If it is at all possible to feel sorry for a man who is so exceptionally talented at baseball that a team already paying him millions of dollars reportedly wants to continue paying him millions of dollars until he's no longer exceptionally good at baseball, then, yes, by all means feel sorry for Paul Goldschmidt.
Goldschmidt is having his best season yet, which is saying something. But he's doing so in what looks like another October-less effort for his Arizona D-backs, who have finished at or below .500 each of the last four seasons.
This 2015 club is actually better than many people anticipated. Outfielder David Peralta has emerged as a legitimate cleanup threat to bat behind Goldschmidt. A.J. Pollock is a terrific two-way talent. Cuban import Yasmany Tomas and fellow rookie Jake Lamb have both, at the very least, shown promise (though, uh, Tomas didn't exactly make a Gold Glove-worthy play on Pedro Florimon's walk-off triple in Pittsburgh the other night). They've all contributed to the NL's most productive offense.
Alas, because of their continued search for consistent pitching -- a search that could very well lead them into the David Price or Zack Greinke markets this winter -- the D-backs are again much more likely to host a division-clinching pool party than to enjoy one themselves.
Goldschmidt got a brief taste of October that arrived in part because of the late-season spark he provided after his 2011 callup. But in his first four full seasons, his .304/.400/.537 slash line and 24-homer and 91-RBI averages have gone for naught.
"When you're in a race -- even going back to high school and college -- it's just different than a regular-season game," he said. "That's what everyone strives for."
On an individual basis, Goldschmidt strived for better this year and, remarkably, achieved it. He's elevated his batting average to a league-leading level, stolen more bases than he ever has before, added more than 50 points to his on-base percentage thanks to a rise in walk rate and a cutdown in strikeouts and posted an OPS+ a career-best 75 points above league average.
"The more experience you get, hopefully you get smarter," he said. "You understand your swing more and make the physical adjustments better."
Still, Goldy currently appears destined to finish behind Bryce Harper in the National League MVP voting, a fate probably more palatable to the D-backs faithful than 2013, when he finished behind Andrew McCutchen despite superior offensive numbers across the board.
(NL MVP voters have actually been more forgiving than AL voters when it comes to giving the honor to representatives of non-playoff teams, but it's still a bit rare -- five times in the last 20 years and not once since Albert Pujols won it in 2008.)
Anyway, this isn't about award recognition so much as it's about winning efforts on lost causes, teams that in all likelihood aren't headed for the postseason.
These are some of baseball's best under-the-radar seasons in 2015:
J.D. Martinez, Tigers
Amid the rubble that is the Tigers' (temporary?) downfall, the confirmation that Martinez's out-of-nowhere emergence in 2014 was no fluke makes you feel quite a bit better about their competitive chances in 2016 and beyond. The change to more of an uppercut swing plane before '14 made Martinez a late-spring waiver claim-turned-centerpiece, and he's cemented that status with a .900-plus-OPS and 30-plus-homer season (his home run-to-fly ball rate has jumped three points this season).
Less heralded but still important are the gains he's made defensively in the corner outfield, where the metrics now label him an asset instead of a liability.
Sonny Gray, A's
You wonder if team performance will have any bearing on what looks to be an agonizingly close call between Gray and Dallas Keuchel for the American League Cy Young.
Gray has reached new heights in his second full season, with an AL-best ERA+ (192) and WHIP (0.98). His line-drive and home run-to-fly ball rates have plummeted, and, if he wasn't there already, he's risen into the ranks of this sport's must-see starters.
Man, just think how much trade value he's going to have this winter.
(Calm down, A's fans, I'm just joking … mostly.)
Nelson Cruz, Mariners
The hard truth is that the M's have had few external additions pan out in recent years. This one absolutely did pan out -- arguably better than anybody anticipated -- and somehow the overall offensive output has gone backward.
Only in Seattle, right?
But you can't blame Cruz. Though he's had to do the vast bulk of his damage away from pitcher-friendly Safeco Field (he has 10 homers and an .883 OPS there vs. 26 homers and a 1.099 OPS elsewhere) and with nobody on base, he's nonetheless been a more productive player in every category that counts than he was in his 40-homer free-agent showcase in Baltimore last summer.
Joey Votto, Reds
The Reds traded away Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake, months after trading away Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon. Further offseason teardown could be coming, if all that Aroldis Chapman and Jay Bruce smoke leads to fire. Votto remains, with nine years remaining on a contract that sure seems unmovable.
At least no reasonable person can accuse the soon-to-be-32-year-old Votto of not living up to the terms of that contract this year (though I'm certain some Reds fans will try). He's been his old, healthy self, showing his base-ic instincts with an elite OBP to go with 21 homers and his best adjusted OPS+ since 2012. He's gotten on base in more than half of his plate appearances in the second half of a season going nowhere, so that's a bummer. Todd Frazier and his 29 home runs know the feeling.
Shelby Miller, Braves
In his last 16 starts, Miller has a 3.03 ERA. Nine times in that span, he's allowed two earned runs or fewer while pitching six innings or more.
He's 0-8 in those 16 starts.
So there's yet another pox on the win stat. As for Miller, he'll have to settle for being a beaming ray of hope on an Atlanta team that has gone to considerable lengths over the last calendar year to improve the state of its young pitching stash. Miller's sophomore slump in St. Louis is becoming an increasingly distant memory. He's gotten away from primarily utilizing the four-seam fastball to rely more frequently on a sinker and cutter, and the results have been largely wonderful -- regardless of what his 5-9 record might lead you to believe. Among qualified starters, only Aaron Harang (2.67) has received less run support than Miller (2.71).
Jason Kipnis, Indians
The Indians finished three games out of a Wild Card spot last season, and there was some inter-organizational thought that if they could just get Kipnis back to his former All-Star self, they could/should have enough offense to support a burgeoning young pitching staff and bridge that gap.
Kipnis came through (and so has the pitching staff, with Corey Kluber resembling his Cy Young self in many respects). Kipnis has been worth four full Wins Above Replacement more than he was last year. Alas, the rest of the offense withered around him. So his newly reignited bid for the AL batting title (he was activated from the disabled list Tuesday after a bout with a shoulder issue) presses on for a club that -- regardless of any Wild Card-standing squinting that might be taking place -- has shifted to more of an evaluative state than a competitive one.
Chris Sale, White Sox
He's had some blips on the radar this year -- five starts in which he's allowed five earned runs or more -- that have contributed to the highest ERA of his career and the lowest ERA+ of his career. Sure, you could say those starts fall within the wide range of factors that have made this such a disappointing season for the White Sox, who have too many teams to leapfrog to be taken all that seriously in the crowded Wild Card picture.
Sale, however, has pitched in front of the worst-rated defenses in the Majors. His Fielding Independent Pitching mark -- a gauge of the factors in his control -- is actually the best of his career (2.40) and the best in the league. It's aided by that league-leading 208 strikeout total, which itself is aided by the dynamic eight-start stretch just before the break, when Sale struck out 97 guys in just 60 innings.
Nolan Arenado, Rockies
"I don't know any of these dudes we got."
Those were Arenado's words to the Denver Post in the wake of the Troy Tulowitzki trade. Not exactly marketing slogan material.
The Rox are trying to build around a new star on the left-hand side of the infield. Though Carlos Gonzalez playing himself into a potentially viable offseason trade piece is an encouraging development of one sort, nothing has been more encouraging for this club's long-term outlook than the rise of the 24-year-old Arenado. He's made several superhuman defensive plays at the hot corner, and the majority of his 29 homers have actually come away from Coors Field. He hit a big statistical funk in July but seems to have worked himself out of it. Now the Rockies just need some "dudes" who can pitch.
Carter Capps, Marlins
A 1.16 ERA and 1.07 FIP. A rate of 16.8 strikeouts per nine innings. A 0.81 WHIP. A 90.9 percent strand rate.
It's only 31 innings, limited by a May 20 callup and a recent elbow strain, and some people insist the hop-step delivery, which has created perceived velocity readings on Statcast™ that outweigh those posted by Chapman, ought to be considered cheating.
But you can't argue with the results when Capps is on the mound, even if he's not necessarily on the part of the mound where we're accustomed to seeing people.
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Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor and an MLB.com columnist. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.