Just a few days ago, the Diamondbacks stole home. There are a couple caveats that I must mention, though: a) it wasn’t a straight steal of home and b) it was against the reeling Mets, who did not make a great defensive play on the ball.
It’s still impressive, nonetheless, especially when you consider the player that made the play: Paul Goldschmidt. This wasn’t some herculean effort on Goldschmidt’s part either. In fact, he’s one of the best baserunners in the league and has been for quite some time.
Goldschmidt ranks sixth in the league in stolen bases this year, with 10. He has more than noted speedsters Jose Altuve, Trea Turner and Jonathan Villar. And, in terms of baserunning runs above average, Goldschmidt ranks 3rd, with a +3.5. Only Jarrod Dyson (+4.3) and Billy Hamilton (+5.2) have more.
What makes Goldschmidt a good base runner?
Goldschmidt’s baserunning abilities aren’t a new 2017 revelation. He stole 32 bases in 37 attempts last year and 21 in 26 in 2015. From 2012 to 2014, he stole 46 overall. For Goldschmidt, this season isn’t a revelation on the basepaths by any means. He’s obviously good at it, and he has shown that over time.
Interestingly—and perhaps understandably—Goldschmidt’s stolen base prowess does not stem from having blazing speed. He averages around 4.3 seconds home-to-first, according to Baseball Info Solutions. In 2013, in a prospect evaluation Goldschmidt was rated a 30 runner (on the 20-80 scale) by Baseball Prospectus. Pure speed has never been part of his game. But smarts have.
Goldschmidt is a smart and efficient baserunner, perhaps more so than just about any player in the Major Leagues. His career extra-base taken percentage (XBT%) is 45 percent, a fair amount above the league average at 39 percent. Since Goldschmidt is able to read balls well and knows where his limits are while running the bases, he is able to maximize the speed (however little it may be) he does have.
(Extra-base taken percentage measures how often a runner advances more than one base on a single or more than two bases on a double. It can be considered a slightly flawed stat because it does not take into account where the ball was hit.)
According to Baseball Prospectus, Goldschmidt currently ranks third in the league in equivalent stolen base runs (EqSBR), with 1.03 thus far. Using a multi-year run expectancy matrix, Baseball Prospectus is able to determine the amount of stolen- bases-above-average based on the number and quality of stolen base opportunities. In short, this means that Goldschmidt is taking advantage of the qualities he has and uses his smarts to generate higher stolen base numbers.
Will Goldschmidt be a 30-30 player this season?
Goldschmidt has the potential to be a 30-30 player. Unfortunately, he has missed out on reaching the feat in each of the past two years; in 2016, it was because he was six home runs shy, while he was nine stolen bases short in 2015. Sure, the 30-30 mark is arbitrary, but the milestones still show which players are good at two things that aren’t always put together. That’s why a 30-30 year is infrequent, and we haven’t seen one in five years. (Mike Trout and Ryan Braun both did it in 2012.)
If Goldschmidt continues at his current pace, he could be in the neighborhood of 35 home runs and 35 steals by the end of the year. A long hot stretch in the middle of the summer could put Goldschmidt on pace for a 40-40 (!!!) season, a small club that includes just four players: Jose Canseco (1988), Barry Bonds (1996), Alex Rodriguez (1998) and Alfonso Soriano (2006).
Before we get to his 40-40 chances, let’s focus on his 30-30 shot. Goldschmidt has 185 plate appearances into the 2017 season. He amassed a total of 1,400 plate appearances from 2015 to 2016, or about 700 per year. So, if we assume he’s got another 700 turns at bat in store this season, that means Goldschmidt has only completed 26 percent of his total plate appearances for the year.
Using the 700 PA mark as a gauge (I generally use 650 when determining pace), Goldschmidt would be on pace for exactly 38 home runs and 38 stolen bases, easily putting him over the 30-30 mark and making him real close to the 40-40 plateau.
Neither Steamer nor ZiPS believes that Goldschmidt will reach the 30-30 mark, though, penning him for 30 homers and 26 stolen bases and 31 homers and 27 stolen bases, respectively. It’s important to note however, that neither projection system has him getting more than 666 plate appearances.
So, what are the chances Goldschmidt is a 30-30 player this season? I’ll say 35 percent. It’s still too early in the season to know if he’ll keep up his current performance, but knowing his history, I think there’s a real chance.
And the chances he’s a 40-40 player? I’ll go with 5 percent. It’s unlikely, but I wouldn’t say it’s out of the ballpark quite yet.
Is Goldschmidt the best base-running first baseman of our time?
First baseman are not known to run the bases well. In 2016, first baseman accounted for 179 total stolen bases, 32 of which were Goldschmidt’s. Generally speaking, first baseman account for one stolen base for every 189 plate appearances. For Goldschmidt, it’s been more like one stolen base for every 32 plate appearances, which is even better than the league average shortstop, who steals one base for every 50.
In fact, since 1998, only one first baseman has more stolen bases than Paul Goldschmidt, and that is Darin Erstad, who swiped 153 bags compared to Goldschmidt’s 109. But, Erstad did it in almost twice the games and twice the plate appearances as Goldschmidt, who could theoretically reach the Erstad bar by next season.
Even if you go back to 1988 and look at the last 30 years, Goldschmidt is still the sixth-best base stealing first baseman in baseball, despite the fact that he’s only been in the league since 2011. Currently leading that list is Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell, who played 1,329 more games and had 5,893 more plate appearances than Goldschmidt has in that timeframe. Even with that head start, he’s still only 93 bases ahead of Goldschmidt, who, could catch him by 2020.
Since 1900, just 57 first baseman have more than 100 career stolen bases. Just fourteen have more than 200. Goldschmidt, if he plays another eight or so seasons, could finish with 250 or more stolen bases, which would put him inside the top-10.
I can now say without a doubt that Paul Goldschmidt is not only one of the best running first baseman of our time, but of all time. If he continues to be smart on the basepaths in the future, there is no reason to believe why he can’t run like a shortstop, as long as his legs stay fresh.
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Devan Fink is a Featured Writer at Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @DevanFink.