Yesterday was big for me. I’m not usually one for the Hall of Fame discussion because I think it has gotten away from what was intended in some ways and the arguments are often either pedantic or ill-informed. Those aren’t great options, so I usually steer clear. This year, however, Ken Griffey, Jr. was up for enshrinement and, having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, there was no way I couldn’t follow the process. Hell, we always fought on the dirt field behind my house for who got to be Griffey. Every kid in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and probably a bunch of other states wanted to be The Kid. Plus, that meant you got to turn your hat around when you took the field. Seeing him clear the threshold by a virtual mile was humbling and I finally felt like I should maybe give a slight damn for The Hall.
Naturally, I transitioned to the team that I write and/or talk about at least five days a week. The Arizona Diamondbacks have a unique player of their own on their hands in Paul Goldschmidt, a guy who plays fantastic defense, hits for average, hits for power and can snag a base or two pretty much whenever he pleases. His skill set is hard to duplicate and I don’t need to tell that to D-backs fans. They know exactly who Goldy is and what he means to the state of Arizona and American baseball as a whole. Paul Goldschmidt is the kind of player every GM dreams of drafting and developing. He is best-case scenario.
But is Paul Goldschmidt going to be a Hall of Famer, joining Randy Johnson as a Diamondback in Cooperstown? That’s tough to answer and surely one that’s premature. But that’s never really stopped us before and I don’t feel like stopping now, so let’s explore what it would take for Goldy to reach bronze status as one of baseball’s truly elite talents.
So, I pulled every hitter’s career stats, starting with players whose careers began in 1950 and later, who have made the Hall of Fame. That left me with a sample of 45 players (I pulled the numbers before Griffey and Mike Piazza were elected, so they’re not counted here). The highest hall rating here belongs to Hank Aaron (#1 overall) and the lowest belongs to Robin Yount (#246). Everyone is somewhere within that spectrum, meaning it’s a pretty damn impressive spectrum. To be anywhere on it an obvious accomplishment.
Before we can get to those players, it’s important that we acknowledge exactly where Goldschmidt is right now. Through his age-27 season, he’s accumulated just shy of four and half years worth of service time. Over that span, he’s racked up the following:
That’s an impressive early run. Over that span, Goldschmidt has made three All-Star games, won two Gold Gloves and been a runner-up in the NL MVP vote twice. Not bad for your first five pro seasons.
If we look at the averages of players who’ve made The Hall that fit the previous criteria, here’s what we get:
So far, so good for Goldy. He’s hit for more average, has a better OBP and slugs more. He’s clearly behind in the counting stats, but he’s played just five seasons while the average Hall of Famer here has played for nearly 20 years (19.68 seasons, to be exact). If Goldschmidt were to notch another 15 seasons, we can feel pretty comfortable that he’d at least surpass the average home run mark and get somewhat near the number of steals we see on average. He’s nearly one-third of the way to the average WAR total through just one-fourth of the service time, too, which gives him some breathing room. The walk and strikeout rates of today’s game are entirely different, so those don’t really hold much water on a historical level. But, on first glance, ok, Goldschmidt definitely has a chance.
There are some flaws to this methodology, however. Players of different positions are judged differently when seeking entry into The Hall. So rather than looking at all players who’ve started their careers since 1950 and ended up receiving enshrinement, let’s just look at first basemen. They’re a usually slugging, usually lumbering bunch who are expected to put up power numbers while the speed components aren’t considered vital. Of players staring their career in 1950 or later to reach The Hall, nine have played a significant portion of their career at first base. These nine are Ernie Banks, Rod Carew, Orlando Cepeda, Harmon Killebrew, Willie McCovey, Eddie Murray, Tony Perez, Willie Stargell and Frank Thomas. Obviously some of those guys played in the outfield or DH’d, but they also played at least 40-ish% of their career at first. That’ll have to work for this comparison. Here is the average line put up by these legends:
Here again, even though we’ve refined our search, Goldschmidt looks good. He’s got an early edge on nearly every category. The home run arena is his weakest, and if it weren’t for a lighter-hitting Rod Carew, Goldy’s pace would start to actually look concerning. His career high of 36 just isn’t on pace with most of the first basemen on this list. Then again, the game has certainly changed to a large extent. PED’s use is thought to be down while specialized pitching is taking it’s toll. Those things may help Goldschmidt’s case as every era is different and judged differently.
But, you see, this whole thing gets really intriguing when we reintroduce the notion that Goldschmidt is just 28. These other players played until their late 30’s or early 40’s. On average, even among the first basemen, they notched over 20 seasons each. Because Goldschmidt didn’t play his first full season until he was 24, that may not be an option. On average, this group made 10 All-Star games – an impressive average. Goldy is just getting started if this is the type of career he’ll have, and unless he’s derailed by injuries, there’s no reason to think he’ll stop any time soon.
His production will change over that length of time as his body changes, though, and that’s real unknown. At 28, we can expect the power numbers to hold steady for four or five more years before they taper off. The bat may slow as he reaches his mid-30’s and, although I’d fully expect him to keep up the strong walk and on-base numbers, the strikeouts will eventually climb. He may sell out for power and continue hitting homers at the expense of his OBP, or, he may become more of a gap hitter as he gets deep into his career, staying valuable by getting on and moving runners along, but hitting fewer balls over the fence. Either way, part of the whole picture suffers. He simply can’t keep this up because, well, no one ever really has (legally).
If we’re realistic, Paul Goldschmidt needs to maintain a strong peak for at least five or six more seasons before the age curve starts to take hold. He’ll have to remain healthy throughout his career and probably play until at 40. If he can reach 400 home runs, which is right about the over/under for him, that’ll certainly help. The tail end of his career will have to remain productive enough not to undo his peak. Without knowing what the next few years hold, that’s something that we just can’t really evaluate now.
Paul Goldschmidt is, however, on track for the Hall of Fame. In most major categories, he’s right where he needs to be. Goldy is ahead of the production curve right now, just like most iconic players were through their age-27 seasons. The age curve, however, will take hold and reduce output. He’ll have to have enough production in the next five or six years to carry him while he starts to decline. Does he make it? I’m not sure, but it’ll be close. For now, let’s all just keep rooting for Goldy to be Goldy. The rest will take care of itself.
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