Paul Goldschmidt has been one of the most consistent performers in baseball. That’s the intro.
It’s as bland and straightforward as Goldy himself. But it’s also the absolute, unequivocal truth. No hyperbole needed. Paul Goldschmidt just goes out there on the baseball field and hits and fields and everything else in the same way day after day and year after year.
It’s one of the reasons that I was so much in favor of not only acquiring the superstar first basemen from the Diamondbacks but also extending him through his mid 30’s. That normally doesn’t end well. Goldy and his very complete set of skills might just defy the odds.
We’ll get to the age and value question at the end. For now, though, let’s review Goldy’s season and see just how stable he’s been.
Season in Review
Well, gosh. What did I say about consistent? Baseball Savant divides these categories by percentile rank and then colors them based on that rank. Red is good. Blue is not.
Do you see all this red? It’s a visual look at what I’m saying. Goldy doesn’t just have one elite skill – tremendous power, great contact ability, or incredible speed. He does just about everything you want a hitter to do with his bat at a near-elite level.
This is not new. Take a look at Goldy’s percentile rankings throughout his career.
Goldy is almost always among the league leaders in categories like barrel rate, avg. exit velocity, expected stats, hard-hit rates, and walk rates. Sure, there’s fluctuation in the rankings – he’s not a solid wall of dark red – but the underlying stats reveal the consistency of his performance, even when the league shifts around him.
Last season, that translated to a .294/.365/.514 slash line with a 138 wRC+ and a .373 wOBA. He produced 4.9 fWAR with a very, very good -8.2 DEF (+6 OAA) defensive rating adjusted for his position.
For some context on that slash line, his career average (most of which was spent playing Arizona, where offense is a bit easier) is .293/.389/.521 with a 141 wRC+ and a .385 wOBA. If you count his rookie year + the shortened 2020 as one full season (they add up to 408 PA), Goldy has played 10 years and produced a near-Hall of Fame level 46.3 fWAR. That divides into a 4.63 fWAR average per season, just below what he produced last year.
In 2021, Goldy was Goldy. The same as he ever was. Let’s look at some specifics within that data and start to draw conclusions on where Goldschmidt will go from here.
1. “Red Ink”
Let’s start with what I’m just going to call the “red ink” stats you see in the image above. These Statcast stats go beyond basic “baseball card” stats like batting average, on-base percentage, or slugging percentage. They look at the actual batted ball data – what the ball did when it left the pitcher’s glove every time that Goldschmidt was at bat. From that data Baseball Savant can quite effectively extrapolate offensive performance – at least what a performance should be.
Goldschmidt was among the league leaders in both average exit velocity – 92.6 mph – and hard hit% – 50.6%. For kicks and grins, that’s 4 mph faster than the average offensive play (88.3 or roughly Dylan Carlson). It’s 15% points harder than your average hitter (35.4%).
Play a little logic game with that. If a player hits 4 mph harder than everyone else and does that 15% points more often, then what should we expect? Well, we should expect his offensive line to be quite a bit better than average.
How much better? We know his actual line is 38% better than average by wRC+ (138 minus 100). Do the Statcast rates match that kind of production? Did he earn his “very good” stats?
The red ink says he not only earned it but he should have been even better! Below is his actual “statcast” slash line (BA/wOBA/SLUG) versus his expected “statcast” slash line (xBA/xwOAB/xSLUG). Expected stats are the way that Statcast expected a player to hit based on his batted ball data.
2021 actual: .294/.373/.514
2021 expected: .292/.396/.574
Somehow Goldschmidt underperformed in 2021. Goldschmidt’s “red ink” has him as a top 10 hitter in baseball last season.
2. 9.9 BB%
By historical trends, he probably should have been better than the statcast (x) expected stats indicate. At least according to the one metric that didn’t live up to Goldschmidt’s lofty career standards.
For some inexplicable reason Goldschmidt’s walk rate took a nosedive. Nosedives are relative, of course. So, Goldy’s nose dive took him from “OMG WOW” walk rate to just a “really good” walk rate. In the COVID shortened 2020, Goldschmidt walked an incredible 16% of the time. In his prime Arizona seasons, he was consistently in the 13-15% range with a career high of 17%.
Last year, Goldy only walked 9.9% of the time. It’s something to pick at until you consider all the offense he produced when he swung his bat. Still, in Goldschmidt’s prime/peak seasons he was able to maintain his incredibly high level of damage with the bat while also being more selective at the plate.
Is this a concern? Hardly. 9.9% is the lowest BB rate of his career but still quite good. And it’s almost certain to bubble back up a bit.
And if it gets a bump in walk rate while also hitting a little closer to his expected stats? He’s an MVP candidate.
3. wOBA against fastballs
All of that might make you wonder how pitchers are pitching Goldschmidt and if they could maybe do something different to slow him down.
The problem pitchers have is that Goldy destroys fastballs. His “statcast” (BA/wOBA/SLUG) slash line against fastballs last season was .319/.415/.590 against the pitch type, which he sees 55% of the time.
That 55% has been dropping steadily from a high of 62.5% back in 2015.
In many ways, that’s the adjustment that pitchers are trying to make. Godly was much worse against breaking pitches last season, with a .286 wOBA against curves and sliders. He still crushed offpeed pitches: .380 wOBA.
It’s that it? Just throw Goldy nothing but breaking pitches and you can solve him? It’s not that simple. While his career numbers against fastballs have been relatively stable for a statistic known for its variance, the rest of his production against pitch types has been a bit all over the place. Goldy has also had seasons in the not-too-distant past where he was very productive against breaking pitches.
So, there’s no magic formula here. Most pitchers rely on their fastball; they can’t just become Adam Wainwright because Paul Goldschmidt had that one year where he sorta struggled against curves. If you’re a pitcher with weak breaking stuff and try to throw Goldy 75% breaking pitches, you’re asking for the trouble you will get.
4. 6 OAA
The last stat jumps from offense to defense. Last season Goldschmidt produced a +6 OAA – outs above average. That’s probably a drop by rate produced from 2020, when he had +3 in just 58 games played. In 2019, his first year in St. Louis, Goldy was also at +6.
Needless to say, Goldy’s defense has been very stable. Despite reaching his mid-30s, his glove is still golden and showing no signs at all of falling off.
I’ve just painted the picture of Paul Goldschmidt being one of the most consistent players in the game today. You would expect, then, that his projections would pretty much stay what we’ve seen? Why change what doesn’t change?
Well, ZiPS can’t help but look at a stat that we haven’t looked at: 34. As in 34 years old. Goldy is getting older. He’s at that point in his career where baseball players – even the best baseball players – start to fall off.
Case in point, Matt Holliday. A consistent 4-6 fWAR player for the Cardinals after arriving from Colorado, he became a 3.2 fWAR player in his age 34 season. Still very good. Still healthy. Still less than he was. Matt Carpenter. Consistent 3-5 fWAR player in his early 30s. At age 33 that fell to 1.3. Age 34 was his shortened 2020 season of .3 fWAR and a wRC+ of 85. He was pretty much cooked. Albert Pujols? He averaged between 6-9 fWAR in his “20s”. From age 31 up (maybe he was really 32-33 that season?) he was a 2-3 fWAR player at max.
So, it happens. Players – every very good ones – in their mid-30s start to decline. ZiPS wants to say “caution is warranted” with Goldy, despite his career consistencies. Steamer is a bit less pessimistic.
And me? I don’t have a magic computer to spit out data. However, until I see something that tells me that Goldschmidt’s bat is actually falling off, I’m not going to predict it will happen just because it’s happened to others. Assuming health – injury is usually what causes these declines – there’s nothing in what Goldschmidt did last season to suspect that this season will be much different. There’s a better argument for Goldy to improve a bit to match his high expected stats and his historical walk rate than there is reason to decline him based on league trends that simply aren’t in evidence. Yet.
So, I’m going to stay above ZiPS, even while acknowledging the vast quantity of data that supports Szymborski’s formula.
Paul Goldschmidt has been great. He was great very recently. I think he’ll remain at least very good.
2021 actual: .294/.373/.514
ZiPS Projection: .268/.349/.462, 3.4 fWAR
STEAMER Projection: .274/.358/.487, 3.6 fWAR (with a -12 DEF)
My Projection: .280/.360/.490, 4.0 fWAR*
* (I’m not willing to predict the same defensive drop that Steamer is. So, despite almost identical projected slash lines, I’m giving Goldschmidt a bit of a bump in fWAR value.)