Skip to main content

The Goldy Hour: Cardinals First Baseman Paul Goldschmidt Is Better Than Ever

The 34-year-old St. Louis slugger is the best hitter in the National League. A two-time MVP runner-up, he just might become the oldest MVP (non-juiced version) since Mike Schmidt 36 years ago.

Welcome to The Opener, where every weekday morning during the regular season you’ll get a fresh, topical story to start your day from one of SI.com’s MLB writers.

Until now, the best story that captured the essence of Paul Goldschmidt happened when he was an emerging star with the Diamondbacks and his teammates wanted the baseball world to know it. They ordered T-shirts with the nickname they had bestowed on him: “America’s First Baseman.” Goldschmidt thanked them for their salesmanship, but then told them in so many words, “I’m not wearing it and I’d appreciate it if none of you do, either.”

Such is the man’s humility.

Wait. Maybe the better story is how he was an eighth-round draft pick out of Texas State—he signed for $95,000 without an agent—and worked his way into becoming the greatest eighth-round signee in the history of the draft.

Such is the man’s work ethic.

St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt (46) hits a walk-off grand slam against the Toronto Blue Jays during the tenth inning at Busch Stadium.

Most hitters don’t have career years at 34 years old. Goldschmidt is not most hitters.

Wait. This season tops all that. It is the best Goldschmidt story yet. At 34 years old, the Cardinals first baseman is better than ever. He leads the National League in all three slash categories (.344/.423/.624). A two-time MVP runner-up, he just might become the oldest MVP (non-juiced version) since his statistical doppelgänger and quasi-namesake, Mike Schmidt, 36 years ago.

And he is on the cusp of career milestones that get you noticed even more than a catchy T-shirt: 300 homers (he needs four), 1,000 RBIs (15) and 150 stolen bases (7). Only 13 players reached those milestones and posted a .900 OPS in their careers: 10 Hall of Famers and three who have not been voted in because of connections to steroids. Goldschmidt’s career OPS entering Monday is .917.

Such is the man’s commitment to excellence. Humble though he may be, this season is the Goldy hour.

“This guy is special,” says Cardinals hitting coach Jeff Albert. “I don’t think he cares or wants the recognition, but he’s so deserving of it. He’s the best I’ve ever seen at being detail-oriented and routine-oriented.

“He’s like another scout when it comes to the reports on pitchers. It’s great personally for me to have that back and forth. I can see the video and the reports, but to have that perspective from him in the batter’s box makes everybody better. Now I see multiple hitters who want to look at the reports and do their own homework the way he does. There’s a trickle-down effect. He influences others.

“They’ve learned from him the importance of doing your homework and having a good plan. For him that goes into all areas: it’s scouting reports, it’s recovery after the game, it’s taking care of the body before the game, it’s defense, it’s baserunning … The guy’s incredible.”

The numbers this season are stupendous, especially for someone his age who has played more games over the past six years than anybody else (755). He is hitting .429 with runners in scoring position and .458 against left-handed pitchers and has posted a .918 OPS with two strikes, the best since Mookie Betts in 2018. He could become the first qualified player to post a 200 OPS+ at age 34 or older since Barry Bonds in 2004. (Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Mark McGwire are the only other hitters who were that good that old.)

Scroll to Continue

SI Recommends

Despite the company of such names, Goldschmidt is the superstar without a highlight reel. He is a hitting metronome. He holds the bat flat down his back, as if trying to scratch an inch he cannot reach with his arms, tilts it upright, then—barely lifting his left heel off the ground, without bothering to step into the pitch—unleashes a quick, powerful stroke that is as brutally efficient as a hammer strike. There is no wasted motion. His short arms produce a connected, powerful stroke reminiscent of Edgar Martinez. It is not a beautiful swing, unless you are the type to swoon over a construction crane’s six-ton wrecking ball.

“He’s really smart about pitchers and how he gets to pitches,” Albert says. “And he’ll make some adjustments. He feels it in the box.

“This year to see it all happening is special. If you look back on 2019, his performance on fastballs down was not as good. He made some adjustments, and ever since then his fastball performance is as good as ever.”

Goldschmidt hit .256 against fastballs in 2019. The next year he reduced the major bend in his knees that started him in a crouched position. Since then, he has hit .327 against fastballs.

“He’s been good for years,” Albert says. “It’s just him being super consistent and good all around after making adjustments after the 2019 season. Now it’s all come together. The external performance is matching up with all the underlying metrics—the hard-hit percentage, expected slug, all of it. He’s just one of the best hitters in baseball and it’s been that way for a long, long time.”

As a junior in high school in Texas, Goldschmidt was overshadowed on the scouting trail by teammate Kyle Drabek. Few major colleges were interested in Goldschmidt. They questioned his heavy build, bat speed and athleticism. Goldschmidt committed to play at Texas State. When he improved that fall, major colleges began to circle back to recruit him. Goldschmidt dismissed their interest, explaining that he had made a commitment to Texas State and he intended to keep his word.

Goldschmidt grew to be as large as 250 pounds at Texas State before embarking on a more serious training regimen. (He is listed at 220 pounds now.) Arizona scout Trip Couch, who had known him from travel ball, gave him an “80” on makeup, the highest score possible. Somehow a guy with an 80 makeup, a 3.87 GPA and a .685 slugging percentage lasted until the eighth round in 2009. No eighth-round signee has ever been better:

Most Career WAR, 8th Round Draft Signees

YearSchoolWAR

Paul Goldschmidt

2009

Texas State

54.5

Brad Radke

1991

High School

45.3

Charlie Hough

1966

High School

38.4

Eric Davis

1980

High School

36.1

Tim Wakefield

1988

F.I.T.

34.4

Derek Lowe

1991

High School

34.3

Kevin Youkilis

2001

Cincinnati

32.4

Brandon Webb

2000

Kentucky

31.1

The experiences of being overlooked by major colleges, of battling his weight and of seeing 245 players drafted ahead of him shaped Goldschmidt’s outlook on baseball: nothing given, everything earned.

“It’s not just his hands that are strong as a hitter,” Albert says. “He’s just a super strong person. Whatever he is, 6’4”, 225, he’s a great athlete. He’s strong in every sense. He looks after his recovery and maintenance, especially maintaining his lower half. He sets up wide, so that’s a big key for him, having his hips healthy and full range of motion. When he has the feel and flow right in his lower half, that’s more of a key for him than anything in his swing. I think he takes pride in that: finding areas anywhere that can help him get better.”

Most hitters do not reach career years when they are 34 years old, although Schmidt is a close comp for Goldschmidt. Schmidt tied his career high of 160 hits when he was 34, when he won the 1986 NL MVP. Their career numbers at this age are worth a double-take:

HOBPSLGOPSOPS+

Schmidt

1,642

.384

.535

.919

151

Goldschmidt

1,658

.391

.526

.917

144

Goldschmidt is an outlier in today’s game. There are only 15 qualified hitters this year age 34 or older. Goldschmidt has 16 homers; none of the others has more than 11. Goldschmidt has 58 RBIs; none of the others has more than 37. And what better Goldschmidt story is there than the one he is writing this season: often overlooked—and perfectly fine with it—Goldschmidt is better than ever.

More MLB Coverage:
Five-Tool Newsletter: Who Is the MLB Steph Curry?
• The New King of Catcher Interference
• Back in My Father’s Day… These Are the Kids of the Boys of Summer
Don’t Underestimate José Ramírez and Guardians

The Four Key Factors Behind the Resurgent Braves