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Cardinals 2020 Player Preview: Paul Goldschmidt

What version of Goldschmidt will the Cardinals be getting in 2020?

New York Mets v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

It is no secret that the Cardinals made no moves in the offseason to address the offense. The offense last year, the weakest part of the team (though still average), has in fact lost Marcell Ozuna to free agency. Which seems like an insane strategy for a contending team. Do nothing and pray. Well it’s a little more complicated than that.

In addition to a hope that the under 25 crowd can replace Ozuna’s production (and then some ideally), they also hope for rebounds for the older veterans. And while Matt Carpenter has probably the best chance of helping to recoup some of that lost offensive value purely because he’s at a lower point, Paul Goldschmidt is a better representative.

It’s actually pretty easy to forget how good Goldschmidt was in the past. It is for me anyway. I watch Cardinals games exclusively and not really other teams, so the only time I really saw Goldschmidt was against the Cardinals. And... Goldschmidt wasn’t particularly impressive against the Cards. He wasn’t bad. He batted .276/.390/.487 with 9 homers in 43 games played. It’s a 93 tOPS+ compared to his normal line, which means he played worse against the Cardinals than typical. (He’s gotten more than 100 PAs against 15 teams. 93 tOPS+ is the 11th best.)

If Goldschmidt would have came up through the Cardinals system, he’d be a perfect Cardinal. He was an 8th round draft pick - 246th overall - and was never at any point a prospect of note. Which, he’s partially to blame for that. He just made the major leagues way too quickly. After being signed Goldschmidt was sent to the Missoula Osprey (teammates with future MLBer Ender Inciarte). He had a 165 wRC+. They made up for never promoting him by skipping him all the way to High A, where he had a 151 wRC+.

Now this is more or less the only chance Goldschmidt had at being a prospect. It’s easy to say in hindsight how ridiculous it is that a 22-year-old 1B who had a 151 wRC+ in High A was mostly ignored, but to be fair there were some warning signs. His strikeout rate rose to 26.9% and his walk rate was only 9.5%. While he hit 35 homers there, he also had a .385 BABIP. And remember, he was a 1B prospect. Imagine him striking out a little more in the majors, walking a little less, knock 50 points off BABIP and that’s not all that valuable at 1B. So John Sickels had him as the 9th best Diamondbacks prospect in the system.

Well see that’s the thing about prospects. Sometimes, their numbers do appropriately get marginally worse at each level until reaching the major leagues. And sometimes, they get better. Goldschmidt got better. You were concerned about strikeouts? In AA, he cut them down to 20.1%. Not walking enough? No biggie, his walk rate is now 17.9%. Well, maybe he’s relying on BABIP too much? How about not at all with a .331 BABIP (which is lower than his career MLB number). So he had his best professional wRC+ to date with a 178 wRC+ (which is also better than any season of his MLB career too).

It’s really no wonder that the Diamondbacks promoted him midseason 2011 and had him skip AAA completely. Those worries about him from High A were not completely unfounded at first. His K rate rose to 29.9% and his BABIP fell to .323. His power stuck, which is why he had a 118 wRC+. But that’s why he was never a prospect. Because the moment when he would have been a prospect, he lost his prospect status. He would surely have shown up on some lists for 2012 had he been promoted to AAA to finish the year and not the majors.

He made one important stride in year two, which was cutting down on his Ks significantly (22.1%), but his power saw a slight drop, so his improvement overall was marginal (2.8 WAR). And then he exploded in his third year. He improved his walk rate from 10.2% to 13.9%, cut further down on his Ks (20.4%), saw a huge increase in power from a guy who already had a lot of power (.204 ISO to .249) and just for kicks, his defense seemed to improve as well. And he basically kept all those changes for the next five years. He missed about 50 games in 2014 and saw a random power decline in 2016 that turned out to be temporary, but otherwise he was remarkably consistent.

Here’s how consistently excellent he was. From 2013-2018, Goldschmidt batted .301/.406/.541 with a 149 wRC+. He hit an average of 30 homers, 36 doubles, and 3 triples per season. He made All-Star game every single one of those seasons. He was worth 32.9 fWAR and 36.5 bWAR. This is a Hall of Fame quality peak. It’s a little on the weaker side granted, but that’s primarily due to the season where he missed 50 games.

It’s little wonder why the Cardinals traded for that guy, but unfortunately they didn’t get that guy. They got the 2011 version, the one with the strikeout problems and the more normal BABIP. The power was there. He had a .216 ISO, which is lower than his career (.232), and was a dropoff from his previous two seasons (.243 and .265), but he did hit 34 homers. But his main problem was essentially that he had a .302 BABIP and not his career .348 BABIP. Give him a .348 BABIP and he’s classic Goldschmidt.

2019 Stats - 682 PAs, .260/.346/.476, 116 wRC+, .302 BABIP, .216 ISO, 11.4 BB%, 24.3 K%, 2.9 WAR

There are two very easy to pin down problems with Goldschmidt numbers: his BABIP and also his BB rate. Now, a 11.4% BB rate is not inherently a problem. In fact I’d be delighted with that walk rate with most players. But he has a career 13.6%, he had a 13% in 2018, and 2019 marks his four straight year of declining BB%. He has paired that with what was a rising strikeout rate. He marginally declined his K rate, but I was personally hoping for more of an improvement (22.1% in 2017 and career 22.7%)

Also, it’s not reflected in the numbers, but Goldschmidt... stopped hitting doubles. He had by far his career low in doubles. In 2016, when he saw his power randomly dip, Goldschmidt hit 33 doubles, which was a career low up until 2019. Last year, he hit 25 doubles. He hit 14 more doubles in the season when he missed 50 games. What the hell happened? Let’s see what ZiPS and Steamer think.

ZiPS - 635 PAs, .262/.361/.465, 117 wRC+, .319 BABIP, .203 ISO, 12.8 BB%, 24.9 K%, 2.5 WAR

Steamer - 663 PAs, .273/.369/.495, 126 wRC+, .324 BABIP, .222 ISO, 12.6 BB%, 23.9 K%, 3.4 WAR

Steamer is clearly the more desirable option, although I’m hoping for the sky here. Give me a 5 WAR season Paul. I think you have one more in you. If you really want to be pessimistic about Paul, well I’ll give you the evidence. ZiPS three year forecast is... well it’s not pretty. It’s pretty damn ugly.

2020 - 2.5 WAR

2021 - 2 WAR

2022 - 1.4 WAR

Holy hell I’m sorry. Dear god let this not be reality. So in order make myself whole again, I’m going to have to get us all to agree on one thing: ZiPS is shit. Sorry Dan. I’m just going to have to completely ignore this projection. Like I have to. Nothing against you. As far as I’m concerned, you’re dead to me.