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Paul Goldschmidt Is Getting Better With Age

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The cycle for a major league hitter has been well established for decades. He improves rapidly in his early 20s, peaks around 27, perhaps holds that for a few years and then begins a slow decline.

And then there’s Paul Goldschmidt.

Goldschmidt was a fine player for the first part of his career with the Arizona Diamondbacks, making six All-Star teams. His peak years, as you might expect, ran from age 25, when he led the league in homers and runs batted in, through age 30.

But when he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals after the 2018 season, some of his numbers began to drop. While he still provided a great deal of value, he stopped making the All-Star team.

His batting average stayed close to .300, and his homer totals around 30, but he began slipping elsewhere, notably in walks. His on-base plus slugging percentage, nearly always over .900 in Arizona, slipped below that figure for three straight years.

This season has been a different story. Through Wednesday, Goldschmidt was leading the National League in the trinity of statistics, batting average (.332), on-base percentage (.412) and slugging percentage (.611); the batting average and slugging numbers were career highs. He already had 25 homers — six short of last year’s full season total — and he returned to the All-Star Game for the first time in four years.

His O.P.S. was 1.023, another career high, and trailed only the American Leaguers Yordan Álvarez of the Houston Astros and Aaron Judge of the Yankees. Goldschmidt also ranks second to Judge in Baseball Reference’s version of WAR for position players. And he has done it while playing Gold Glove-level defense at first base.

All of this has come at age 34, a time when most players have begun their decline. It has been 16 years since a player ended his 34-year-old season with an O.P.S. as high as Goldschmidt’s: Manny Ramirez had a 1.058 O.P.S. for the 2006 Red Sox. (Mark McGwire’s 70-homer season in 1998, which produced a 1.222 O.P.S., ranks first among players in their Age-34 season.) And Goldschmidt’s big Age-34 season has notably come at a time when baseball has far more stringent testing for performance-enhancing drugs.

The big season has accelerated Goldschmidt’s climb up the career lists, with the first baseman passing 300 homers, 1,000 runs and 1,000 R.B.I. this season.

“When you drive the ball as well as he does and you hit for power, hit for average and are a well-rounded hitter — and not just hitting .220 with a 30 percent strikeout rate with 30 homers, but, like, actually being a hitter that is feared in all situations — that’s a big deal,” Cardinals Manager Oliver Marmol told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch last month.

Marmol was right: Goldschmidt stands a good chance of being only the eighth player since 2012 to hit 30 or more home runs while batting .330 or higher.

The only blemish on Goldschmidt’s career season has been some recent criticism for declining to be vaccinated against Covid-19, which prevented him and third baseman Nolan Arenado from playing in a two-game series against Toronto last month. (The Cardinals split the games.) That issue would come up again if St. Louis were to face the Blue Jays in the World Series.

While neither team leads its division, Toronto and St. Louis have been on the move in recent weeks, and the Cardinals seem like a legitimate threat to prevent the Milwaukee Brewers from repeating as N.L. Central champions.

Goldschmidt, Arenado and second baseman Tommy Edman rank second, third and seventh in WAR among position players; no other team has three players in the top 10. Combined, they account for 15 WAR.

The Cardinals also have a better run differential than the Brewers, a vital statistic that St. Louis ranks fourth in among National League teams. And that figure could improve after St. Louis bolstered its rotation with trades at the deadline for José Quintana and Jordan Montgomery, a pair of quality left-handed starters.

Even if they fail to win the division, the Cardinals would be in line for one of the N.L.’s three wild-card spots in the expanded playoff field.

And should Goldschmidt get back to the postseason, there is reason to believe his outlandish season would continue: In 21 playoff games, he has eight home runs.

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College football Saturday predictions: TCU vs. Kansas State, plus more picks

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Here are Pigskin Profit’s college football picks for Saturday’s games:

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Ohio (+1.5) over Toledo

Ohio, looking for its first MAC title since 1968, has exceeded expectations all season, going 9-3 — both overall and against the spread — after being picked to finish fourth in its division. The Rockets enter with back-to-back losses as heavy favorites. The fact Toledo lost quarterback Dequan Finn last week in a season-low 14-point effort will be too much to overcome. 

Quarterback Max Duggan #15 of the TCU Horned Frogs
Quarterback Max Duggan #15 of the TCU Horned Frogs
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Running back Deuce Vaughn #22 of the Kansas State Wildcats
Running back Deuce Vaughn #22 of the Kansas State Wildcats
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Kansas State (+2.5) over TCU

A perfect record means TCU deserves to be in the playoff regardless of who wins the Big 12 title, but the Horned Frogs’ penchant for slow starts and late sweats makes them difficult to trust against the streaking Wildcats, who held an 18-point lead over them in a game during which Kansas State’s top two quarterbacks were both injured. After TCU’s 12-0 regular season — including a 9-2-1 record against the spread — Vegas is still begging you to take them. 

TROY (-8.5) over Coastal Carolina

The Post’s deadline means I have to make this pick now, but there is no need for you to pull the trigger until Grayson McCall’s status is revealed. Right now, it looks like the Chanticleers will be without their star quarterback for a third straight game. A meeting with the Sun Belt’s best defense doesn’t bode well for an offense that scored 7 points in a 40-point loss to James Madison last weekend. 

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Fresno State (+3.5) over BOISE STATE

Ignore the Broncos’ 40-20 win on Oct. 8, when the Bulldogs played without future NFL quarterback Jake Haener. Since that loss, Fresno State has won seven straight games, averaging nearly 40 points over the past six games. An overrated Boise State defense has suffered its three losses to the highest-ranked offenses it has faced this season, while the blue field isn’t what it used to be. Boise State has dropped five home games over the past three seasons. 

Georgia (-17.5) over LSU

The Bulldogs have predictably fallen victim to the lulls attached to most repeat efforts, but they have been at their best in their biggest games — most memorably dominating Oregon and Tennessee — and an SEC Championship would hold extra meaning after Georgia lost the crown last year. Coach Brian Kelly may want to print out the bevy of clips praising him after his Tigers’ win over Alabama. In a few weeks, he’ll be staring down his fifth loss of the season. 

LSU head coach Brian Kelly
LSU head coach Brian Kelly
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UCF (+4) over TULANE

The Green Wave own the better story — flipping last year’s 2-10 mark to move one win from their first conference championship since 1998 — and the momentum after ending Cincinnati’s 32-game home win streak last week. The Knights own a head-to-head road win from three weeks ago, the 11th-ranked offense in FBS, and most importantly, a few extra points in their pocket. 

North Carolina (+7.5) over Clemson

The Tigers enter another title game as favorites against an undeserving representative from the Coastal Division, but DJ Uiagalelei’s latest shaky performance (8-for-29 for 99 yards in a playoff-killing loss, which doubled as Clemson’s first home defeat since 2016) — and coach Dabo Swinney’s stupidly stubborn decision to keep the struggling quarterback as his starter, gives the Tar Heels an important edge in sports’ most important position. By rule, one team must be declared the ACC champion. 

Michigan (-17) over Purdue

Don’t be concerned about a letdown after the Wolverines won their first game at Ohio State in 22 years. An even more emotional win over the Buckeyes wasn’t an issue last year in the Big Ten title game — a 42-3 demolition of Iowa — and won’t have an impact against the third unranked Power Five team to play in a conference title game in the past decade. A Big Ten championship is plenty of motivation. 

Best bets: Fresno State, Georgia, Michigan 
This season: 92-97-6 
2014-21 record: 1,030-970-19

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United States vs. Netherlands prediction: World Cup picks, odds

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The United States men’s national team has a golden opportunity on Saturday morning in the World Cup. With the entire country behind them, the Yanks could qualify for the quarterfinals for the first time since 2002. 

Team USA is an underdog against the Netherlands (they’re +375 to win), but the Americans relish the role of being outsiders going up against a very vulnerable favorite. 

As we saw against Wales and Iran, the USMNT can struggle to break down defensive teams. The Yanks are an athletic, creative and quick team, but they’re not all that comfortable in possession. Against Wales and Iran, they dominated possession and struggled to break through enough times to feel comfortable. 

U.S. vs. Netherlands pick: U.S. +375 (PointsBet)

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But against England — easily its best performance of the tournament — the USMNT was able to use its athleticism, team speed and talent to give the Three Lions a lot to think about. England tore through both Iran and Wales, but struggled mightily against the Americans because it couldn’t dominate the midfield. 

Tyler Adams, Yunus Musah and Weston McKennie have turned into one of the best midfield trios in the tournament. Their ability to make life difficult on opposing midfielders is a huge factor against a Dutch midfield that should be terrific on paper, but has struggled through the first three matches. 

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In fact, outside of Cody Gakpo, you could say that about the entire Netherlands team. Even though they won Group A with two wins and a draw, Clockwork Oranje have been relatively disappointing compared to their pretournament expectations. 

Drawn into a soft group with Qatar, Ecuador and Senegal, the Netherlands posted a +4 goal differential, but its expected goal difference was -0.4 and it was -1.8 before its 2-0 victory against Qatar on Tuesday. In other words, the Netherlands was a bit fortunate to post the results it did. 

Christian Pulisic of United States
Christian Pulisic of United States
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That doesn’t mean that the Dutch can’t grow into this tournament. The history of the World Cup is littered with teams that started slowly and went on to do big things, so there’s no reason to count them out just yet. 

That said, it’s also hard to feel confident about backing them as an odds-on favorite against a team that punches up in competition very well. England is a stronger team than the Netherlands, with a better midfield, and the USMNT gave it fits in a nil-nil draw. 

Winning the battle in the midfield would give the USMNT a serious chance to win this match, and it’s a fair argument to make that the Yanks have the edge in the middle of the field with Adams, Musah and McKennie going up against some combination of Frenkie de Jong, Davy Klaassen, Teun Koopmeiners and Marten de Roon. 

The Netherlands may have advantages in other parts of the pitch, and the U.S. defense has looked a bit vulnerable at times against less talented attacks than the Clockwork Oranje, but the Dutch, aside from Gakpo, just haven’t really looked all that threatening. The Netherlands only created 0.8 expected goals against Senegal and Ecuador. 

Sportsbooks around the country will be a little tepid about how they price the USA, given how much money will come in on the Yanks, but this number is still well worth a bet on a team that profiles extremely well as an underdog. 

U.S. vs. Netherlands pick: U.S.A. +375 (PointsBet)

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Luka Doncic latest superstar the Knicks have to deal with

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At some point, the Knicks are going to have to beat a superstar if they want to reach the postseason, and they will get another chance on Saturday afternoon.

The Mavericks and Luka Doncic, the NBA’s leading scorer, will visit the Garden for a matinee, giving coach Tom Thibodeau’s Knicks another chance against one of the league’s top players. So far, the Knicks have lost to Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks (twice), Stephen Curry and the Warriors, Ja Morant and the Grizzlies (twice), Kevin Durant and the Nets, Jayson Tatum and the Celtics and Donovan Mitchell and the Cavaliers.

The closest they have come to knocking off a top-flight star was when they beat Karl-Anthony Towns and the Timberwolves. The Knicks did nearly defeat Morant and Antetokounmpo in the past week at the Garden, but lost to the Grizzlies and the Bucks by a combined 10 points.

Doncic, 23, has become one of the premier players in the sport. He is averaging 33.6 points, 8.7 rebounds and 8.7 assists while shooting a robust 50.5 percent from the field. He leads the league in player efficiency rating at 32.18 and already has five 40-point games.

Luka Doncic
AP

He will be a major test for the Knicks’ top perimeter defenders, RJ Barrett and Quentin Grimes. They did a good job on him last year in a season sweep of the Mavericks, holding Doncic to 20-of-48 shooting and an average of 26 points in the two games.


The Knicks will be looking to snap a three-game losing streak at the Garden and hoping to improve upon one of the worst home marks in the Eastern Conference. Only the Hornets, with three, have fewer home wins than the Kncisk, who are 4-6 at the Garden. On the road, the Knicks have been much better, with six wins, second in the Eastern Conference to the Celtics’ seven.

“I just think that we have to bring our same road intensity back home,” Jalen Brunson said. “At home, we’re obviously more comfortable and all that. On the road, it’s just us on the road, it’s us and the hostile environment. I think we just got to bring that same mentality at home and finish games.”

The Knicks have lost their last three games at home, to the Trail Blazers, Grizzlies and Bucks, by a combined 13 points.


Former Knick Kemba Walker, who signed this week with Dallas, isn’t expected to play for the Mavericks until the middle of next week, general manager Nico Harrison said on Dallas radio station KTCK-The Ticket. Walker was traded by the Knicks on draft night to the Pistons to free up salary cap space to sign Brunson, and Detroit later bought him out. … The Knicks’ Ryan Arcidiacono (sprained left ankle) didn’t practice on Friday.


With the Mavericks in town, Thibodeau was asked about the NBA’s ongoing tampering investigation regarding the Knicks’ pursuit and acquisition of Brunson.

“At the appropriate time, I think [president] Leon [Rose] will make a statement. But let everyone do their job,” Thibodeau said. “So, that’s the way we’re approaching it. We feel very good about the way we went about things.”

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