The National League MVP race has been as wide-open as its playoff race has been. Every week, or even day, there’s a change in the favorites like there is in the standings. One day Team A is in first, while Player A, B, and C are the MVP-favorites. Then, two days later, Team B is in first while Players B, C, D, and F are the favorites. Just over two weeks ago, it looked like a three-horse race between Nolan Arenado, Freddie Freeman, and Matt Carpenter, with everyone else in the next tier below.
But oh so much has changed since then. Nolan Arenado, Freddie Freeman, and Matt Carpenter have all stalled and stumbled. Over their last 15 games, Freeman is hitting .190/.272/.276, and Arenado, .246/.308/.368 (.368 OPS over the previous week). Carpenter hasn’t been bad; he’s been pretty good with a .843 OPS. But that is way below his previous pace. And, over the last week or so, even though he is getting on base at an elite rate, the power has disappeared, and the infielder has one hit in his last ten at-bats. So while they have been struggling (relatively), a new face has been rising quickly and has entered into the race with a legitimate chance to win. And that is Paul Goldschmidt of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Goldy long been one of the best first basemen in the game, if not the best. But this year, he has flown under-the-radar more than he has in the past, which says something. But one reason is that his numbers after the season’s first two months were anything but good. By the beginning of June, the star first baseman was hitting a paltry .209/.326/.389 with seven home runs through 230 plate appearances, while striking out a surprisingly 30.9% of the time. All this, thanks mainly due to a brutal May.
But since then, Goldschmidt has become an entirely different animal, and the hot streak that he has been on has been like that of Matt Carpenter’s turnaround in mid-May. In 373 plate appearances since the start of June, Goldy is hitting .348/.441/.643 with 24 home runs, a 187 wRC+, and an otherworldly .452 wOBA. His walk rate of 13.4% is identical to what it was prior, but he has cut down on his punchouts by a full 10 percent. According to FanGraphs, over 50% of his batted balls have been considered ‘hard-hit,’ while less than 15% have been ‘soft.’
His struggles in at the beginning (primarily May) came because he swung-and-missed a lot. He whiffed on a lot of his swings, which is a bad recipe for success. Here is a zone profile comparison per Brooks Baseball, of his whiff percentages over his first two months (top) and the last three months (bottom):
And here is a chart view of it monthly:
As logic would make you think, swinging-and-missing less would mean you are putting the ball in play more, which would help you get results. He is seeing the ball well and putting the bat to the ball so often has helped him be more effective all over the strike zone. Here are the batting averages that follow his whiff tendencies, per Brooks Baseball:
This explains why he struggled so much against the fastball, which he has seen almost 60% of the time this season. His timing was off and he could not catch up with it, hitting just .254 and slugging just .433 off the hard stuff by the end of May. It was a combination of mechanics and a mental block. You must realize that Goldschmidt is a career .325 hitter with a .619 slugging percentage of fastballs, and since he’s cut down on his whiffs and put better swings on them, he is hitting .412 and slugging .815.
And before the turnaround, because he was beaten so often with the fastball, the secondary offerings were even more effective, thus he was rendered virtually useless against the breaking and offspeed stuff. But now that he does not have to worry about struggling with the heater, he can keen in on the secondary stuff more, get his timing down, and not be beat by it, in fact, turning the tables a complete 180.
On the season, the superstar is hitting .295/.387/.548 with 31 home runs. His OPS is second in the NL by eight points to Matt Carpenter, and at this current pace, they should soon switch places. Goldy is tied with Carpenter for an NL-leading 152 wRC+ while having the best wOBA in the league at .399. He is tied for second, with six others, in home runs, and is sixth in the NL in bWAR, but tied for the best NL position player WAR with Carpenter at 5.2 fWAR.
It also helps that the Diamondbacks have a great chance of winning their division. And for many voters, because of how they define “Most Valuable Player,” Goldschmidt will get bonus points. Long story short, Goldy’s season numbers are now better than most of the other contestants, and the one guy he is chasing has slowed down a bit while the Diamondback star continues to rise. He’s come close three times (two second-place finishes and one third-place finish), but 2018 may be the year he finally gets over the hump.