Paul Goldschmidt Becoming an Elite First Baseman

Paul Goldschmidt had some pretty robust projections entering the year — Steamer projected him to have the seventh-highest wOBA among first basemen, for instance — considering that he had just 177 major league plate appearances under his belt. And despite a slow start, the 24-year-old slugger is living up to those projections and then some. If he keeps producing for the final six weeks in the same fashion, he will need to be considered one of the best first basemen in the game.

Last season, Goldschmidt came up and performed well down the stretch, giving the struggling D-backs’ first-base contingent a shot in the arm. In those 177 plate appearances, he provided the D-backs with more value than the motley crew of Brandon Allen, Lyle Overbay, Juan Miranda, Russell Branyan and Xavier Nady did in 580. He then went on to start the final four games of Arizona’s National League Division Series against the Brewers, and hit phenomenally — he posted two-hit games in three of his four games, and homered in two of them.

Still, heading into the season, manager Kirk Gibson was hedging his bets. Goldschmidt started on opening day, but Overbay started in five of the next 11 contests, giving rise to the notion that the two may share the job. Those concerns only deepened when the mini-hulk only managed a Bruce Banner-like .193/.288/.281 line in April. But then a funny thing happened — Gibson started playing Goldschmidt more anyway:

Games Started Goldschmidt Overbay
April 15 8
May 22 6
June 22 4
July 24 3
August 18 0

Gibson would have drawn little criticism had he given Overbay the lion’s share of the playing time. After all, Overbay is having his best season since 2009, and Goldschmidt could have been sent back to Triple-A with the old “he needs more seasoning” routine. And yet, Gibson stuck with him, and he has been rewarded for that. In fact, once Chris Johnson came aboard, the D-backs parted ways with Overbay entirely, designating him for assignment and letting him walk as a free agent.

If Goldschmidt is feeling any pressure to produce without Overbay around, he certainly hasn’t shown it. In the 27 games since Overbay last started for the D-backs, Goldschmidt has hit .301/.342/.534. Which is to say that over the past month or so, he’s hit the same way he has all season, as his season line is a remarkably similar .298/.359/.534.

Looking at the first-base leaderboards, it’s hard to deny Goldschmidt’s impact. Looking at WAR, Joey Votto and Edwin Encarnacion have been more valuable than has Goldschmidt, but E5 is a designated hitter half of the time. Crossing him off the list leaves Goldschmidt tied for second place with Prince Fielder. And while Goldschmidt gets a minor boost from his defense, the only players who bump over him when looking at wRC+ are Allen Craig and Paul Konerko, and Craig is not yet a full-time first baseman himself. Now, there is a catch — first-base production as a whole, according to wRC+, is at its lowest level since 1982. Normal stalwarts like Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez and Mark Teixeira are having career-worst seasons, even with Pujols and Gonzalez heating up as of late, and the position lost Miguel Cabrera this season as well. Perhaps if the competition wasn’t as stiff, Goldschmidt wouldn’t stick out as much. Then again, Goldschmidt, as we discussed above, hasn’t hit well all year himself either. So while it’s a point worth acknowledging, it is perhaps a moot point.

In picking apart Goldschmidt, many have said that he is basically a glorified platoon player, and it’s certainly true that he has mashed lefties with a lot more authority than he has righties. But in looking at the splits of his splits (thanks to the always awesome Jeff Zimmerman), we can see that he has improved his performance against right-handed pitching as this season has progressed:

Vs. RHP PA AVG OBP SLG
April 45 0.205 0.311 0.308
May 61 0.268 0.328 0.411
June 54 0.234 0.315 0.468
July 74 0.279 0.324 0.426
August 56 0.306 0.339 0.490

Let’s make that even simpler:

Vs. RHP PA AVG OBP SLG
April-May 106 0.242 0.321 0.368
June-Aug 184 0.274 0.326 0.457

Now, is .274/.326/.457 the world’s greatest batting line? Of course not. Is 184 PA a small sample size? Of course it is. But has he improved over the early part of the season? Yes, yes he has. The jury is still out, but Goldschmidt’s season wRC+ vs. RHP now stands at 96, and if his performance from the last three months sticks, it figures to be better than that by the end of the season. Combine that with his lefty-thrashing ways and the fact that he has hit as well on the road as he has in his high-altitude home, and I think that’s something you might be interested in. Especially when you combine it with potentially better than average defense and a pretty good knack for stealing bases from someone listed at 245 lbs.

Paul Goldschmidt has been as valuable this season as Prince Fielder, and has been more than valuable than Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez and Mark Teixeira, to name a few. That doesn’t mean he’s as good as or better than any of them — they have long track records of success, and Goldschmidt only crossed the 600 PA mark for his career last week. He needs to show that he can hit righties for more than a few months, and achieving better results in high-leverage situations would help round of his portfolio as well. But with his play this season, Goldschmidt has separated himself from the pack of young guns like Freddie Freeman, Yonder Alonso, Brandon Belt and Ike Davis with whom he started this season, and put himself into the discussion of who is the best in the game.



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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com. He has written for The Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.


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Robbie G.
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Robbie G.
4 years 1 month ago

“…first-base production as a whole, according to wRC+, is at its lowest level since 1982.”

I wonder, is this a fluke, or has 1B production as a whole been trending downward for a period of time? And is production at other positions down and/or trending downward?

Are we starting to see more elite bats playing non-1B positions, so the teams can squeeze out as much production as possible from its lineup (and also so the players can get as much money on the free agent market as possible)?

Dinghy Dog
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Dinghy Dog
4 years 1 month ago

I find it remarkable that the Diamondbacks’ first baseman with just above replacement level expectations and pulled from AA, has already reached elite status, while the Giants’ Brandon Belt is still struggling to prove his destiny isn’t a career at AAA.

byron
Member
byron
4 years 1 month ago

Goldschmidt is a half-year older, has had regular playing time longer, plays in a much, much friendlier stadium, and has an OBP this year .002 below Belt’s. Goldschmidt is hitting for way more power, and is unarguably having a better season, but Belt’s “struggles” exist mostly in the mind of his manager, as his 111 wRC+ on the season indicates.

jesse
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jesse
4 years 1 month ago

Really??? Belt is 24, and has just 555 PA in the Majors, He has posted a 106 wRC and a 111 wRC in 300 PA this year. The claim he ” struggling to prove his destiny isn’t a career at AAA” is just foolish.

Urban Shocker
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Urban Shocker
4 years 1 month ago

wasn’t he the minor league HR leader in 2011? I don’t think the expectations were that low.

Dirtbag
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Dirtbag
4 years 1 month ago

Keith Law hated Goldschmidt. Said he lacked bat speed. Still trying to figure out how someone with that much power can lack bat speed.

I thought force = mass * bat speed?

Dirtbag
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Dirtbag
4 years 1 month ago

Oh, and this website had him as outside of Arizona’s top 10 prospects in preseason 2011, just behind Keon Broxton.

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/top-10-prospects-the-arizona-diamondbacks/

Paul
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Paul
4 years 1 month ago

BA tagged him with the “Steve Balboni” comp after that Cal League season, which was oft-repeated by people who clearly had never seen him. In fact, after he was called up and I watched him a few games it was clear that that was the most ludicrous comp I’d ever seen, and it convinced me that there must be a widespread practice by scouts of copying reports from each other and bagging out of minor league games in the second inning to head to the strip club.

I remember Steve Balboni well, up close and everything, and Paul Goldschmidt is a completely different hitter. And this is not to bash Balboni, who is still regarded very fondly in KC. I once (sort of) watched him hit a home run in which the entire stadium had no idea that he’d homered, because he hit the ball so hard that nobody saw it, save for the poor sap who had it imprint in his forehead in LF.

Ruggiano's Pizza
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Ruggiano's Pizza
4 years 1 month ago

Paul, you must be new to the internet because I see worse comps almost on a daily basis on other websites …

a
Guest
a
4 years 1 month ago

Scouts being lazy and incorrect? No way!

Shaun Catron
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Shaun Catron
4 years 1 month ago

Bruce Bochy is allergic to playing “young” players. If Goldschmidt were on the Giants he would have been yanked around for Aubrey Huff as well.

Hell, it took Aubrey Huff having anxiety issues and injuries to even get Belt his consistent playing time.

LeviDavis
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LeviDavis
4 years 1 month ago

“But then a funny thing happened — Gibson started playing Goldschmidt more anyway.”

Giants version: “But then a funny thing happened — Bochy started benching Belt every time he struck out.”

channelclemente
Guest
4 years 1 month ago

Never let the facts and data get in your way.

LeviDavis
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LeviDavis
4 years 1 month ago

Huh?

LeviDavis
Guest
LeviDavis
4 years 1 month ago

Here are some facts and data, Goldschmidt and Belt both started the season as young first basemen who struggled early on. In Arizona, there was a good alternative, Lyle Overbay (113 wRC+ this year). In SF, there was no good alternative, Huff (84 wRC+) and Pill (75 wRC+) were the options.

Both, I would argue (not a fact or datum) needed to be allowed to play through their struggles.

Goldschmidt’s PA’s by month: 66, 95, 94, 104, 80 (this month). Belt’s PA’s: 41, 80, 85, 79, 62 (this month).

One was given a chance to play through his struggles, despite a strong alternative being available. One was yanked in and out of the lineup despite only weaker options being available.

Isaac
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Isaac
4 years 1 month ago

If someone can point me to a site where I can find the splits within splits…like L/R splits for home/road, I’d be forever in your debt.

Jeff Zimmerman
Member
Member
4 years 1 month ago

Hi, I usually get stuck looking up the numbers in a database for these guys and gals around here.

Baseballmusings has a day to day database that allows some splits of splits.

DD
Guest
DD
4 years 1 month ago

So Goldschmidt isn’t a platoon player, but Cody Ross is, per an article earlier this week?

Goldschmidt wRC+ vs L=207, R=96
Ross wRC+ vs L=200, R=91

jesse
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jesse
4 years 1 month ago

Apparently you missed the whole part of the article that has show that Goldschmidt has improved mightily vs right handed pitchers.

barry jive
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barry jive
4 years 1 month ago

so what does that have to do with Cody Ross

Oliver
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Oliver
4 years 1 month ago

It seems like there could be some pretty vicious batting average regression if his BABIP drops and he doesn’t figure out how to strike out less. It’s going to be hard to post a high batting average striking out 25% of the time, unless you’re making crazy contact.

Steve
Guest
Steve
4 years 1 month ago

Well, he is making 77% contact which is just at tick under league average of 79. But his LD% is ridiculous at 24% right now. League average is 18. BABip is much more a reflection of line drives and popups than luck. His BABip stands at 353 right now but ZiPS had him projected for a 346 BABip.

bmatlock
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bmatlock
4 years 1 month ago

suprised no one mentioned goldy’s 13 swipes, which ties him with E5 for the 1B lead. Since E5 is labeled as a DH in the article, that would make goldy numero uno, which no one mentioned. Goldy = elite

Bob
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Bob
4 years 1 month ago

Yes, everyone knows the mark of an elite 1B is how many bases they steal.

byron
Member
byron
4 years 1 month ago

“Yes, everyone knows the mark of an elite 1B is how many bases they steal.”

Created value is created value. Unless you don’t think home runs hit by glove-first shortstops should count. It’s not worth spending time lauding the 1B who leads the league with 5 SBs, but if Goldschmidt is going to push 20, that’s real value, no matter the position he plays.

Grant
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Grant
4 years 1 month ago

shazaam!

Mcneildon
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Mcneildon
4 years 1 month ago

It would appear that the author alluded to it:

“Especially when you combine it with potentially better than average defense and a pretty good knack for stealing bases from someone listed at 245 lbs.”

shoewizard
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shoewizard
4 years 1 month ago

His career K rate is 25%, but last year it was 30% and so far this year it’s 23%

I agree he is unlikely to sustain a .340-.350 BABIP over a 1500 or 2000 PA’s. Not many do.

But I would not rule out the possibility that Goldschmidt reduces his K rate a little further. If he can get it down to 20%, he doesn’t need a .350 BABIP to maintain .290-.300 BA.

Paul
Guest
Paul
4 years 1 month ago

Love the splits within splits, but if you go back to last year he did much better against righthanders, SSS and all. Oh, and the entire platoon hitter take is just silly. Is Billy Butler only a platoon hitter because he has raked lefthanders so much? What about Jim Thome’s career .230 BA against lefthanders. It turns out that very good players accumulate stats against oppo handed pitchers, and pitchers who are not good. But if I’m not mistaken, his first MLB HR was against Lincecum (the good one down the stretch last year). He competes fine against good pitchers too. Clearly his is not Votto, but given his work ethic and ability to make adjustments, I would not rule out elite status within two years.

odditie
Member
odditie
4 years 1 month ago

Butler doesn’t struggle vs RH http://www.fangraphs.com/statsplits.aspx?playerid=7399&position=1B/DH&season=0

Thome is a lefty which makes platoon splits less damaging since he’s faced them in 1/3 of his career AB. Goldschmidt has faced RH over 2/3 of his career AB and would have to continue to do so to be an everyday player.

Paul
Guest
Paul
4 years 1 month ago

Who said Butler “struggles” against righthanded pitching? People have been making that argument about Goldschmidt, yet Butler’s career RC+ against righthanders is 108 while Goldschmidt’s is 105.

Butler has a RC+ against lefthanders of over 150 while Goldschmidt’s is 177. So that fact that they are virtually identical against righthanders, but Goldschmidt is even more dominant than Butler against lefthanders is an argument in favor of Goldschmidt being a platoon player but Butler not?

jcxy
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jcxy
4 years 1 month ago

i’m wary of parsing goldschmidt’s season down into too many parts–hasn’t league-wide offense gone up (especially slugging) in june, july, and august vis-a-vis april and may?

having said that, he certainly wouldn’t be the first 24 year old to improve as he faces more ML pitching. and really, that’s the point, right?

ValueArb
Guest
ValueArb
4 years 1 month ago

Parsing into the season into too many parts would be like declaring the Kubel signing an indisputable success not long after a career best hot streak, right as reversion to the mean was causing his offensive and defensive stats to plummet back towards his career averages.

WAR Invitational
Guest
WAR Invitational
4 years 1 month ago

I wouldn’t be so quick to label Goldschmidt an elite. He and Mark Trumbo, both high power, low walk, high K hitters, are reaping the benefits of a season where a third of the qualified pitchers are posting above average K/BB but below average HR/9 (that sounds odd…let’s just say HR/9 that’s 1.0 or greater). Goldschmidt and Trumbo are naturally going to benefit more by seeing more strikes, and with their power they can compensate for the lack of contact by sending balls out of the park. The league environment is just favoring their style of hitting right now. It’s unsurprising they have similar wRC+.

Ike Davis is closer in profile to Goldschmidt than Belt, Freeman or Alonso, but I’d argue Goldschmidt has far more power than Davis. You have to look at wOBA and not ISO when evaluating their power because it’s wholly possible Goldschmidt’s strength allows him to consistently drive hard hit singles. By that reasoning, Belt/Freeman/Alonso’s lack of power implies even if they make contact, they’re not turning their balls in play into hits.

I acknowledge that 1B in general is a weak position this year and those two are producing at a level traditionally expected of 1B, but I wouldn’t go so far as to label them elites yet, even elite 1B. They are above average hitters at position that is widely struggling for even league average production.

Kevin Millar
Guest
Kevin Millar
4 years 1 month ago

Why did I steal “Got Heem” from Brian Wilson?

GorillaKilla
Guest
GorillaKilla
4 years 1 month ago

Why did you steal your hair style and color from Ellen Degeneres? Douchebagary.

Jeffrey
Guest
Jeffrey
4 years 1 month ago

Elite to me would mean best or second best. Neither of those are the things Goldie has done yet.

bgburek
Member
bgburek
3 years 6 months ago

Keith Law says Goldschmidt is just a platoon guy who can kill LHP and is an above average defender. I don’t agree based on this article.

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