I remember a time, a long time ago, when Paul Goldschmidt set St. Louis Cardinals fans ablaze with talk of a first NL Triple Crown since 1937, when another Cardinal — Joe Medwick — dominated the league.
The discussion about whether it would be cooler to see Albert Pujols hit 700 or see Paul Goldschmidt score the triple crown was raging. (Obviously the correct answer is 700. Come on people.) Now that discussion has died down.
That’s partly because Albert has already reached 700 but it’s also because Goldy has slowed down. And slowed down a lot.
You’ve all noticed it. All you had to do was watch a few games or go on Twitter and you would have see Goldy’s struggles and people being concerned about it.
I’m here to set things straight. We absolutely shouldn’t be concerned by Goldschimdt’s struggles this month. He didn’t suddenly turn into a pumpkin (although that would be appropriate for the season).
Before I get further into this piece, I want to point out Goldy’s monthly OPSes.
Goldy OPS by Month
September has been a huge step down. Actually, it’s more like he missed a step on the way down. Or he missed two or three and ended up back where he started. Because that’s exactly what happened. Goldy’s OPS in September is almost the exact same as it was in the first month of the season.
That’s never good for Goldschmidt. The first baseman is a notoriously slow starter.
But did you know that he’s also a slow finisher?
Here’s his wRC+ by month over his career. Notice that March/April and September/October are almost the same and well lower than the other months.
Goldy Career wRC+ by Month
Sure, Goldy has slowed down this month, but that’s not unheard for him. He emerges when the temperatures are the hottest, so he deserves a little break after shouldering so much of the load all season.
I do want to point out that when I say “slow”, I’m referring to a 127 wRC+. Give me that kind of “slow” any day of the week for almost any other player. A 128 wRC+ is hardly a “slow” start, but Goldschmidt is so excellent in the middle months of the season that him being well above average and not elite, feels like a “slow” start.
That’s an important point because Goldy is struggling right now. Or is he? If you were to guess what his wRC+ is for the month, would you guess over 100? Because that’s what it is. 109. That’s bad for Goldschmidt but good for most other hitters.
I’ve seen people on Twitter worried about Goldschmidt because he has been “only” slightly above average this month.
That’s the thing, though. He’s set the standard so high that anything less feels like an underachievement. So, all I can say is aim low, my friends. Aim low. You might not be successful that way, but at least you might be spared some criticism. So, hey, I guess that’s a win.
I don’t want that to leave you all with cynicism (even light-hearted cynicism), so now I’ll give you some reasons for optimism.
The first is that goldy is still crushing fastballs. On the month, he has an average exit velocity of 91.8 mph against heaters and an xWOBA of .409. On the season, he has an average exit velocity of 92 mph and an xwOBA of .389.
Really, there hasn’t been a difference in how well he’s hit fastballs. And that’s important for Goldschmidt since he faces fastballs over 55% of the time.
Now look at the results. This is where things differ. In September, Goldy has a .352 wOBA against heaters. On the season, that number is .425. That’s just bad luck. He’s still hitting the ball hard and his expected results are still on par.
Part of the problem is that his pop-up rate jump to 12.5% against fastballs, which is well above his 8.9% rate on the season. That’s really the only problem, though. His ground ball rate declined a lot and he replaced those ground balls with more line drives.
That’s another telltale sign of bad luck. Line drives fall for hits more often than any other kind of batted ball. Yet, that wasn’t the case for Goldy this month.
Here’s a line drive that he smoked at 105 mph. All it got him was a short walk back to the dugout.
And here’s Freddie Freeman robbing him a few days ago.
There’s more where that came from. Goldy’s hard hit fastballs simply didn’t earn him hits as often as this month.
That’s okay, though, He’s just as good of a fastball hitter as he’s been all year. That’s encouraging and the sign of bad luck, not a collapse.
The next postive sign, or at least, interesting sign, is that pitcher are pitching Goldy inside more often. And that’s not just a September trend either.
Now, if you don’t know how pitch location is notated, let me give you a brief explanation. The middle of the plate is 0. Anything negative is inside and anything positive is outside.
The graph shows the average horizontal location as 0.07 in September. That’s close to the middle of the plate and much closer to the middle of the plate than earlier in the season. This isn’t just a one month trend either.
What this doesn’t mean is that hitters are throwing Goldy center-cut pitches all the time. Remember, we’re talking about an average. So, two pitches on the black, one inside and one outside, would have an average of 0. No center-cut pitches would have been thrown.
Returning to the strategy of this decision, I’m wondering why pitchers think that’s a good idea.
Here’s what Goldy’s numbers are against each pitch location.
First off, that’s terrifying. If I’m a pitcher my first choice would be to not pitch to Goldy. My second choice would be to pound him outside. He punishes inside pitches and I wouldn’t want to get caught in his wheelhouse.
Apparently, that’s not the thought process of opposing pitchers. That seems weird to me, but they have gotten away with it in September. Do I expect them to keep getting away with it? Absolutely not.
If Goldy keeps seeing inside pitches he’s going to start raking again.
The real problem for Goldy this month has been breaking balls. He looked normal against them. Honestly, he looked worse than that. Goldschmidt whiffed on almost half of his swings against breaking pitches in the month, he batted below the Mendoza line, and finished the month with a wOBA of .251.
And 40.4% of the pitches he saw last month were breaking pitches. That’s his highest monthly rate of the season. That was the recipe for beating him. Throw him breaking balls and get him to whiff and hope you get lucky if he connects on a fastball.
It wasn’t just the whiffing that was a problem though. His ground ball rate against breaking pitches in September was 15% higher than his ground ball rate against them on the season.
That neutralized his 90.4 mph exit velocity against breaking balls last month. Still, that’s something to be positive about.
Whiffs and ground balls are telltale signs of a slump. That’s okay. Goldy is only doing that against breaking balls. He’s just been unlucky against fastballs.
Goldy is still a good breaking ball hitter (.388 wOBA on the season), he just had a bad month. That happens. He can’t be on fire all the time. Goldy’s slump was a bit longer than usual, but again, he can’t be perfect. It’s nothing to worry about.
The exit velocity numbers are still there and his xwOBA was fine. At .343 it was nothing too special but it was only his third worst month of the season. It wasn’t catastrophically low and it’s nothing to be concerned about. I have a hard time being concerned about an MVP favorite anyways.
And to make things even better, Goldy has already showed signs of coming out of his slump. He has 5 hits and a walk in his last 4 games and has looked much better at the plate.
In my humble opinion, I think Goldy timed his slump perfectly. Hopefully he got it out of the way already so he can get back to his usual slugging ways in the playoffs. Some better luck against fastballs is due to come around sooner rather than later, especially if pitchers keep pitching him inside more often than usual.
I’m not worried about Goldschmidt. He’s still hitting the ball hard and his struggles show the signs of bad luck and a slump, not a loss of skills. He’s typically been a slow finisher anyways.
The future 2022 MVP is well on his way to being a key piece of the Cardinals playoff run. It’s foolish to doubt someone as consistent, talented, and dominant as Goldschmidt and I expect him to bounce back quickly.
Thanks for reading VEB! Here’s hoping Goldschmidt gets hot again. The Pirates seem like a good team to help him do just that.
I also want to give a shoutout to regular VEB reader and commenter lovebirds for asking me to look into this topic. I always appreciate any and all topic recommendations. If there’s ever something you want to see me dive into, feel free to reach out and let me know.