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Paul Goldschmidt Has (Kind Of) Turned a Corner

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It’s a little over a month of info at this point, but a messy April is looking more and more like an anomaly

MLB: JUN 05 Reds at Cardinals Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s been a rough few days weeks month for the St. Louis Cardinals. When they wrapped up their series opener against the Brewers on May 11th, their record was 22-14. They had opened up a 3 game lead on the rest of the division. The Cubs were under .500, 4.5 games back. The Cardinals were tied for the best record in baseball. Most was right with the world... and then all hell broke loose. Since then, Miles Mikolas’ return was instantly sidetracked. Jack Flaherty and Kwang-Hyun Kim went on the IL, with Flaherty’s injury likely to last months. Harrison Bader landed back on the IL. The bullpen was mostly a dumpster fire. Since then, they’ve gone 9-16. I’m not here to perform analysis on that ghastly performance. Instead, let’s look at a potential bright spot. Paul Goldschmidt seems to have moved past his early season struggles and turned a corner.

Goldschmidt’s early season troubles were well-document here first by Gabe and then by J.P. His wRC+ reached a Kozmaesque low of 68 at the end of play on April 30th. Since then, his wRC+ is 136, just a tiny bit shy of his 140 career mark. We can call it a day- regression to the mean for the win! But that’s boring and possibly incorrect. What has changed- or possibly returned to normal- for Goldschmidt?

We’ll start with some simple rate stats. Roll out the tables!

Paul Goldschmidt Rate Stats

Category Through 4/30 Since Since 2018
Category Through 4/30 Since Since 2018
wRC+ 68 136 129
BB% 5.5% 10.9% 12.2%
K% 25.7% 21.1% 23.7%
ISO 0.126 0.195 0.212
BABIP 0.264 0.333 0.331

Forgive me for somewhat arbitrarily picking 2018 for our historical framework. His career data seems gratuitious- what he did as a 25 year old in 2013 is mostly irrelevant to today. On the other hand, 2018 was his age 30 season, and 30+ is a relevant window. Ergo the choice of 2018.

His performance since May 1st sure looks like what you should expect out of Paul Goldschmidt, and that column early this season screams outlier. Or rather, it stands out as the nasty part of a natural ebb and flow to a season. He’s walking less than his 2018+ baseline but also striking out less. His ISO is lower, but that may well be a function of having spent 2018 in hitter-friendly Arizona compared to pitcher-friendly St. Louis. Dan Szymborski’s pre-season ZiPS projection for him had a 12.7% walk rate, 24% K rate, .191 ISO, and .320 BABIP... which is pretty damn close to what he’s done since May 1st.

Now let’s take a peek at his plate discipline info. As Gabe pointed out in April, Goldschmidt’s early struggles ran concurrently with some absurd swing rates far out of line with the rest of his career.

Paul Goldschmidt: Plate Discipline

Category Through 4/30 Since Since 2018
Category Through 4/30 Since Since 2018
Swing% 47.9% 45.9% 44.2%
Contact% 76.1% 76.7% 76.5%
O-Swing% 31.6% 30.7% 29.6%
O-Contact% 67.1% 70.2% 68.5%
Z-Swing% 68.7% 66.7% 65.1%
Z-Contact% 81.3% 80.7% 81.7%
SwStr% 11.5% 10.7% 10.4%
Zone% 43.8% 42.3% 41.1%

He’s swinging less overall, chasing less, and doing so as pitchers are giving him less to hit in the zone. That’s probably a good thing. The fact that he’s being more selective about his swings in the strike zone as his ISO has risen implies- even if it doesn’t confirm- that he’s finding more pitches to drive. In general, though, these aren’t enormous differences on the plate discipline front.

Now let’s look at Statcast data and spray direction to find a quality of contact profile. THH% here, if you haven’t read my other articles this year on the topic, is True Hard Hit %, or Hard Hit/PAs. Similarly, TruBrl is True Barrel % with the same formula applied using barrels instead of hard hits.

Paul Goldschmidt: Statcast/Spray Direction

Category Through 4/30 Since Since 2018
Category Through 4/30 Since Since 2018
THH% 33.03% 37.41% 27.86%
TruBrl% 5.50% 8.84% 7.32%
PulledFly% 4.59% 0.68% 4.25%
maxEV 111.3 111.6 112.9
Pull% 37.30% 34.70% 37.20%
Cent% 45.30% 38.80% 37.30%
Oppo% 17.30% 26.50% 25.40%

I had hoped there’d be some fun with the pulled flyball info- pulled flyballs do the most damage- but if anything, he’s doing that way less since May 1st. There are a handful of big takeaways here. First, he’s gotten his barrel percentage closer to his age 30+ standard, even surpassing it. Second, he’s making more hard contact. That was true even in his April valley but it’s even more frequent now, and more of his hard contact is of the barrel variety. Third, he’s using more of the field during this hot stretch, and that’s a big one. His oppo% is now more in line with his age 30+ standard, whereas it cratered in April.

That’s important because here is the trajectory of his wOBA when going the other way since 2018:

  • Through 4/30: .179 wOBA, .351 xwOBA
  • Since May 1: .504 wOBA, .341 xwOBA
  • Since 2018: .430 wOBA, .413 xwOBA
  • Lg. Avg Since 2018: .338 wOBA, .297 xwOBA

Oh boy... the xwOBA data sure makes things murky. Average EV is problematic on a lot of levels, but it also turns up a lesser number (89.4 mph since 5/1; 92.1 in April). That sure makes the improved performance going oppo look a little fluky.

On the other hand, he’s producing better contact to the pull side (.457 wOBA, .440 xwOBA in April; .478 wOBA, .565 xwOBA since) and straightaway (.276 woBA, .339 xwOBA in April; .319 wOBA, .476 xwOBA since and a whopping 5 mph gain in average EV).

It’s not as simple as regression to the mean, nor is it apparent that Goldschmidt has (completely) turned a corner... but he’s close. The answer to the question “What is Paul Goldschmidt doing differently?” comes down to:

-A more patient approach at the plate, more in line with recent seasons and less like his wild April
-More hard contact and barrels, particularly to the pull side and straightaway. Or rather, a more even distribution of his hard contact, and more of it of the barrel variety.
-Better (random) batted ball luck going the other way, which doesn’t seem likely to last.