For the last five years, Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt has been one of baseball's very best hitters.
He certainly looks the part: Goldschmidt is every inch his listed six-foot-three, and so broad-shouldered that he seems almost triangular at a distance, all wide torso and vanishing waist, with a thick lower half typical of men in his line of work, which is demolition. At 29 years old, he's just just a few years removed from the last of his undergraduate coursework, which he began at Texas State University and finished at the University of Phoenix.
Of course, if Moneyball taught us anything, it's that appearances can be deceiving. Only Goldschmidt's are staggering. Since his first full season in the majors in 2012, Goldschmidt has put up a dizzying .302/.404/.531 overall line, with 143 home runs and 512 runs scored in just a hair over 3,400 plate appearances. That performance translates to a 147 wRC+, which means that Goldschmidt has been about 48 percent better than the league-average hitter since making his debut. That's also the fifth-best mark in the majors since that season. Only Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, David Ortiz, and Joey Votto (every one a Hall of Famer) can claim better.
And he's having his best season yet in 2017, leading an upstart Diamondbacks squad to a sparkling 31-22 record and just two games out of first place in the bitterly-contested National League West. Just about everything that could is going right for Goldschmidt this year: He's walking as much as he's ever walked, striking out less often than he's ever whiffed, hitting for more power than he ever has, and, just for fun, stealing enough bases to put himself in the league's top five (he has 12—one more than he has home runs).
You don't usually expect a guy who looks like Goldschmidt, and plays first base like Goldschmidt (he has three Gold Gloves) to be a threat on the bases too. But that's just what this guy does. He has an ability, unique outside of Trout, to seem to simply decide to become better at something (in this case, running the bases) and then—even more incredibly—do it, and do it better than anyone else.
Goldschmidt's best quality as a hitter (this is, of course, a hotly contested category) is likely his ability to leverage all his many moving parts into a lethal swing that gets the barrel of his bat—a 34-inch nightmare of polished maple—to the center of the ball every time. Although the bat starts, like his hands, an inch up and a few inches back of his head, in the moment before the pitcher delivers his offering the hands drop and load up a swing that has produced hard contact almost 50 percent of the time in 2017—the second-best mark in the National League.
It's not easy for big men like Goldschmidt to stay so consistent in their mechanics, or to time big, leveraged swings designed for power so perfectly year after year. But Goldschmidt does it, and does it every time, in part by waiting that extra half-second or so with his hands pulled back and loaded, ready for the ball to get to exactly the spot he wants to hit it from. It takes otherworldly quick-twitch ability, of course, but being able to start his swing whenever he wants means that he almost never has to change it, and is essentially hitting off a tee, every time.
It's a shame, in a way, that Goldschmidt plays for the Diamondbacks, on a small-market team far removed from prime-time television for most of the country. Playing in another city, he might already be a household name, even without the cast of emerging stars that surrounds him in Arizona. That's one angle. But in another sense, it is entirely right that Goldschmidt, like Votto in Cincinnati, plays in a city that can afford to fête him as one of its biggest heroes, and make him the center of its own baseball dreams. He deserves top billing on any marquee.
When you watch a player as good as Goldschmidt hit the baseball, you're really watching Lou Gehrig at the plate, and Jimmie Foxx, and Hank Greenberg, too. You're watching Jim Thome, and Jeff Bagwell, and Albert Pujols. Those men, not the stars of the moment, are the company he keeps, market size be damned. Goldschmidt is one of baseball's best, and that isn't hard to see.