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Paul Goldschmidt has always defied expectations

Goldschmidt has consistently beat the expectations people have for him

Atlanta Braves v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images

Nobody ever saw Paul Goldschmidt coming. Even the people who saw him coming didn’t see THIS Paul Goldschmidt coming. Once upon a time, he was a little regarded 1B-only prospect whose only sure thing was that he would have power and would probably strike out too much to be anything more than average. Goldschmidt was never a top 100 prospect or even remotely close to being one.

When looking at the trade for Goldschmidt, it’s easy to say he’s not that big of an upgrade. ZiPS 2019 projection for Goldschmidt is “only” 3.7 WAR. Jedd Gyorko has been a 2.8 WAR player per 600 PAs with the Cardinals. While he has never got that many plate appearances with the Cards, his numbers and his replacements would probably exceed 2 WAR over a full season. Thus, Goldschmidt is somewhere in the vicinity of a win and half upgrade on paper.

On paper.

Goldschmidt went to Texas State University, which was his first reason being overlooked. TSU grads include Tom Henke, Scott Linebrink, and well it drops off from there. Marcus Thames was the only significant hitter to make any waves in the majors before Goldschmidt was drafted. He played in 37 games with an .810 OPS in his freshman season, which wasn’t going to get the attention of any scouts. His sophomore year, he hit 17 homers in 57 games, walked nearly as much as he struck out, and had a 1.136 OPS. He got better his junior year, hitting 18 homers, walked nearly twice as much as he struck out, and had a 1.172 OPS.

And yet it didn’t matter that much. Sure, those numbers got him drafted in the 8th round. But he could only play 1B and was considered slow and lumbering. He wasn’t playing at the most highly regarded college. The man who scouted him on the Diamondbacks, Trip Couch, was probably the highest scout or team on Goldschmidt. He had a third round grade on him. The Diamondbacks selected five corner infielders before they drafted Goldschmidt despite his report.

When Goldschmidt utterly destroyed the Advanced Rookie League for the Missoula Ospreys after being drafted in 2009, he did not become an uber prospect. He still had all the same concerns. He was pretty well ignored on the Diamondbacks team prospect lists, getting a C grade from John Sickels.

His 2010 turned some heads. The DBacks skipped him a few levels and sent him to High A, where he barely fell off. He had a 151 wRC+ with 35 homers. His 26.9% K rate did not dissuade the common perception that he would have too many contact issues in the majors. Kevin Goldstein noted Goldschmidt’s massive raw power, his hard contract, and his good hands at first for his good qualities. For his bad?

It’s hard to find scouts who are totally sold on Goldschmidt’s batting skills. He whiffed 161 times in 2010 and his power-only approach never changes, even with two strikes. He’s a 30 runner (on the 20-80 scouting scale) with very limited range. He absolutely crushes southpaws (1.313 OPS) but is merely good against right-handers.

His perfect world projection has him as a solid but unspectacular everyday first baseman. Sickels said “ California League power monster has strikeout issues that could prevent a good batting average/OBP at higher levels” and improved his grade to a B-. Goldschmidt just missed Marc Hulet’s top 10 Arizona prospects.

Goldschmidt was sent to AA and proceeded to enter a higher plane. He had a whopping 178 wRC+, doubling his walk rate from High A, cutting his K rate and ADDING power. He only had a .331 BABIP and hit 30 homers in 103 games. The Diamondbacks added him to the 40 man roster and he ended up playing in 48 games that year. He struck out nearly 30% of the time in the big leagues in his major league debut with a 118 wRC+, driven by a .221 ISO.

Following this season, he lost his prospect status. Goldstein ranked him 7th on the Diamondbacks top talents 25 and younger. He said “Goldschmidt was one of the best power hitters in the minor leagues last year and held his own in the big leagues. He’s going to hit plenty of home runs, but he’s never going to be a batting average guy.”

Going into the 2012 season, ZiPS projected the 24-year-old Goldschmidt for a 113 OPS+. His #1 comp was Nick Esasky, which congratulations if you know who that is, you’re older than me. Goldschmidt marginally improved on his rookie year by wRC+ with a 124 wRC+, but he made one very vital improvement that allowed him to become what he is today. He cut down on his strikeouts. He went from a 29.6% K rate to a 22.1% K rate. His career K rate is 22.5%, so that’s where his K rate stayed.

In 2013, ZiPS projected the 25-year-old Goldschmidt for a... 113 OPS+. His #1 comp changed to Derrek Lee, which is a pretty massive improvement from Esasky. In 2013, Goldschmidt improved to a career high in power (.249 ISO) and a career high in BB% (13.9%) for a 156 wRC+. He had a 6 WAR season. I’m going to guess this is probably the first moment when everyone said “Oh shit. We were wrong.” First two seasons were good, but not THAT far off from what everyone was saying. This season was impossible to deny.

Here’s how Goldschmidt’s ZiPS projection has compared to his actual wRC+.

In recent years, ZiPS has been more accurate, which makes sense. He became a perennial All-Star, ZiPS eventually bought in, he had a down season with the bat, ZiPS assumed a bounceback and they were as close as they’ve ever been. Then last year, they predicted a huge drop, probably age-related, and he again defied their projections. On average, Goldschmidt has a wRC+ 14 points higher than ZiPS. So you can expect a 147 wRC+ in 2019. It’s science.

In all seriousness though, it’s not crazy to expect Goldschmidt to exceed his expectations. For his career, Goldschmidt has a .355 BABIP. No projection system is going to completely buy into that high of a BABIP. His projected BABIP for 2018 for instance is .334. I’m sure it’s similar, if not lower in 2019. His highest ever projected BABIP for ZiPS was .342. Goldschmidt has had at least a .342 BABIP every season of his career since 2012, his second season in the big leagues. His lowest ever BABIP was .323.

In the interest of fairness, Goldschmidt’s K rate has rose for the past three seasons while his BB rate has fell for the past four seasons. That is clearly a trend in the wrong direction. But he’s not completely reliant on his hitting, as the scouting reports suggested. He’s been a positive baserunner in seven of the eight seasons of his career, with his last negative BsR in 2013. He was a league average fielder by UZR last year, but was a positive defender in his previous five seasons. So he’ll add a little value on the basepaths and on defense.

While Goldschmidt may not look like a huge upgrade on paper, there’s a good chance he’s a better player than what the projections will say. It’s certainly happened before.