaron Hicks 214 10 .341 .314 .423 .571 165 1.2 18.2 3.0

If you want to make a claim that Aaron Judge is the game’s best offensive player, the argument is right up there. He’s mashing and his wRC+ sits at 200, well above Goldschmidt’s. Despite that big disparity, Judge is only a couple offensive runs ahead. As for the other players we’ve been talking about, Votto is having another good season. Byrant is 17th on the list, not too far behind. Harper is playing really well after a disappointing 2016.

So how about another way of looking at things. We can also assess the talent expectation going forward. Here’s what the FanGraphs Depth Chart Projections have to say about the rest of the season.

MLB’s Best Offensive Players: 2017 ROS Projections
Name PA HR BABIP AVG OBP SLG wRC+ BsR Off WAR
Bryce Harper 390 20 .323 .290 .415 .546 151 0.3 24.5 3.6
Joey Votto 398 17 .326 .295 .423 .519 148 -1.1 22.6 3.0
Paul Goldschmidt 394 17 .349 .296 .415 .529 143 1.3 22.3 3.1
Mike Trout 221 12 .348 .304 .425 .589 173 1.4 20.8 2.9
Kris Bryant 394 20 .324 .273 .377 .514 137 1.3 19.2 3.5
Aaron Judge 355 21 .326 .258 .344 .511 127 0.0 11.7 2.3
Freddie Freeman 126 6 .337 .286 .393 .527 142 -0.1 6.4 0.9

With youth on his side, more is expected from Bryce Harper than anyone else, with Votto and Goldschmidt a couple runs behind. Aaron Judge is currently running a .424 BABIP and once that comes down — the highest single season BABIP since World War II is Rod Carew’s .408 in 1977 — the offense will come down a bit, as well. He can beat his projection by quite a bit and still finish behind Goldschmidt. Yes, Goldschmidt is behind Harper and Votto by just a bit on the projections, he’s 10 runs ahead on current production. There are solid arguments for other players, but when it comes to past, present, and future production, nobody is better on offense than Paul Goldschmidt.





Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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