This is MLB's most important duo

August 15th, 2022

Although the Cardinals’ Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado have some stiff competition when it comes to MLB’s best duos, arguably no contender has relied on its two biggest stars more than St. Louis in 2022.

Goldschmidt is the National League MVP frontrunner, but Arenado isn’t far behind. The third baseman actually has a slight edge over his teammate in wins above replacement due in part to his defensive value, but both players rank among MLB’s top five in WAR and have played a huge role in the Cards' first-place standing in the NL Central.

MLB’s combined WAR leaderboard (per FanGraphs)
Through Saturday

  1. Aaron Judge (NYY): 7.5 WAR
  2. Nolan Arenado (STL): 6.0 WAR
  3. Shohei Ohtani (LAA): 5.9 WAR
  4. Paul Goldschmidt (STL): 5.6 WAR
  5. Manny Machado (SD): 5.2 WAR

Collectively, Cardinals players (position players and pitchers combined) have produced 29.7 fWAR this season, which means that Goldy and Arenado have combined for 39.1% of St. Louis' WAR -- the largest share generated by a team’s top two players among the 16 clubs with a record of .500 or better.

Including the Cards, these are the five contenders that have relied most heavily on their top two players, in terms of fWAR. As you can see, no other .500 or better team is even close to St. Louis in this regard. (All stats below are through Saturday.)

Cardinals: Nolan Arenado (6.0 WAR), Paul Goldschmidt (5.6 WAR)

Total team WAR: 29.7
WAR share by top two players: 39.1%

Still going strong at the age of 34, Goldschmidt entered Sunday as the NL leader in average (.330), slugging (.615) and OPS (1.028), producing 28 homers and 89 RBIs over 107 games.

The NL MVP Award has proven elusive for the first baseman, who finished second in the voting twice and third once, but it appears to be his award to lose at this point, even with Arenado putting together a strong case of his own. After posting an OPS over 1.000 in two of the first four calendar months this season, Arenado has taken it up a notch in August, recording a .381/.447/.905 slash with six homers through 11 games.

The 31-year-old has a 165 OPS+ on the year, which would be a career high. He’s also provided sparkling defense (as usual) at the hot corner, leading third basemen with 13 outs above average.

Guardians: José Ramírez (5.0 WAR), Andrés Giménez (4.0 WAR)

Total team WAR: 26.5
WAR share by top two players: 34%

Cleveland was under .500 and 4 1/2 games out in the division race as recently as July 13, but the club has surged back into first place in the AL Central, with Giménez leading the way. One of the key pieces acquired from the Mets in the Francisco Lindor trade, the 23-year-old has broken out in 2022, earning his first All-Star selection and recording 12 homers with a 145 OPS+ while contributing superb defense at second base. He’s hitting .356/.446/.540 since July 14.

Ramírez has slumped during the team’s hot streak, but he remains the centerpiece of Cleveland’s offense, with a .282 average, 22 homers, 36 doubles, 92 RBIs, 14 steals and a 154 OPS+. Ramírez, Giménez and Josh Naylor (15) are the only three players who have gone deep at least 10 times for the contact-heavy Guardians, who rank 14th in the AL in homers.

White Sox: Dylan Cease (3.6 WAR), José Abreu (3.3 WAR)

Total team WAR: 22.9
WAR share by top two players: 30.1%

After years spent meticulously stockpiling young talent and supplementing it with productive veterans, the White Sox appeared to have one of the most well-rounded rosters in the game entering 2022. But things haven’t gone as expected for the reigning AL Central champions. With Luis Robert, Tim Anderson, Eloy Jiménez and Lance Lynn all spending considerable time on the injured list and Lucas Giolito and Yoán Moncada turning in disappointing campaigns, Chicago has straddled the .500 mark throughout the year.

However, the White Sox remain in position to either win the AL Central or claim the third AL Wild Card spot if they can get it together down the stretch. The team owes a lot to Cease (1.96 ERA, 12.2 K/9), one of the leading candidates for the AL Cy Young Award. Chicago has gone 17-6 in Cease’s 23 starts, including a 9-2 record in his active streak of 11 straight starts with no more than one run allowed.

Abreu, meanwhile, has missed just two games and leads the AL with 128 hits (14 homers) while slashing .298/.374/.462.

Padres: Manny Machado (5.2 WAR), Jake Cronenworth (3.2 WAR)

Total team WAR: 28.9
WAR share by top two players: 29.1%

If the Padres reach the postseason this year, their splashy Trade Deadline, which included the additions of Juan Soto, Josh Bell, Josh Hader and Brandon Drury, will surely get a lot of credit. But we can’t discount what Machado and Cronenworth have meant to the team’s playoff chances with Fernando Tatis Jr. sidelined due to a fractured left wrist.

Machado is hitting .298 with 21 homers and an .897 OPS (156 OPS+) over 105 games, and he remains a strong defensive presence (+6 OAA). The same goes for Cronenworth (+5 OAA), who has chipped in with 11 homers, 59 RBIs and a 111 OPS+ at the plate. With Tatis now done for the year after being suspended 80 games for a PED violation, the Padres are going to need Machado and Cronenworth to keep it up.

Braves: Dansby Swanson (4.9 WAR), Austin Riley (4.7 WAR)

Total team WAR: 34.8
WAR share by top two players: 27.3%

After winning the World Series without Ronald Acuña Jr. last year, the Braves are mounting a strong encore in 2022, even with Acuña still looking for his peak form at the plate (113 OPS+) and on defense (-4 OAA) in his return from a torn ACL. Atlanta has a more well-rounded roster than the four teams ahead of it on this list, but Swanson and Riley have been so good that they still account for a huge chunk of the Braves’ WAR.

An impending free agent, Swanson is one of the best defensive shortstops in the Majors (+13 OAA), and he’s having a career year at the plate (personal best 119 OPS+).

Riley, who recently signed a 10-year, $212 million contract extension with Atlanta, has gotten even better after last year’s breakout, registering a .294 average, 30 homers, a 154 OPS+ and an NL-leading 259 total bases through 113 games in 2022.