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Goldschmidt’s slow start

The Cardinals need Goldschmidt to be Goldschmidt to have any hope this year.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Miami Marlins Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, the Cardinals dropped their fifth straight rubber game, and are now 0-5 when facing teams to determine a series win or loss. It was Max Scherzer against Carlos Martinez and while it’d be foolish to expect a win out of that particular game, it takes a special kind of talent to lose a game you expected to lose in a frustrating way. The Cardinals had multiple opportunities to score, and just never got a hit with a runner in scoring position.

A particular stat that the broadcast shared stood out to me though. The Cardinals are now 0-7 on the season when Paul Goldschmidt goes hitless, and since he’s decided to not walk anymore, they are 0-7 in which Goldschmidt doesn’t get on base at all. Which makes sense! He’s the #2 hitter. It’s considered the most important spot in the lineup. And outside of him and Nolan Arenado, the Cardinals don’t exactly feature a strong offense in the first place. If one of them is Pete Kozma, that’s not going to lead to many wins.

You know the old adage about protection? A good hitter needs another good hitter behind him or he won’t get anything to hit. Well, I’ll say this for it: it’s correct, but not in a way that makes the hitter better. They do in fact see a dip in walks, but because walking is actually a good thing, they aren’t any more productive. I’m not saying they’re worse offensively, but their slight boost in hits is offset by the slight decline in walks.

That’s on average. So far this season, Paul Goldschmidt has decided to abandon the approach that was working for him last season, and it’s made him into a bad hitter. Like seemingly every Cardinal hitter, he is getting unlucky. He has a hard hit% of 59.6%, by far his career high if he maintained it. His exit velocity would also be a career high.

He does only have four barrels though. A barrel is a batted ball whose comparable hit types using exit velocity and launch angle lead to at least a .500 average and a 1.500 slugging percentage. His 7.7 barrel% would be his second lowest of his career (career 10.9%). His LD% of 17.3% would also be a career low. These two facts together make me think a large portion of his hard hit balls are on the ground, which tracks with his 46.2 GB%, his highest since 2016 and close to being his career high mark. So yes, he’s hitting the ball hard a lot, but his .118 ISO doesn’t exactly seem undeserved.

None of this would concern me except he has an absolutely terrible approach at the plate, a stark change from the short 2020 season. Last season, Goldschmidt walked and BABIP’d his way to his best wRC+ since 2015. Now, if he had played a full season, we would see his line go down, surely. And last year his improved plate approach did seem to cost him some power. Or at least, he had significantly less power than his norm by a lot.

This season, however, he has taken a bit of a different approach, which so far has not come with added power. He is swinging at everything. His swing% of 50.9% is not only his career high, it’s nearly 5 percentage points higher than his next lowest total, which just so happened to be his first year as a Cardinal. Before that, his next highest was 43.9%, his first full season in the big leagues. Both his first year as a Cardinal and his first full season are his worst offensive seasons as a major leaguer. They coincide with different developmental stages of his career, but a swing happy Goldschmidt has not led to his best results.

The main culprit is an absolutely absurd and astronomically high O-swing%, swinging at pitches out of the zone. Not counting yesterday’s game - none of these stats count yesterday, which I don’t think would help his case anyway - Goldschmidt has swung at 36.9% of pitches out of the zone. That’s the kind of number I expect from Javier Baez, not Paul Goldschmidt.

He is also swinging at more pitches in the zone, but at least on this front, it’s comparable to the 2019 season. His 67.7% Z-Swing% matches 2019 for his career high, but is still considerably above his career level of 62.4%. And again, comparing these numbers to last year, Goldschmidt swung at just 25.3% of pitches out of the zone last season - a little better than his career average - and 62.6% of his pitches in the zone - just about right at his career average.

Now, to be fair, Goldschmidt is seeing more pitches in the zone than he ever has before. His Zone% of 45.4% would be a career high. It’s fine to swing at pitches in the zone, he just needs to be more selective and not swing at pitches out of the zone. His contact rates aren’t even especially out of whack with what you’d expect - they’re definitely closer to his worst numbers than not, but just a couple percentage points off his career average.

But he’s just swinging at too many pitches out of the zone. I don’t really get why. He’s also swinging and missing at a career high rate. He’s previous career high was, again, his rookie year. This year, not counting yesterday, is 12.6%. This is very likely due to the fact that he’s just swinging at a ton of pitches out of the zone. His O-contact% isn’t that low, but it’s considerably lower than his Z-contact% and a higher percentage of his swings are happening out of the zone than he’s ever done before.

What has this approach led to? Never walking. Goldschmidt usually walks a lot. His career low prior to 2021 was 11.3%. He had a 16 BB% last season. This year, and this is counting yesterday, it’s 5.3%. This would be a problem. It’s not really coming with any added benefit of not striking out either. His 23.7% rate is about at his depth charts projected rate of 23.9%. He is projected to walk over twice as much on the other hand. Now he’s still at just 76 PAs, and you need at least 120 PAs for BB rate to stabilize. But this is not a good start.

Goldschmidt has a Nolan Arenado behind him. And pitchers are throwing him more strikes. But Goldschmidt has unfortunately responded to this by changing his godlike approach from last season to no apparent benefit. And I’ll be just a tiny bit frustrated if the Cards get classic Goldschmidt in one year and it’s in the year where we just have two months of play, and he’s otherwise a lesser version of the guy we thought we were getting for the rest of his contract. He still has time of course. But he’s going to need to change his approach.