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Breaking down NL MVP leading contenders Paul Goldschmidt vs. Austin Riley

Sporting News logo Sporting News 8/10/2022 Ryan Fagan
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Paul Goldschmidt has been the favorite in the National League MVP race for most of the 2022 season, with good reason. The veteran Cardinals first baseman is in his 11th year in the bigs, and he’s never been better, which is really saying something. 

We’ll get into the details in a moment, but just know this: Goldschmidt has been a regular on MVP ballots his entire career, with a pair of second-place finishes in the MVP voting (2013 and 2015), a third-place finish (2017) and two sixth-place finishes (2018 and 2021). This very well could be the year — his Age 34 season — that he breaks through and wins the award. 

A formidable challenger has arisen from the field, though. Austin Riley, who is nine years younger than Goldschmidt, was unconscious in the month of July, earning the NL Player of the Month award after batting .423 with a 1.344 OPS, 11 homers, 25 RBIs, 15 doubles and 21 runs scored in 26 games. Just ridiculous. 

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Look up the NL MVP odds on any betting site, and these two will occupy the top two spots. Without dismissing the chances of any other candidates — there are probably 20-something players who could vault to the top of the conversation with an August like Riley’s July — today we’re going to take a look at Goldschmidt vs. Riley. 

Goldschmidt vs. Riley: Basic counting stats

PG: 447 PA, 26 HR, 84 RBI, 74 R, 30 2B, 55 BB, 94 K

AR: 473 PA, 30 HR, 74 RBI, 66 R, 33 2B, 33 BB, 119 K

Thoughts: For better or worse, here’s where most in-season arguments about MVP awards begin, with homers and RBIs and all those good things. As someone who has voted for the NL MVP in the past and has talked with many BBWAA writers who have also voted for the award, I can tell you that’s not where the 30 ballots that matter begin. But, we’re just having a fun discussion, so might as well kick it off here. 

Riley has the edge in home runs and doubles, which probably isn’t surprising considering he had 11 homers and 15 doubles just in the month of July, and had another big night Tuesday in the win against the Red Sox. Goldschmidt has the lead in RBIs and runs scored, walks a lot more and strikes out a lot less. Those last aren’t the most important thing in the world, but they do matter, of course. 

At this point, it’s a pretty even race.

Goldschmidt vs. Riley: Basic rate stats

PG: .329/.413/.609, 1.022 OPS, 191 OPS+

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AR: .298/.359/.594, .954 OPS, 158 OPS+ 

Thoughts: We’re starting to see a gap develop, aren’t we? Riley’s slugging percentage is close — not surprising considering his lead in homers and doubles — but that’s a pretty massive difference in batting average. But this isn’t a place where we are going to place a 1980s weight on batting average, so we’ll move to on-base percentage. Here’s where you see Goldschmidt’s advantage in walks come into play. That leads to an OPS gap of nearly 70 points and an OPS+ gap of 33 points.

Part of the OPS+ equation, of course, it the home ballpark. When you look at multi-year factors, Goldschmidt’s home park rates a 94 for batters, while Riley’s home park is 104 — 100 is average, higher favors hitters and lower favors pitchers. And because OPS+ is a statistic framed about 100 as league average, with each point above or below equal to one percentage point, we can see that Goldschmidt has been 33 percent better than Riley this year, as far as OPS+ is concerned. 

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Goldschmidt vs. Riley: Advanced Metrics

PG: 5.7 bWAR, 5.3 fWAR, .280 ISO, 186 wRC+, .434 wOBA, 3.9 WPA

AR: 4.8 bWAR, 4.7 fWAR, .296 ISO, 160 wRC+, .405 wOBA, 2.0 WPA

Thoughts: We’re seeing a lot of the same thing here. When it comes to power stats (like ISO), Riley is equal to Goldschmidt. When everything is considered, the edge shifts solidly to Goldschmidt over Riley. 

Goldschmidt vs. Riley: Defense

PG: 0 DRS, 3.5 UZR/150

AR: minus-3 DRS, minus-14.6 UZR/150

Thoughts: Both are excellent defensive players. Riley plays the tougher position, third base, though any infielder will tell you how important it is to have an above-average defensive glove at first base. Strides have been made in the world of defensive metrics over the past few decades, but they’re still a work in progress. Goldschmidt has the advantage in the two above metrics, but don’t put too much weight in that.  

Goldschmidt vs. Riley: With runners in scoring position

PG: 95 PA, .378/.489/.716, 1.206 OPS, 6 HR, 51 RBI, 18 BB, 13 K

AR: 124 PA, .275/.347/.569, .955 OPS, 7 HR, 41 RBI, 10 BB, 30 K

Thoughts: If there was any doubt about which player should the the MVP leader at this point, those should be erased when looking at these stats. Riley has been really good with runners in scoring position — the most important plate appearances in any game — but Goldschmidt has been incredible an on-base percentage near .500, more walks than strikeouts and 15 more RBIs than Riley in 26 fewer plate appearances. Riley has three times as many strikeouts as walks with RISP, and his OPS with RISP (.916) is lower than it is with the bases empty (.955). 

And with RISP and two outs, Goldschmidt really shines: .405 average, .865 slugging percentage and 1.328 OPS. In 42 plate appearances in that situation, Goldschmidt has 28 RBIs and only five strikeouts. With a runner on third base and two outs, Goldschmidt’s batting .438 (Riley is at .222). In High Leverage situations, Goldschmidt has a 1.015 OPS, Riley’s at .726.

Final verdict

No surprise if you’ve read to this point. Austin Riley is having a fantastic season, but Paul Goldschmidt is the NL MVP at this point of the season, and it’s not particularly close. 


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