When the Cardinals acquired Arizona first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, I couldn’t help but think of Albert Pujols. The Cards haven’t had a talent of Pujols’ caliber since he left as a free agent in the winter of 2011, weeks after the team had won its 11th World Series title.
Until Wednesday’s announcement — Goldy to St. Louis — the true-superstar void remained unfilled for seven seasons. I’m not saying that Goldschmidt, the hitter, reaches the standard of the peak-form version of Pujols.
Pujols won three league MVP awards, two World Series rings and three National League pennants during his 11 seasons in St. Louis. Even with his consistency of greatness, Goldschmidt can’t match the young Pujols.
Though, in some ways, the gap isn’t as wide as you’d assume. In his first seven seasons (2001-2007) as a Cardinal, Pujols averaged 42 homers, 128 RBIs and had a OPS+ of 167. In his first seven seasons as a D-back Goldschmidt averaged 32 homers, 107 RBIs, and had a 146 OPS+.
And let’s get this part out of the way. No, Goldschmidt isn’t the “face of the franchise.”
That’s premature and overly ambitious; Goldschmidt can become a free agent after the 2019 season. There’s no way to know if this relationship will last and endure. A one-season stay does not make Goldy — or any star — a “face of the franchise.” No player is a face of a franchise if he wears the uniform of the franchise for one seasonal cycle of baseball.
(When my beloved Orioles acquired Oakland A’s slugger Reggie Jackson before the 1976 season, Baltimore fans went nuts … including me … it was about the coolest thing, ever. The future Hall of Fame power hitter — charismatic, flamboyant, tempestuous, dramatic, self-absorbed — was an Oriole? Baltimore was his baseball home base? Wow. But never did I see Reggie as the “face of the franchise.” Because he was passing through on his way to free agency. And sure enough — it was only 100 percent predictable — Jackson signed with the NY Yankees after the season. But that was all right. It was a blast watching Reggie swing for the fences every damn time he stepped into the batter’s box at old Memorial Stadium.)
Even if Goldschmidt enjoys playing for the Cardinals in a very special baseball town, it will be difficult to seal the relationship through a long-term contract extension. After a 162-game sampling of STL baseball, will Goldschmidt stay here, or go shopping? I have no idea. And at this moment no one else knows, either.
But what is the point of worrying about this now?
For now, I believe we can agree on this much:
A) The Cardinals have a more talented team and are a stronger postseason contender after adding Goldschmidt.
B) In closing the deal with the Diamondbacks, the Cardinals did no long-term damage to their future by parting with catcher Carson Kelly, right-handed starting pitcher Luke Weaver, Class AA infield prospect Andy Young and a Round B compensation pick in the 2019 draft.
C) The Cardinals have added a substantial talent who warrants a place on any short-list discussion of the best players in baseball.
If you’re skeptical of that claim, I’m happy to help out. So read on …
1. Goldschmidt, who had his first full season with Arizona in 2012, is a six-time All-Star. He’s won three Gold Glove awards for defense. He’s earned four Silver Slugger awards for his offense. He’s received MVP votes in five seasons — twice coming in second.
2. Two MLB players have finished among the top three of their league MVP voting three times since 2013: Mike Trout, and Goldschmidt.
3. Since his second MLB season (2013), Goldschmidt ranks third among MLB players (minimum 3,000 plate appearances) with 32.9 Wins Above Replacement. The only stars with more WAR are Trout (54.0) and Josh Donaldson (35.6.)
4. Since 2013, among MLB hitters with a minimum 3,000 plate appearances, Goldschmidt ranks fourth at 49 percent above the league average offensively in park adjusted runs created. (He trails Trout, Joey Votto and Miguel Cabrera.)
5. Since 2013, among hitters with at least 3,000 PA, Goldy is fourth in slugging (.541) , third in onbase percentage (.406), second in OPS (.947), second in runs batted in (602), eighth in homers (181), sixth in doubles (215) and 23rd in stolen bases (102.)
6. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Goldschmidt has 201 home runs and 120 stolen bases since 2012. And Trout is the only other player to have that same exacta combination.
7. Goldschmidt is one of only three players to have posted at least 4.5 Wins Above Replacement in every season since 2013. The others are Trout (of course!) and starting pitcher Max Scherzer.
8. At the end of his age-27 season, Goldy linked with Hall of Famer Eddie Murray as the only two first basemen in major-league history with two Gold Gloves and a home run title.
9. Since the start of the 2013 season, the top two first basemen in the majors for Defensive Runs Saved are Anthony Rizzo (56), and Goldschmidt (52.)
10. Since 2012, Goldschmidt has been credited with +50 Defensive Runs Saved while playing first base. Since 2012, Cardinals’ first basemen were credited with a combined +4 Defensive Runs Saved.
11. Goldschmidt has been charged with 38 errors (total) over the last seven seasons. Cardinals’ first basemen were charged with 80 errors over the last seven seasons.
12. Goldschmidt leads all MLB first basemen with 13.4 Base Running Runs since 2013. His 120 stolen bases since 2012 lead all MLB first basemen over that time; no other 1st-B-man has more than 77 steals since 2012. Cardinals’ first basemen have combined for 26 steals since 2012.
13. In securing Goldschmidt, the Cardinals have upgraded a lineup that fired too many blanks from the No. 3 lineup spot last season. In the rankings of the 30 MLB teams for quality from the third lineup slot, St. Louis finished 26th in batting average (.243), 24th in onbase percentage (.317), 29th in slugging percentage (.399), 28th in OPS (.716) and 27th in park adjusted runs created (wRC+.) Not pretty.
14. From 2013 through 2018, Goldschmidt had 3,215 plate appearances from his post as the No. 3 hitter and batted .299 with a .408 OBP and .530 slugging pct. That’s a .938 OPS. And in park adjusted runs created, he was 47 percentage above the league average offensively when batting third. This isn’t just an incremental upgrade. This is a HUGE upgrade.
15. Arizona’s home ballpark is a haven for hitters. But don’t worry about Goldschmidt padding his stats by being a force at home and a flop on the road. During his career with the D-backs Goldschmidt had a .962 OPS at home and a .933 OPS on the road. He slugged .545 at home; .537 on the road. He was 48 percent above league average offensively at home in park adjusted runs created — and a little better on the road at 49 percent above the league average in park adjusted runs created. He homered every 18.3 at-bats at home and banged a homer ever 18.1 at-bats on the road.
16. The right-handed hitting Goldschmidt does substantial harm to lefty pitchers but is formidable against RH pitching as well. During his big-league career Goldschmidt has a 1.036 OPS vs. lefties, and a .901 OPS vs. RH. His slugging percentage is .600 vs. lefties; .516 against RH. He’s performed 71 percent above league average vs. left-handers, but has been superb (38 percent above average) vs. RHP.
17. Goldschmidt appears to enjoy swinging the bat in games against NL Central pitching. Here are his combined stats against the Cards’ division competitors — Cubs, Brewers, Pirates, and Reds: .287 batting average, .412 OBP, .563 slug, .975 OPS and a home run every 12 at-bats.
18. To reaffirm the obvious: this is an upgrade at first base. From 2013 through 2018, Arizona led the majors with 32.1 WAR at first base. The Cardinals were No. 8 at first base with 21.8 WAR over that time. Arizona’s .907 OPS at first base since 2012 is the best in the majors at the position; the Cardinals ranked eighth with an .802 OPS — a 105-point difference. Based on park adjusted runs created Arizona was 22 percent better offensively at first base than the Cardinals over the past seven seasons.
19. I’ll spare you the stats, but the Cardinals’ hitters were pretty awful (as a group) when facing relievers last season, ranking poorly in multiple performance categories. Last season 30 of Goldy’s 59 hits vs. relievers went for extra bases (just under 51%.) That extra-base percentage vs. relievers ranked 11th best in the majors.
20. Is Goldschmidt clutch? Yeah, you could say that. In two-out high-leverage situations with runners in scoring position during his career, Goldy has an .866 OPS and is 18 percent above the league average in those situations. Last season, with two out and runners and scoring position, Goldschmidt slugged .702 with a 1.140 OPS. In “Late and Close” situations he slugged .537 and had a .965 OPS. When the game was tied, he slugged .623 with a 1.040 OPS.
This is one of the best players in baseball.
And Cardinals fans will love this guy.
This is a good thing — if only for a season.
There’s the other part of this new, promising relationship. The Cardinals have brought in a player who, by all accounts, seems to be a wonderful person who matches our town’s old-school baseball values.
Until Goldschmidt came along, Tony La Russa never compared another player to Albert Pujols. It was sacrilege. But as the chief operating baseball officer for the Diamondbacks, La Russa saw it with his own eyes … a presence on the baseball field that could measure up to TLR’s high standards — and approach the Hall of Fame manager’s unconditional respect for Pujols.
Here are some testimonials gathered from interviews in recent years:
TLR on Goldschmidt: “For a while now, professional players have been distracted by fame and fortune Which means that once you get some fame and you get some fortune—yeah, that’s pretty good. You start sitting on the couch. When you see a guy that has just exemplary drive, if that’s the word you want to use, it stands out. Goldy, he can’t be better than he is.”
TLR on Goldy II: “The highest compliment I can give him is that he’s so much like Albert Pujols that it’s a credit to both of them.”
And here’s what Don Tony means: La Russa calls Pujols ‘Albert P. Pujols, with the ‘P’ standing for “perfect.” He calls Goldschmidt ‘Paul G. Goldschmidt; the ‘G’ standing for “greatest.”
“You want them to have their own distinct thing,” La Russa told USA Today.
TLR, comparing Goldy to Pujols. Is it legit? “I think so, in a lot of ways,” La Russa said. “The example that he sets for his teammates, the completeness of his game — I mean, he’s a franchise player. And I know the things that you don’t know unless you’re around and I wasn’t here until now, but I know the desire to learn, improve. That’s classic Albert.”
More TLR on Goldschmidt and why the Pujols comparisons resonate: “I’m being honest. Perfect. He (Goldy) works at every part of his game – defense, base running, hitting. He works to get better. He’s a plus, plus player and a great teammate and he’s dying to win.”
Arizona manager Torey Lovullo on Goldschmidt: “His statistics and everything are phenomenal. But he’s the leader of the team in every way.”
Mark Grace on Goldy, with the comments made during Gracie’s time in Arizona as the team’s assistant hitting coach: “He’s Jesus Christ in a baseball uniform. He’s everything you want in a baseball player. We know what a special, not only player, but a human being this guy is.”
Enjoy Goldschmidt, Cardinals fans. Whether it’s for one year, five seasons, eight seasons.
Maybe this Pujols stuff isn’t so farfetched. Maybe there’s a connection, if you believe in that kind of thing.
Two quick things:
* Goldschmidt, a high school teenager in Houston, was seated in the upper deck with his father and became an eyewitness to one of the great moments in Cardinals’ postseason history: Pujols’ annihilation of a hanging slider thrown by Astros closer Brad Lidge to win Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS and stave off elimination. The Cardinals, on the brink of defeat, were seemingly done … until The Great Pujols reprised his role as The Great Pujols.
“I was upset,” Goldschmidt told the New York Times, in recalling that homer.
* Goldschmidt made his MLB debut on Aug. 1 of 2011 … two-plus months before the Cardinals would win the 2011 World Series in Pujols’ final act here.
We’ll have a lot to talk about in the coming days … weeks … months. But looking ahead to the 2019 campaign, the Cardinals can’t be finished with their home improvements. There’s a lot more work to do. There are roster holes to address — especially in the bullpen. And the incessant Bryce Harper speculation and stress can be reopened soon. But for now, just appreciate this beautiful fact: Paul Goldschmidt is a Cardinal.
Thanks for reading …