If over a beer and a ball game, a buddy said, “Paul Goldschmidt will outhit Jason Heyward in 2012″, I would have assumed he had had one too many. With the release of Bill James‘ 2012 projections, the SABR legend said just that as the Diamondbacks first baseman is projected to produce a wOBA of .382.

Having scouted Goldschmidt in July, I came away believing he would take advantage of lesser pitching, but struggle with top flight velocity. If Goldschmidt hits to his wOBA projection, then I greatly undersold his overall hitting ability and he’s on the cusp of becoming one of the top-25 hitters in terms of wOBA in all of baseball based on final 2011 leaderboards.

*Goldschmidt video after the jump*

This type of production would make Goldschmidt one-of-a-kind as no hitter with a .382 wOBA or higher in baseball last year struck out as much as the Diamondbacks first baseman (25.6%) is projected to in 2012. Back in September, I wrote a piece on power projection using metrics and an obvious conclusion to come from it was that more contact equals more opportunity for power. Whether prospects or big leaguers, this holds true.

In fact, only Curtis Granderson (24.5%), Alex Avila (23.8%) and Matt Kemp (23.1%) struck out at anything close to a comparable rate. Mike Morse (21.9%) and Alex Gordon (20.1%) are the only other two who struck out at a 20% or above clip to post such gaudy wOBA totals. This leaves 17 other players who posted a .382 wOBA or above who struck out at a less than 20% rate or 77% of the total number of players.

Additionally, Goldschmidt’s projected walk rate (13.8%) would have placed him 10th amongst all big leaguer hitters with only Indians Carlos Santana posting a comparable walk rate with close to the same number of plate appearances entering his first full season. The remaining eight players on that list each have at least 2400 plate appearances with legitimate superstars Evan Longoria and Joey Votto bringing up the rear in terms of career plate appearances.

In researching this piece, I stumbled across Carlos Pena‘s career walk and strikeout rates which are almost identical to what Goldschmidt is expected to post next season. With a walk rate of 13.9% and strikeout rate of 26.4% respectively, Pena has posted a career .239/.352/.486 line at the big league level across six organizations and nearly 5,000 plate appearances. At this point, Pena has a legitimate shot at 300 career home runs (258 currently) and 1,000 runs batted in (730 currently) – Not bad for a player many believed was essentially finished as a productive player in his mid-twenties.

However, Pena’s career wOBA (.359) includes only one season of production at or above the .382 Goldschmidt is projected to produce – a .430 mark in his career season where Pena challenged the 50 home run plateau. This means Goldschmidt’s expected power production will need to be quite a bit better than what Carlos Pena was able to produce at an equivalent age.

Fortunately for Goldschmidt, this question deserves an answer of at least a maybe as Pena’s slugging percentage of .500 as a 23-year old in Texas came from a miniscule 72 plate appearances. At 24, Pena’s slugging percentage of .448 fell well below that initial mark.

It’s not as if Goldschmidt’s 177 plate appearances are that much better of a sample size to draw conclusions from, but both his walk and strikeout rates did improve considerably during September-October after his first month in Arizona. However, his better ratios seem to have come at the cost of power production leading to nearly an identical wOBA.

For me, the most fascinating part of a player projection is what exactly needs to go right in order for a player to match that projection. In the case of Goldschmidt, I’m struggling to find a way to fit the puzzle pieces together and explain how his ascent to one of the game’s more dangerous hitters is possible. However, even if he winds up more Carlos Pena than consistent middle-of-the-order threat, I doubt Goldschmidt would complain considering Pena’s career earnings stand at about 40 million and counting.