Paul Goldschmidt stepped to the plate at Chase Field last Thursday night with the D-backs in a dire situation. Arizona trailed Atlanta, 6-5, with two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the ninth inning.
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But, as he often has this year, Goldschmidt delivered. Down to his team's last strike, the D-backs first baseman smacked a pitch from left-hander Jesse Biddle over the left-field wall for a game-tying solo home run. Although Arizona went on to lose in the 10th inning, Goldschmidt's heroics kept the club alive in an important game as it fights for a postseason berth.
This is a critical stretch in a couple of National League races -- the one for October and the one for the MVP Award. And Goldschmidt could figure prominently in both thanks to momentous plays such as that game-tying big fly.
Arizona begins a four-game series at Coors Field on Monday night trailing the division-rival Rockies by 2 1/2 games for the National League West lead and the Cardinals by three games for the second NL Wild Card spot. This mile-high series also features a few of the plethora of NL MVP contenders, in Goldschmidt, as well as Colorado's Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story.
It's an incredibly crowded field in which no player has obviously separated himself. Take FanGraphs' wins above replacement metric, which has a dozen hitters bunched together between 4.0 and 5.5 WAR (Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer are well above that level, but pitchers don't often win MVP Awards).
When looking at WAR, a few tenths of a win here or there isn't enough to differentiate MVP candidates. So how should voters decide?
One possible metric to look at is win probability added (WPA), which is based on how a player affects his team's win expectancy.
For example, in the aforementioned D-backs' game from last Thursday, FanGraphs pegged the team's win expectancy at 5.4 percent when Goldschmidt stepped to the plate but 54.0 percent after he tied the game. That means Goldschmidt gets credited with a WPA of +0.49 for the play (0.540-0.054), and his total WPA of +0.58 for the game was a personal season high.
WPA is also kept as a cumulative, season-long stat. And in that respect, Goldschmidt's total of 4.58 ranks first among NL position players, a ways ahead of fellow MVP candidates Christian Yelich of the Brewers (3.89) and Matt Carpenter of the Cardinals (3.84). The Braves' Freddie Freeman (2.98), the Brewers' Lorenzo Cain (2.41), Arenado (2.43), Story (2.12), and the Cubs' Javier Baez (2.28) are further back.
Highest WPA, NL position players, 2018
- Goldschmidt (ARI): 4.58
- Yelich (MIL): 3.89
- Carpenter (STL): 3.84
- Eugenio Suarez (CIN): 3.25
- Anthony Rizzo (CHC): 2.90
Goldschmidt's .401 on-base percentage, .557 slugging percentage, 149 wRC+, and 5.1 WAR all put him among the NL leaders, as well as in the MVP conversation.
That conversation should never be about just one stat. But in a close, jam-packed race, WPA has the advantage of providing a different angle by blending new-school numbers-crunching with an old-school emphasis on context-driven narratives, such as clutch performance.
That's not to say it makes any bold declarations about who is "clutch" in a broader sense. That's a thorny issue. Instead, it simply shows who has created the biggest impact on game outcomes. Some of that is opportunity, and some is execution -- coming through in the clutch, some might say.
Last Thursday's game-tying homer was far from Goldy's only huge play this year. On April 10 at San Francisco, he also tied a game with a two-out, ninth-inning homer. On June 9 at Colorado, his three hits included a three-run shot that took the D-backs from two runs down to one ahead. On Aug. 18 at San Diego, he had four run-scoring hits, including a game-tying single with two outs in the seventh. In each of those games, Goldschmidt had a WPA of at least +0.38.
The next four days at Coors Field could provide more chances for the six-time All-Star and two-time NL MVP runner-up to author some memorable moments. If he does so, he could help push Arizona into the postseason -- and perhaps lock down a trophy for himself.