2020 Player Preview: Paul Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt
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When Paul Goldschmidt arrived in St. Louis in December of 2018, expectations were high from the start. Coming over from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for Luke Weaver and Carson Kelly, the perennial All-Star filled a big hole at first base for the St. Louis Cardinals. Keeping the slugger in Cardinal red was also crucial to John Mozeliak and Co. To their delight, the former Texas State Bobcat agreed to a five-year extension before the 2019 season even began.

However, it was not all smooth sailing in Goldy’s first year as a Redbird. Despite a red-hot start to the year, Goldschmidt’s overall production was a significant drop-off from his time in Arizona. Whether the change of environment flustered him early on, or pitchers just found his weaknesses more easily we may never know. Regardless, Goldschmidt was one of many Cardinals who suffered through a down year despite the team’s overall success.

2019 Recap

The Positives

Paul Goldschmidt may have hit a wall in terms of offensive production in 2019, but he was still crucial to the Cardinals’ success. Goldschmidt’s durability was incredible, as he played in 161 out of 162 regular-season games. He and infield mate Paul DeJong were the only Cardinals to play over 150. His clutch hitting ability was also a bright spot, posting a 131 OPS+ in high-leverage situations per Baseball-Reference.

Many fans were surprised to see the former 8th-rounder not making much noise on the basepaths in 2019, especially under Mike Shildt’s aggressive philosophy. When he did get the green light, Goldschmidt stole three bases in four attempts. If given more opportunities to run, his smarts on the bases could be very valuable; he racked up 32 steals just four years ago in Arizona.

Although off-speed appeared to be Goldschmidt’s kryptonite, his swing-and-miss on breaking balls actually improved significantly. Per Statcast, his Whiff% dropped from 40.8% in 2018 to 32.6% a year later. Bad luck also contributed to his drop in production, as his expected stats (xwOBA and xSLG) and Barrel% ranked in the 80th percentile of MLB despite the less impressive numbers.

Goldschmidt has always been an elite defensive first baseman, and that was no different in 2019. After a 2018 season that saw the position duties rotate between the defensively limited Matt Carpenter and Jose Martinez, Goldschmidt brought much-needed consistency to that corner of the infield.

His ultimate zone rating (UZR) of 2.5 ranked 3rd among all major league first basemen per FanGraphs. He trailed only Matt Olson of the Oakland A’s and Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs, both Gold Glove winners that year. And despite playing in almost every game, Goldschmidt compiled only five errors the entire season. He tied with Rizzo for the fewest among those with at least 1000 innings in the field.

The Negatives

Despite starting his Cardinal career with a bang in the season’s first week, Paul Goldschmidt stumbled through a good amount of 2019. His three-homer explosion came against the Milwaukee Brewers in just the second game of the year. However, most of his debut season in St. Louis was disappointing compared to his stellar career in Arizona.

Like many of his teammates, Goldschmidt had trouble seeing the ball well after the club’s red-hot opening month. According to Baseball-Reference, his walk rate dropped from 13.0% to 11.4% as he adjusted to NL Central pitching, and his strikeouts did not drop to offset that problem of getting on base. Per Statcast, his average exit velocity (90.1 MPH) and Hard Hit% (42.4%) were his lowest since his injury-shortened 2014 season. Goldschmidt especially struggled in the month of June, slashing just .181/.274/.309 despite playing every day.

These struggles culminated in a weighted-runs-created plus (wRC+) of just 116, still well above the league average but well below expectations. That number put him just 12th among first basemen, his first time finishing outside the top 3 since that 2014 campaign. Oftentimes, the Cardinals offense went as he went, to the tune of a .967 OPS in wins and .629 in losses.

Although Goldschmidt certainly produced at a viable level for his position, he did not meet most fans’ expectations. The man widely considered the Cards’ best player overall coming into the year finished 5th on the team in WAR. Per Baseball-Reference, his 2.4 left him well short of Jack Flaherty, Paul DeJong, Kolten Wong, and Tommy Edman.

2020 Outlook

Paul Goldschmidt is already penciled in as the Cardinals’ starting first baseman in 2020, but will be looking to bounce back. He certainly has shown the ability to provide elite-level offense prior to 2019. He has back-to-back top-six MVP finishes in his last two years with the Diamondbacks. Defensively, the former Gold Glover will help to form one of the best infields in the league. What remains to be seen is whether he can return to his former glory at the plate, or if his $130 million extension will be regretted in the near future.

Sources: Statcast, Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs, MLB.com

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