If you have ask your local baseball fan who the hottest player in baseball is right now, they might answer with “Aaron Judge”, “Yordan Alvarez”, “Rafael Devers” or maybe even “Alejandro Kirk”. Those would all be justified answers, but no player in baseball has been as hot as Paul Goldschmidt.
The Cardinals first basemen leads baseball in OPS and is second in average with a .349 batting average on the year. Over the last month, he owns a .405 average with 13 home runs in 29 games and now is the front runner for the NL MVP Award.
Goldschmidt is cementing his legacy as one of the best first basemen of this generation and is making a compelling case for Hall of Fame consideration when all is said and done. He has more work to do, but at 34 years old, there is still plenty of career left in Goldschmidt.
To properly understand where Goldy fits into the Hall of Fame conversation, I’m going to breakdown which current Hall of Famers he draws comparison to and what he’ll need to do to get his likeness on a bronze plaque in Cooperstown.
Let’s quickly explain how players get into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Players become eligible for the Hall of Fame once they have been retired for five or more years. At that point, the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) can vote on up to 10 players for entry each year.
If a player receives 75% or more of the vote, that player is inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Each player stays on the ballot for 15 years. However, if at any point a player receives less than 5% of the vote, they are removed from the ballot. At that point, the only way to receive Hall of Fame consideration is through something called the Era Committees. These committees vote in players from a specific era every year to correct the BBWAA’s wrong doings.
However, since Goldschmidt is still playing and couldn’t even be considered by the Era Committees for at least 20 years, we will only make the case for his entry via BBWAA voting.
Hall of Fame Consideration by Comparison
Criteria for entry into the Hall of Fame varies by position. For example, first basemen and second basemen have wildly different criteria in the eyes of the voters. Although not always true, first basemen are historically power hitters, while second basemen tend to be excellent fielders that hit for average. As such, when the BBWAA votes, they tend to compare players by position.
For Paul Goldschmidt, who as mentioned is a first basemen, the most important criteria for getting voted into the Hall of Fame will be his offensive stats and awards. Even though he is a great defender, it is his hitting stats and accolades that carry 99% of the weight.
During his 11 seasons, Paul Goldschmidt is slashing .295/ .390/ .524 with a 143 wRC+, 293 HR, and 49.8 WAR. He is a six-time all-star, four-time Silver Slugger, a four-time Gold Glover and has finished top-six in MVP voting five times including two runner-up finishes. If he can keep up his incredible pace this season, he has the chance to add an MVP to the list.
The best way to predict whether Goldschmidt will make the Hall of Fame is to compare him to those first basemen recently voted in and those that just missed. There have been four first basemen voted in since 2003: Eddie Murray, Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell and Jim Thome.
Murray, Thomas and Thome all hit 500+ home runs and were never involved in steroid rumors. This achievement has led to an automatic bid into the Hall. Since it’s unlikely Goldschmidt will hit 500 home runs, I think the correct comparison is Jeff Bagwell.
The two first basemen that didn’t make it into the Hall of Fame that have similar statistics to Goldschmidt’s current stats are Will Clark and Keith Hernandez.
Let’s start with the comparison to Bagwell. After seven years of being on the ballot, Bagwell received 86.2% of the vote, sending him to Cooperstown. Like Goldschmidt, Bagwell was a great defensive first basemen and over his 15-year career, Bagwell slashed .297/.408/.540 with a 149 wRC+, 449 HR, and 80.2 WAR. Bagwell also has an MVP, Rookie of the Year, Gold Glove and three Silver Sluggers to his name, along with four trips to the All-Star Game. It is also important to note that he finished top-20 in MVP voting 10 times in his career. Goldschmidt has done so eight times.
Bagwell has Goldschmidt beat in almost every offensive category and won an MVP. Bagwell played in four more seasons than Goldschmidt. However, if you look at Bagwell’s stats through his first 10 seasons (or 6519 plate appearances – approximately the same as Goldschmidt’s career), you will see the Goldschmidt is right on pace. He would have 14 fewer HRs, 23 more hits, and 110 fewer RBIs.
At 34 years old, Goldschmidt is having the best year of his career. If he can maintain his average for three more seasons, which would be the same amount of time Bagwell played, he could potentially end his career with very similar numbers. In that scenario, Goldschmidt would have roughly 400 HR, 2100 H, and 1200 RBIs in about 300 less games. Furthermore, if Goldschmidt can finish this season strong and win the MVP, it will do wonders for him.
It’s highly unlikely, but let’s assume Goldschmidt wants to retire at the end of this year. Has he done enough to make into the Hall? The best comparisons to look at would be Will Clark and Keith Hernandez – both of which did not get voted in.
Will Clark slashed .303/.384/.497 with a 136 wRC+, 284 HR, 2176 H, 1205 RBIs, and a 52.0 WAR. On top of that, he was a six-time All-Star, two-time Silver Slugger, and a Gold Glover. Statistically, he was very similar to what Goldschmidt is now. Even if Goldschmidt is productive next year and then retires, he will only be marginally better than Clark. That will certainly do him no favors when Goldschmidt reaches the ballot. Clark was only on the ballot for one year after getting just 4.4% of the vote in his first year of consideration.
Goldschmidt and Keith Hernanadez have very similar numbers across the board as well. Hernandez slashed .296/.384/.436 with a 131 wRC+, 162 HR, 2182 H, 1071 RBIs, and a 59.4 WAR. Hernandez was also an MVP, a five-time All-Star, an 11-time Gold Glover, which is the most ever by a first basemen, a two-time Silver Slugger, and he even won a batting title. Goldschmidt’s numbers are eerily similar and is another first baseman who is noticeably strong on the defensive side of the ball, having won four Gold Glove awards with 53 defensive runs saved over his career.
The only aspect in which he is really far ahead of Hernandez is his ability to hit home runs. Goldschmidt already has over 100 more homers and that number is only growing during this phenomenal year. However, I don’t think that is enough to send him to Cooperstown at this moment. Hernandez stayed on the ballot for nine years before he received less than 5% of the vote and that can likely be accredited to his defensive greatness. Goldschmidt needs more time to prove to the BBWAA that he truly outshines Clark and Hernandez, and belongs with Bagwell in Cooperstown.
Overall, if Goldschmidt retired at the end of the season, I don’t think he would be a Hall of Famer. He’d almost certainly put up a fight for a few years on the ballot but there is no reason to believe the BBWAA will think he is any better than Clark or Hernandez. If Goldschmidt can play at least 3-4 more years and continue to be productive at the plate, while potentially winning the NL MVP this season, I think the BBWAA would compare him favorably to Bagwell and give him a spot in Cooperstown.