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Paul Goldschmidt has reached a new level

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The Diamondbacks’ underappreciated star is raising the already lofty bar he’s set for himself.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Go back through the archives of any website that covers MLB and you're nearly guaranteed to find at least one piece every season since 2013 that talks about how underappreciated Paul Goldschmidt is. A trove of articles can be found trying to give the supremely talented and annually overlooked Arizona first baseman his due, even here at Beyond the Box Score, where our readers are much more than casual fans.

So, why add yet another missive to the “Goldschmidt is underrated” canon? Can a player actually be underappreciated with so many people discussing his underappreciated-ness?

In the case of Goldschmidt, it appears the answer is yes. The 29-year old is enjoying perhaps the most productive season of his career, which is no small feat, and what's more, the Diamondbacks are actually, well, maybe kind of good.

For both Arizona and its star, 2016 was disappointing. The team finished 22 games out of first place in the NL West despite spending huge on Zack Greinke and trading a king’s ransom for Shelby Miller. Goldschmidt was not immune, either, despite his numbers still looking pretty darn good. For the year, he slashed .297/.411/.489 with a .382 wOBA, .192 ISO, and a wRC+ of 134, which for just about anyone else would have been a career year.

The thing is, just about all of his numbers across the board were his worst since his first full big league season in 2012. Additionally, his hard hit percentage was the lowest of his career, and soft contact percentage the highest. After another runner-up finish in the MVP voting, his second in three years following the 2015 season, Goldschmidt simply didn’t reach the lofty bar he’s set for himself.

Fast forward to the present, two and a half months into 2017, and the story is entirely different. Goldschmidt has a slash line of .324/.442/.596, a .430 wOBA, a .265 ISO, and a wRC+ of 162. Every single one of those numbers would be a career-high, as would his 49.5 percent hard hit rate, which trails only Miguel Sanó in all of baseball.

Trying to find a reason for the surge is an interesting endeavor, as the data indicates that Goldschmidt’s approach hasn’t really changed compared to years past. He does not pull the ball much, as one would expect a power hitter to do, and his pull percentage this season is right in line with 2016’s. He also hits the ball on the ground a majority of the time, which is also not abnormal compared to previous seasons.

A few things do jump out, however, that perhaps begin to explain how an already excellent hitter has become even more dangerous. The first is simply that Goldschmidt is swinging more often, nearly four percentage points more than a season ago, with about a seven percentage point increase within the strike zone. Despite the uptick, his strikeout rate is the lowest it’s ever been. More swings implies a more aggressive Goldschmidt, but without any loss in bat-to-ball ability.

Along with the increased swing rate and hard hit percentage, Goldschmidt is also hitting the ball in the air at a higher rate than he has traditionally. His 37.9 percent flyball rate in 2017 is the highest of his career, and represents an increase of nearly 10 percent over 2016.

FanGraphs
FanGraphs

According to Statcast, Goldschmidt is third in MLB this season with 28 barrels, after having just 35 in all of 2016. He is also 15th in average exit velocity at 93 mph, after finishing 50th with an even 91 mph last year. As we have seen across MLB, increased pitch and exit velocities and more balls hit in the air have resulted in power surges, and with Goldschmidt barreling the ball up so often, he’s also reaping the benefits of that trend.

This more aggressive, more powerful approach at the plate, paired with Goldschmidt’s stellar defense and the fact that he’s essentially a middle infielder on the bases, has him leading the NL in fWAR (and by a fairly sizable margin), trailing only Aaron Judge for the MLB lead among position players. Add in the fact that his supporting cast with the Dbacks has also played well, and you have a team very much in contention in mid-June in perhaps the toughest division in baseball.

Of course, the reasons Goldschmidt is so often lamented as underrated are his more ostentatious counterparts around the league, his quiet demeanor, and who he plays for. The majority of Arizona’s games don’t hit prime time television for most of the country, meaning casual fans see him rarely or never. If, like Judge, he played in a major media market in the eastern half of the U.S., we likely wouldn’t have the archive of “Meet Paul Goldschmidt” articles that seem to permeate the internet.

Instead, we’d see more pieces describing Goldschmidt as what he is: one of the top five players we have in the game.


All data current through Sunday, June 18th.

Ben Martens is a contributor to Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @wbennomartens.