On a mild Friday night at Coors Field on Sept. 20, the D-backs' Paul Goldschmidt stepped to the plate in the seventh inning to face Mitchell Boggs. On the seventh pitch of the at-bat, Goldschmidt hit his 35th home run of the season -- a solo shot that also boosted his total in the RBI column to 120. With 710 plate appearances last season -- a campaign that saw Goldschmidt take a substantial leap forward, emerge as a league-leader in a number of categories and fill up the trophy case with a bevy of honors -- the slugger became one of 351 players since 1893 to be in his age-25 or younger season qualify for the batting title and play at least 75 percent of his games at first base.
Among this group, Goldschmidt stands as one of only five to stamp that campaign with league leadership in both home runs and RBIs. Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx did this in both 1932 and '33 (with a 58/169 year in '32 and a 48/163 season in '33), Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg led the AL with a 36-homer, 170-RBI campaign in '35, and Hall of Famer Eddie Murray hit 22 homers with 78 RBIs in 1981 -- both numbers good enough to lead the league in the strike-shortened season. Like Foxx (in both seasons) and Greenberg, Goldschmidt also led his league in total bases, and like Foxx (again, in both '32 and '33), Goldschmidt also topped the circuit in slugging percentage and OPS. And if Goldschmidt stands fairly tall in this particular perspective and generates some oohs and aahs with this company, he also has a fairly vibrant position when his numbers are used as a soft baseline to generate a second cluster of players.
While Goldschmidt is clearly at the bottom end of this collection, his position -- looking up at an assemblage populated by three Hall of Famers and two other probable immortals -- is still in the reserved seating section. And a placement right next to Don Mattingly and his 1986 season most definitely makes for a nice seating arrangement.
In 1986, Mattingly -- the reigning American League MVP -- rode leadership in total bases, slugging, hits, doubles and extra-base hits (not to mention OPS and adjusted on-base plus slugging) to a postseason awards bonanza, capturing the Silver Slugger (and a Gold Glove) and finishing second in MVP balloting. The Yankees' first baseman was in his age-25 season, and among the most revered players in the game. His 238 hits were the fifth-highest total for a first baseman (and still are), his 53 doubles were the most by a first baseman since Greenberg had 63 in 1934, his 388 total bases were the highest total for a first baseman since Foxx had 398 in 1938, and his back-to-back seasons with 86 extra-base hits made him only the 10th different player to have at least that many in consecutive seasons. The other nine all went into the Hall of Fame.
The 1986 season for Mattingly served as the third act in a five-star play, and whatever was being readied for the remaining time on stage had fans on the edge of their seats. And why not? After all, that '86 season was the culmination of a three-run year in which Mattingly averaged 219 hits, 80 extra-base hits (with 48 doubles and 30 homers), 123 RBIs and 361 total bases, and produced a .340/.382/.560 line. Almost anything seemed possible: a storyline of potential enjoyed by all of his (and Goldschmidt's) predecessors in that earlier list. But if there was one nick in Mattingly's profile, it stood in the walks column; and this is where he and Goldschmidt diverge. In this case, that separation creates another occasion to trumpet the current first baseman for the D-backs and another reason to feel hopeful about what accomplishments and acclaims might beckon.
Like Mattingly in 1986, Goldschmidt in 2013 was playing in his age-25 season, and like Mattingly, Goldschmidt was honored with a Gold Glove Award, a Silver Slugger Award and a second-place finish in the MVP vote. Like Mattingly, Goldschmidt led his league in total bases, extra-base hits, slugging, OPS and adjusted on-base percentage plus slugging. But unlike Mattingly, Goldschmidt also nearly hit the century mark in walks, finishing with 99 (Mattingly drew 53 free passes).
Getting back to that original list of 12 players, Goldschmidt's 99 walks rank fifth, behind Foxx's 116 in 1932, Frank Thomas' 112, Prince Fielder's 110, and Lou Gehrig's 109. Again, nice company. And with his counting numbers rolled into rate stats, Goldschmidt became just the 14th different first baseman since 1893 (and the first since the Reds' Joey Votto in 2009) to compile a .300/.400/.500 campaign in his age-25 or younger season.
Quite simply, Goldschmidt's numerical profile in 2013 is one that has been anything but prevalent among young first basemen in the game's history. To put up such lofty numbers and to hold such prominence on the league leaderboards at such a relatively young age, these merged accomplishments are reserved for some of the very best. In 2013, Goldschmidt ascended into that conversation for today's elite, and in the process, he connected to some of the golden names that have graced the game's history.
Roger Schlueter is senior researcher for MLB Productions. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less