Arizona Diamondbacks’ first baseman Paul Goldschmidt is a star, and one of the fifteen best players in Major League Baseball. Sure, it might sound weird to say it, but it’s almost undeniably true.
Goldschmidt turns 26 years old in September, and has already proven himself as a top-two or three first baseman in baseball (it helps, of course, that Miguel Cabrera is still being miscast as a third baseman). With Albert Pujols’ mysterious, two-season long free-fall and rash of injuries, only Baltimore’s Chris Davis has outplayed Goldschmidt in 2013.
Last year was Goldschmidt’s first full big league season, and he finished with even better numbers than folks inArizonacould have realistically expected. He finished with a batting line of .286/.359/.490 with 20 home runs and 18 stolen bases in 21 attempts. He played in 145 games, and was impressively consistent for a player in his first full-time big league job.
Through play on August 26, Goldschmidt has had an even better 2013 season, hitting .298/.396/.548 with 31 home runs and 13 stolen bases. Obviously, he is advancing in his approach at the plate and maturing physically at the same time, but some form of a “sophomore slump” would have been expected and certainly understandable. So what has he done to combat the normal learning curve of young big league hitters?
For starters, he’s cut down on his strikeout rate. Although a slight decrease (22.1% in 2012, 20.6% in 2013), he’s converting those outs into easy trips to first base — his walk rate has seen a significant uptick, from 10.2% last season to 13.9% thus far in 2013 (all rate-based statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.com). This explains his sparkling on-base percentage that has been hovering around .400 for some time, and is an encouraging sign of a hitter that has managed to lay off of tough pitches that opposing teams have likely identifies as the best way to get him out, based on his 2012 performance.
This theory is upheld by Goldschmidt’s impressive refusal to chase pitches outside the zone – in 2012, he swung at 27.4% of pitches outside the zone. This season? Just 22.6%. That’s right — nearly 5% of the pitches seen by Goldschmidt that have flipped from strikes to balls. Yep, that will help out the walk rate/on-base percentage.
The one questionable area of improvement for the Diamondbacks’ All-Star first baseman is the sudden increase in home runs. Sure, physical development and patience at the plate often lead to more long balls, but home run rate (the percentage of fly balls that land over the fence) is a traditionally fickle thing. In 2012, 14.2% of fly balls off of Goldschmidt’s bat ended up as big flys, but in 2013 that number has skyrocketed to 24.4%.
The league average is somewhere in the high single digits, and to put things in a little more perspective, Miguel Cabrera’s career home run rate is 19.7%. Suffice it to say that a 24.4% rate from Goldschmidt is not likely to be sustained, and a slide back into the 16-18% range certainly sounds more reasonable, if not still a tad optimistic.
A quick look at his double totals also shows why his slugging percentage hasn’t gone up even more, and why there has certainly been some luck involved in the home run binge of 2013 for Goldschmidt. In 2012, he finished the year with 41 two-baggers. So far in 2013, his total stands at just 27. Of course, if he finished every season with 35 doubles and 35 home runs to go along with a .390+ OBP, the Diamondbacks would be absolutely ecstatic.
Based on this season, and the overall expected improvement still to come from a player that is yet to hit his prime years, Goldschmidt is absolutely a top-ten hitter in baseball. Obviously, playing the non-premier defensive position of first base hurts his standing as an all around player, but by most measures he’s also improved in the field in 2013.
If his ascension continues into his prime, a Joey Votto-lite career might be in the cards for Goldschmidt. He ultimately should hit for more power than Votto, and the on-base numbers could eventually be knocking on the door. If his walks do indeed continue to increase and the power stays, we could be looking at a very similar player to the Reds’ superstar first baseman.
Let’s just say that would be a dream scenario for the Arizona Diamondbacks and their fans.