Paul Goldschmidt is Staying Alive

We can wax poetic about baseball fairly easily — some have pretty much made a career out of it. The greenness of the park, the sheer number of games, and its tight ties to history are all bullet points in the “why baseball is the best sport” argument. There’s also the pace of the game. Baseball doesn’t have a clock! It can go on forever! While this can get overplayed at some times, it certainly is a draw. We perhaps aren’t interested in watching six-hour games every day, but the inherent pace of the sport brings with it another facet — drama.

Every sport has dramatic moments. There are always points in a game where one’s palms can get sweaty and knees bounce in anticipation. College basketball — specifically the NCAA tournament — may hold a monopoly on this, at least as far as intensity goes. But baseball has the most high-drama moments, simply due to the fact that there are so many games. But that’s the exact reason we don’t think of baseball — at least regular season baseball — as high-drama. There are so many games. No matter what happens, there is a game tomorrow. The effect of one at-bat on an entire team’s season is far less than the effect of one play on a football team’s season. That’s just the numbers. But baseball has the most, certainly. And the king of dramatic situation — the great bringer of the bouncing knee — is the full count.

In almost every conceivable situation, a 3-2 count benefits the hitter. If a pitcher is walk-averse (which they usually should be), then a full count forces them to throw a pitch in or very near the stike zone. Hittable pitches are hit more easily than non-hittable pitches — hence the very well-labeled term. In 2013, the league had an .804 OPS in at-bats that reached a full count, versus a .714 OPS overall. Reaching a full count also means that the pitcher had to throw more pitches, which is something the opposing team likes. This is all coming back to the original point that 3-2 counts benefit the hitter, and if a hitter can work a full count, that is beneficial to his team. And in this, albeit narrow, sense, Paul Goldschmidt was very valuable in 2013.

Batter 3-2 pitches
Joey Votto 196
Paul Goldschmidt 195
Shin-Soo Choo 192
Mike Trout 181
Mike Napoli 177
Jay Bruce 173
Josh Donaldson 167
Justin Upton 161
Carlos Santana 160
Jason Kipnis 159
Brett Gardner 159
Matt Carpenter 154
Adam Dunn 152

The above is a list of all the hitters that saw 150 or more full-count pitches in 2013. Goldschmidt comes in second, with 195. The man at the top should come as no surprise. Joey Votto is famous (or infamous, depending on the source) for his patience. It makes sense that that would convert to many 3-2 pitches. But this just tells part of the story. While getting to a full count is good for a hitter, it also matters what he does with it.

Batter 3-2 pitches HR AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wOBA
Paul Goldschmidt 195 5 0.3333 0.5593 0.5897 0.339 0.1356 0.493
Josh Donaldson 167 1 0.3429 0.5856 0.4857 0.3694 0.1622 0.477
Shin-Soo Choo 192 1 0.2759 0.5772 0.4483 0.3893 0.2215 0.470
Mike Trout 181 1 0.25 0.542 0.35 0.3893 0.2824 0.425
Carlos Santana 160 1 0.2763 0.5214 0.3816 0.3419 0.2051 0.418
Mike Napoli 177 3 0.2093 0.4809 0.3837 0.3359 0.313 0.405
Jason Kipnis 159 2 0.1935 0.5 0.3387 0.3846 0.25 0.402
Joey Votto 196 1 0.186 0.52 0.2791 0.4133 0.2133 0.398
Brett Gardner 159 0.2329 0.4766 0.3425 0.3178 0.243 0.389
Matt Carpenter 154 2 0.2278 0.4655 0.3544 0.3103 0.1379 0.386
Jay Bruce 173 3 0.2125 0.4091 0.4125 0.2455 0.3364 0.370
Justin Upton 161 4 0.1786 0.4435 0.3214 0.3226 0.3306 0.369
Adam Dunn 152 4 0.1282 0.4286 0.3077 0.3445 0.4202 0.360

When it comes to production on full counts, Goldschmidt and Shin-Soo Choo lead the pack. Votto cannot seem to hit 3-2 pitches for beans. He does have an insane walk rate, but his lack of production with the bat drives him down to the middle of the overall-production list. Some of the most patient hitters in the league can be seen above , which actually makes it kind of boring. It’s expected, almost. But there’s something I haven’t shown you yet.

batter 3-2 Pitches FouledOff %FouledOff
Paul Goldschmidt 195 76 38.97%
Jay Bruce 173 63 36.42%
Jason Kipnis 159 55 34.59%
Josh Donaldson 167 55 32.93%
Brett Gardner 159 52 32.70%
Mike Trout 181 49 27.07%
Carlos Santana 160 42 26.25%
Mike Napoli 177 46 25.99%
Matt Carpenter 154 38 24.68%
Justin Upton 161 37 22.98%
Joey Votto 196 45 22.96%
Shin-Soo Choo 192 43 22.40%
Adam Dunn 152 33 21.71%

Goldy not only works full counts, he stays in full counts, fouling off nearly 40% of the 3-2 pitches he sees. These are what radio and TV announcers refer to as “good at-bats.” I would probably also call them that, but I don’t carry the clout of a person on TV. Dave Cameron has been on TV, and he might call them “good at-bats,” but I’m too afraid to ask him and don’t want to remind him that he still lets me write here.

Where were we? Oh yeah. How? How is Paul Goldschmidt able to foul off so many pitches? It seems like where those pitches are thrown has a lot to do with it.

goldschmidt32swing

goldschmidt32take

For some reason, pitchers are just not that interested in pitching around Paul Goldschmidt. Almost every full-count pitch he sees is in or near the strike zone. This confuses me. Certainly some of this has to do with the pitcher he’s facing, or perhaps the game situation, but it looks like a good deal of pitchers were unconcerned with throwing a 3-2 meatball to one of the best hitters in the league.

votto32swing

votto32take

These are the 3-2 pitches thrown to Joey Votto. He saw many more pitches out of the strike zone, and pitchers also concentrated on pitching him away or tight inside. Very few meatballs here. Votto certainly (and deservingly) has a reputation as a formidable hitter. But Votto and Goldschmidt were tied this season in wRC+. Goldschmidt slugged better and had a higher wOBA. This was a down year for Votto, no doubt, but his reputation carried with him. It’s taking a while for Goldschmidt’s reputation to catch up, it seems

goldschmidthigh1

goldschmidthigh2

goldschmidtlow1

goldschmidtlow2

Are you one of the smarter pitchers that thinks it’s a good idea to not throw Goldschmidt such hittable pitches in full counts? Well tough crap! Because he’s just going to foul those off, too. He’s an eel waiting in the weeds for the juicy prey to come along. He has no interest in these scraps.

Goldschmidt’s ability to foul off so many pitches allows him to extend the at-bat and wait for a more hittable pitch. This plays at least some part in his impressive full-count stats. And while those stats carry a small sample size tag, full-count at-bats did make up 16% of his total this season, which isn’t insignificant. He hasn’t been in the league long enough for us to make a fair assumption as to whether this is an actual skill or not, but his combination of patience and foul-off-ability (totally not a real term) certainly contributed to a season that saw him rank sixth in wRC+ and ninth in WAR. It also allowed me to use a Bee Gees reference in the title, which has to count for something.

(PitchFX charts via Texas Leaguers)




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David G. Temple is a systems analyst who writes for FanGraphs, NotGraphs and The Hardball Times. He hosts the award-eligible podcast Stealing Home. He has contributed to The Classical and The Platoon Advantage. Dayn Perry once called him a "Bible Made of Lasers." Follow him on Twitter @davidgtemple.

15 Responses to “Paul Goldschmidt is Staying Alive”

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  1. Ivan Grushenko says:

    So Goldschmidt’s a woman’s man with no time to talk? Who knew?

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  2. private joker says:

    Would be interesting to see, of those pitches down the middle, how many were thrown early in the season as in he still wasn’t proven in the eyes of the league, and then next at what ballparks. Dodger Stadium, Candlestick Park, Padres why not throw a can of corn one where the pitcher is trying to get him to hit it to the deepest part center field. Also how many runners on base, /outs at the time. Need more info on all this. The above examples were all pitches out of the zone except for Latos who went 96 trying to get him up. He wasn’t getting a can of corn there.

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    • Trotter76 says:

      Can of corn refers to a high lazy popup that’s an easy catch for an outfielder. It’s not synonymous with meatball. The origin is back in old-time grocery’s when canned goods were kept on high shelves and the grocer had a long stick to pull it off the shelf at the request of a customer. He’d pull it forward and it would drop straight down into his hand, hence, can of corn.

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  3. private joker says:

    Latos missed his spot, but at 96 you can miss.

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  4. That Asshole says:

    *its

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  5. Cus says:

    Doesn’t the high number in full counts actually mean he faced 3-2 in less individual at-bats than other players? At least 152 of those pitches came in 76 at bats.

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  6. Fanthed says:

    This is very astute and funny piece, thank you. My only objection is you calling the 3-2 count the most dramatic moment in baseball. Hogwash. A gung-ho runner trying to beat a speedy throw to home plate is not only the drama king of moments in baseball, I’d argue that it’s the most exciting moment in sports. And unlike your full-count proposition, IT ALWAYS MATTERS. Either the runner scores or he’s out. No fouling off, no re-takes, etc. Just pure content and relevance–AND ACTION.

    But again, thanks for the well-done article!

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    • NatsLady says:

      I dunno. It was pretty dramatic watching Jayson Werth go from 0-2 to 3-2 and foul off pitch after pitch and then win Game 4 of the 2012 NLDS with a home run.

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  7. Miguelito says:

    Cistulli diss in line 1-classic.

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  8. Jon L. says:

    Great article! 2 nitpicks:

    1. “Staying Alive” is more appropriate for batters who are behind in the count (or even 2-2). As you say, a full count favors the batter. Also, “Staying Alive” is more appropriate for a guy who’s trying to reach base; Goldschmidt, with his .590 slugging percentage in these situations, is the worst example on the list.

    2. What Cus already said above. Goldschmidt is tied for 6th on this list in actually getting into full counts, lumped with a bunch of other guys, tied with Adam Dunn, and way behind Votto and Choo.

    But back to the article. What fascinated me the most was how bad Votto, Trout, and others are at slugging in full-count situations. A lot of sluggers on this list, and the fact that only 4 of 13 of them topped .400 slugging in full counts suggests that they really are more focused on protecting the zone (aka “staying alive) than driving the ball.

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  9. beelicker says:

    Re: Votto You’ve got to factor how little chance there is of #4 Phillips going yard after Votto getting on base & also how many of those times 1st base might have been open within the same sample … also the RHP vs LHP skewing of same

    You also have to view the choice of who particularly RHPs would rather face coming up after LH batters Choo & Votto for driving their outlying OBP performance in the light of RH Cozart (& subsequent cast of slappies who performed even WORSE ‘replacing’ him at #2 … look up Reds’ splits for #2 slot hitting performance & you’ll see Cozart was arguably the best of the lot: http://espn.go.com/mlb/team/stats/batting/_/name/cin/seasontype/2/cat/onBasePct/split/110/cincinnati-reds) & RH Phillips after Votto

    I also think there’s a tremendous hole in saber evaluation for a player ‘successfully’ moving a runner over via ground ball out … there is some “value” in Cozart getting a runner at least into scoring position safety ‘hitting behind the runner’ yet Votto gets ALL credit for subsequent IBB (or otherwise walking/pitcharound) when the guy ‘hitting’ in front of him actually did at least PART of that ‘work’ in creating the extra base via non-sac & still only gets an ohfer, same as KO or DP

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