Paul Goldschmidt remains a top option at first base. (AP Photo/Scott Kane)
In his late-20s, Paul Goldschmidt seemed to be on track to be a Hall of Famer, but after taking a step back in his first season as a Cardinal, that seems more like a longshot now for the 31-year-old first baseman.
In looking at his similarity scores on Baseball Reference, at age 24 and 25, he was on the Adrian Gonzalez trajectory — an extremely solid career path, but not Hall of Fame worthy. At the ages of 26 and 27, Goldschmidt most resembled Joey Votto, which seemed like a much better bet.
Things got even more promising for Goldy from ages 28 to 30, as the nearest comparison was Jeff Bagwell, who is in fact enshrined in Cooperstown.
Then came the offseason trade in December 2018 to St. Louis, where Goldschmidt didn’t hit nearly as well (.260) and saw his ISO dip to its lowest level since 2016. The result was his worst full-season OPS ever.
That leaves him most similar through age 31 to Derrek Lee — a very fine hitter in his time (two-time All-Star, 2015 NL batting title), but no one’s idea of a Hall of Famer.
Now the question remains: Can Goldschmidt rebound and string together another four or five years of top production to get him back on track for Hall of Fame consideration?
Let’s get this out of the way first. For a dude that was drafted 246th overall in 2009, he has completely surpassed all expectations anyone had for him as a professional. Questions about Goldschmidt’s bat speed dogged him even as he torched minor league after minor league on his way to the bigs. In fact, he was never a Top 100 prospect nor a Baseball America top 10 prospect for Arizona. Clearly, experts are not always right.
Still, we started to see cracks in Goldy’s game in early-September 2018 as his walk rate kept dipping. That trend continued last year as it reached its lowest level since 2012. It was the first time in his career that Goldschmidt recorded a sub-.350 OBP over a full season.
The strange thing is, despite the consistently lower walk rates, he’s actually been a more patient hitter in the last couple of years. After averaging 4.15 pitches per plate appearance in 2017, Goldschmidt jacked that up to 4.21 in 2018 and increased it again last year (4.25). So perhaps taking a less aggressive approach at the plate hasn’t been working.
Goldschmidt remains part of a very strong infield in St. Louis and he enters the season having accumulated a WAR of 43.1 since being drafted in 2009. No, he’s no longer a first rounder for Fantasy purposes, but it’s not inconceivable that he could still hit .280 and smack 40 homers (see video below for his power stroke) while driving in and scoring 100 runs. Unfortunately, his days of being a major stolen base threat are over.
What do the underlining metrics suggest about Goldschmidt’s future? His xSLG and xwOBA remain elite, while his barrel percentage, hard hit percentage and exit velocity are all very strong. Goldschmidt’s xBA is middling, but where he struggles is his sprint speed, whiff percentage and — especially — his K rate.
While his barrel percentage dipped last year, it was superb in 2018, so this is hardly a trend. Of slightly greater concern is that Goldschmidt’s exit velocity has been gradually dipping for a couple of years now, as has his hard hit percentage. He chased pitches at a higher rate than ever last year, and that’s also a concern.
While there’s nothing to suggest his game is falling off a cliff here, if some of the above trends continue in 2020, we’re going to conclude he’s in clear regression.
Currently, Goldschmidt has an ADP of 65, which seems like a bargain considering what he’s capable of. There were concerns about his elbow this spring, but we still consider him a mid-tier starting first baseman for Fantasy purposes.
RotoRob Tune of the Day
Songwriter supremo Neil Percival Young has had a career that makes most superstars blush. His first compilation effort was 1977’s Decade, which includes 35 of his tracks from between 1966 and 1976. From this effort comes a live version of “The Needle and the Damage Done,” recorded in L.A. in 1971 and originally released on Young’s classic Harvest album.
Now it’s your turn. Let us know in the comments below what you expect out of Goldschmidt this season and going forward.