Continuing with our retrospective of first basemen fantasy performances, it’s time to check out number seven on Zach Sanders’ First Base End of Season Rankings and take a look at the Arizona Diamondbacks’ lumbering slugger, Paul Goldschmidt. Though technically not a rookie due to 156 at-bats in 2011, this was Goldschmidt’s first full season in the bigs. Not only did he meet most expectations, but he actually exceeded quite a few and his end of season value of $16 puts him right on the cusp of elite first baseman status.
As we headed into the 2012 season, most fantasy pundits had the same thing to say about Goldschmidt — great power, low average, but a solid walk rate would keep his on-base percentage at a very respectable level. His time in the minors started out with a strikeout issue as he finished his first season in rookie ball with 74 strikeouts to just 36 walks over 313 plate appearances and it remained a problem the following season at the A+ level when he had a whopping 161 whiffs to only 57 walks through 599 trips to the plate. All the while though, he plugged 18 home runs that first year at the rookie level and then a mammoth 35 the following season, posting ISO marks of .303 and .291 respectively.
But when he jumped to Double-A, Goldschmidt took his plate discipline to a whole new level. Through 103 games he posted a 17.9-percent walk rate and dropped his strikeout rate to 20.1-percent while continuing to swing a big bat and banging 30 home runs and 21 doubles for a cool .320 ISO. The strides he made were tremendous and the Diamondbacks, who were suffering through a season of Brandon Allen, Lyle Overbay, Juan Miranda, Russell Branyan and Xavier Nady, had seen enough and opted to expedite Goldschmidt’s ascension with an immediate promotion to the majors rather than to their Triple-A affiliate.
At the big league level, Goldschmidt delivered on most of his potential. Through 156 at-bats (177 PA), he posted a .224 ISO and had a walk rate of 11.3-percent, but youthful exuberance and inexperience helped lead to a 29.9-percent strikeout rate. That number was just too difficult for his walk and contact rates to overcome and he batted just .250 over the 48 games he played. So again, the preseason expectations of Goldschmidt heading into 2012 weren’t difficult to understand.
When the season began and Goldschmidt came out of the gate ice cold with a 27.3-percent strikeout rate and just a .254 BABIP for the first month, people got nervous. The whiffs were expected, but with just one home run over 66 plate appearances it was no wonder that Diamondbacks fans saw more of Overbay than they did the powerful 24-year old up-and-comer. He was dropped like a hot rock in shallow leagues.
But suddenly things changed when manager Kirk Gibson decided to play Goldschmidt regularly despite his struggles. The strikeouts were still there, but with the benefit of a .407 BABIP, he batted .313 for the month of May and hit three more dingers. We were finally about to see what we had all expected. But rather than dazzle us with huge, towering bombs and a matching 50 mph gust of wind caused by so many swings and misses, Goldy did us one better. He became a complete hitter.
The end of season numbers say it all — a .283 average with 20 home runs, 82 runs scored and 82 RBI. He finished with a 10.2-percent walk rate, a 22.1-percent strikeout rate, a .204 ISO and a .359 on-base percentage. Oh yeah…and he kicked in 18 stolen bases to boot! Though his contact rates were slightly below league average, his overall plate discipline was rock solid and showed a little bit of year-to-year improvement. His fly ball rate is a little low for a power hitter, but as he continues his development we should see an increase and as a result, more home runs. They will likely come at the expense of his tasty 23.3-percent line drive rate and consequently, his batting average, but it shouldn’t drop to a level that would deter you from drafting him. If he can continue down this same path and maintain his plate discipline, then he’ll be worth every penny you spend on him in 2013.