After Paul Goldschmidt launched the tying and winning home runs on Tuesday night to beat the Baltimore Orioles, the Diamondbacks fans remaining at Chase Field showered him with perhaps the greatest praise of all: They chanted “MVP!” as he made his way off the field.
Goldschmidt, though, said he didn’t hear it, and coming from him, it’s actually believable. But if he continues to produce the way he has for the season’s first 4 1/2 months,about winning the National League Most Valuable Player award is going to be too hard to ignore.
That’s because Goldschmidt isn’t just an MVP in the eyes of his adoring fan base. He’s a legitimate candidate, one who ranks among the league leaders in just about every significant offensive category.
There’s little about his performance this season that hasn’t been MVP-worthy.
He’s hitting for average, at .300. He’s hitting for power, with 31 home runs, tied for the most in the National League. He has a league-leading 100 RBIs. He ranks fourth in on-base percentage (.391) and first in slugging percentage (.549). And his defense and baserunning have left little to be desired.
“You can’t dock him for anything at this point,” Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon McCarthy said. “I’m a big believer that MVP should be those very complete players. He’s really complete and playing at his best level. He’s about as MVP-worthy as it gets.”
Compared with his peers, Goldschmidt looks like a viable candidate. The only problem might be the team for which he plays.
Voters from the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) determine the awards, with each team’s local chapter receiving two votes per award. In many ways, BBWAA voters have become increasingly less rigid in their voting habits. For example, many seem to put less stock in a pitcher’s win total than they have in years past.
But when it comes to the MVP, one factor on which the voting body still places significant emphasis is the standings: In order to be an MVP, a player generally needs to be on a playoff team.
It likely was a factor for some voters last season, when Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera won the AL MVP over the Angels’ Mike Trout. Cabrera won a Triple Crown, but his team also reached the postseason; Trout’s did not.
That outcome was nothing new.
Of the 36 National League and American League MVPs crowned since 1995, only six have come from teams that did not advance to the postseason. Each of those players — Albert Pujols, Larry Walker, Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Howard and Barry Bonds (twice) — had monster years, and nearly all of them posted numbers that clearly trumped those of candidates from playoff teams.
And that’s where Goldschmidt might run into trouble, unless the Diamondbacks can find a way to overcome their deficits in the NL West Division or the wild-card race. Goldschmidt arguably has the best numbers in the league, but they might not be far and away better than those of, say, Pittsburgh center fielder Andrew McCutchen or Cincinnati first baseman Joey Votto. A good argument could even be made for Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw.
“Plain and simple,” Diamondbacks reliever Heath Bell said, “if we really get back in this race — I know we’re in it, but I mean really back in it and get to the playoffs — he’s got to be up there.”
One thing Goldschmidt has going for him is his ability to produce big hits. Late-game heroics are another factor that seems to sway voters, and Tuesday night’s clutch hits were just the latest in a season filled with them.
FanGraphs keeps a statistic called win probability added (WPA) that measures how players affect a team’s win expectancy over the course of a game. A bases-clearing double in the ninth inning of a tie game will increase a player’s WPA more than, say, a third-inning single with the bases empty.
Goldschmidt’s 5.33 WPA is the best in the National League by a mile, nearly a full point higher than the Dodgers’ Adrian Gonzalez (4.41).
“I think everyone wants to be in those situations,” Goldschmidt said. “Those are fun. You get a chance to have the game on the line. Whether it’s a pitcher closing a game out or being on defense and making a play — whatever happens, those games are a lot more fun like that. Any time you win, it’s more fun.”
But as of now that’s the problem with Goldschmidt’s candidacy: The Diamondbacks haven’t been winning enough. But if they can pick it up over their remaining 43 games, those chants would have a much better chance of becoming reality.