Paul Goldschmidt is finally living up to expectations. But it didn’t look that way in April. The 24-year-old first baseman hit just .193/.288/.281 through the first month of the season. As a result, many owners probably dropped him looking for better options. That would have been a huge mistake. Since then, Goldschmidt has been on a tear. He’s managed to raise his slash line to .302/.368/.552. In order to start producing like a stud first baseman, Goldshmidt had to make a few adjustments after his first month.
Things looked bad in April. Goldschmidt wasn’t producing, but he was also in jeopardy of losing his job. For a while, it looked like Lyle Overbay was going to become the Arizona Diamondbacks’ starter at first base. Manager Kirk Gibson had been giving Overbay more playing time as the month went on. At best, it looked like Goldschmidt was turning into a platoon player. Things look bleak, and you couldn’t be blamed if you were one of the owners that dropped Goldschmidt before May.
Knowing what he was up against, Goldschmidt made some changes to his approach. During the season’s first month, Goldschmidt was too patient. His 12.1% walk rate was solid, but it was also leading to more strikeouts. Goldschmidt struck out in 27.3% of his plate appearances in April. That was actually an improvement over his 29.9% strikeout rate from last season, but it wasn’t good enough.
Goldschimdt adopted a somewhat more aggressive approach in May. He was still walking at a decent clip (8.4%), but he had also started swinging at pitches he could hit. His strikeout rate dropped to 25.3%, still not great, but manageable. He really started to hit his stride in June, however, when he found a strong balance between both. Goldschmidt walked a bit more in June (10.6%), but cut his strikeout rate to just 20.2%. For a guy like Goldschmidt, who was expected to register a high strikeout rate, that’s an impressive improvement.
Being aggressive wasn’t all that changed. Goldschmidt’s batted ball data improved dramatically in May. Through the season’s first month, Goldschmidt was a ground ball hitter. He hit 52.5% of balls on the ground. Very few power hitters will experience success with a ground ball rate that high.
In May, Goldschmidt dropped his ground ball rate to 40.3%. Most of that improvement was reflected in his 38.7% fly ball rate, but a healthy chunk went into his line drive rate, which improved to 21.0%. Fewer ground balls led to a higher HR/FB (12.5%) rate for Goldschmidt that month. Goldschmidt retained most of that improvement through June, too. Looking at his splits now, April looks like the outlier.
That’s not to say he’s a superstar. Goldschmidt has been great this season. His .394 wOBA ranks him as the fourth best offensive first baseman this season. But he has a major platoon split. Against lefties, Goldschmidt is Barry Bonds, hitting .400/.462/.822. Against righties, that drops to .247/.315/.401. Though he struggles against right-handed pitchers, all is not lost. Goldschmidt has hit five home runs off of righties this season, so he is still able to flash some power against same-handed pitchers. He’s not an ideal option against righties in fantasy leagues, but he’ll still provide some value for owners.
Goldschmidt is the epitome of why it pays to be patient in fantasy leagues. Owners drafted him knowing that he had the skills to succeed, but dropped him after a poor month. Sometimes, that can’t be helped, as injuries and ineffectiveness can force your hand. But Goldschmidt’s emergence can also be reassuring, even if you cut him months ago. Have faith in your picks. Don’t let one month shift your opinion. Goldschmidt is completely outperforming what anyone expected. Owners that cut him early on are already kicking themselves.