Beware the Hype Machine: Paul Goldschmidt

Photo credit: Sports Crazy

Photo credit: Sports Crazy

At the tender age of 24, Paul Goldschmidt batted .286/.359/.490 with 20 HRs and 18 SBs (against just three caught stealings). He scored and knocked in 82 runs in just 145 games. This followed up a somewhat impressive debut in 2011, during which he socked eight dingers in just 48 games.

However, there is a reason Goldschmidt only played 145 games last season: he can’t hit righties that well. For his career (520 plate appearances), Goldschmidt has batted .262/.333/.436 against righties in total and has fared worse against righty starting pitchers (.246/.316/.415).

Goldschmidt had the 37th most plate appearances against lefties last year (201). The guys he trailed were either top of the order players who see more at bats or lefties who face LOOGYs more often. Sure, Goldschmidt might see a few more lefties in 2013, but it’s hard to see him getting as many plate appearances against southpaws as someone like Adam Dunn (215), Angel Pagan (224), Ichiro (237), Shin-Soo Choo (242) or Michael Bourn (257). If he can’t get more than 10-15 additional plate appearances against lefties (and that might be a stretch given his noted platoon split), he’ll have to improve against righties to have a comparable season to 2012.

Goldschmidt was shielded nicely against righties by the Diamondbacks last season: he tied for the 118th most plate appearances against righties. He is behind several catchers and a few part-season players (Daniel Murphy, Desmond Jennings, David Murphy, etc.). Clearly, the Diamondbacks were good at maximizing his plate appearances to ensure he faced lefties – however it’s hard to imagine the team producing more lefty opportunities. In addition, you can make the case that the Diamondbacks already see him as a quasi-platoon guy.

Still, a young player entering his early prime who has already hit 20 HRs in a partial season should be due for an improvement, right?

Well, exactly how is he going to improve with his batted ball profile: 36% fly balls and 15.6% HR/FB rate? If those numbers stay the same, you can’t expect an increase in HRs.

Let’s give Goldschmidt a little credit for progression and better taking advantage of his home ball park. Over the last three seasons, I pulled every qualified player who posted a fly ball rate between 36-46% and a HR/FB rate between 16-20%. There were 17 of these players. Over the three years, they average 80 HRs (so roughly 27 per season). Albert Pujols (40% FBs, 17% HR/FB rate), Prince Fielder (36.6% FBs and 19.3% HR/FB) and Ryan Braun (36.7% FBs and 18.5% HR/FB) led the way in terms of mass HRs.

For the most part, this group is supported by guys with FB% above 41.1%. They have the fourth most, sixth most, eight most, 10th most and 11th most HRs of the groups. If we remove them from the equation we get 26 HRs per season.

Still, the HRs have also been unnaturally held down by some injured players. If we remove recent call-ups or guys who didn’t play full seasons, we’re left with six reasonable proximities to an enhanced Goldschmidt (FB% from 36.6 – 40.8% & HR/FB rates from 16.9 – 19.5%). This group averaged 32 HRs per season – not bad. So, if Goldschmidt can hit a few more fly balls and a good bit more leave the park, you’re looking at 30+ HRs. This is by far the glorified projection, i.e., what would happen if everything goes right and a little luck goes his way.

However, what if Goldschmidt doesn’t improve? There are six players with a FB% between 36% and 37.9% and HR/FB rate between 14% and 16%: Lance Berkman, Alex Rodriguez, Matt Holliday, Rickie Weeks, Kelly Johnson and Ryan Zimmerman.

Holliday could be an interesting comparison to Goldschmidt. Since 2010:

Name HR HR:Games SB BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG FB% HR/FB
Holliday

77

.18

15

10.9%

16.9%

.216

.333

.302

36.9%

15.7%

Goldschmidt

28

.15

22

10.5%

24%

.209

.337

.278

36%

15.6%

If the power isn’t a lock, you’re relying on 20 SBs for value. Well, he stole 13 in 2011 and 5 in 2010. In short, we have no clue what kind of steals Goldschmidt is going to accumulate. Banking on anything over 12-15 seems silly.Both Holliday and Goldschmidt are close when it comes to HRs per game, BB%, BABIP, FB% and HR/FB rate. Certainly Holliday is aging and Goldschmidt is on the upswing of his career, but Goldschmidt strikes out a good bit more, which mitigates the better contact he gets (Goldschmidt has a far better line drive rate). If Goldschmidt doesn’t improve, you’re looking at Matt Holliday, who has averaged 26 HRs over the past three seasons and that isn’t special for a first baseman. Ten first basemen hit 25+ HRs last season; 14 1Bs hit 25+ HRs in 2011; and 12 1Bs hit 25+ HRs in 2010.

Lastly, it took a .340 BABIP to sustain a .286 batting average last season. He put some good contact on pitches, but hasn’t shown this sort of BABIP at any level. In addition, a .340 BABIP is pretty hard to maintain – just 19 qualified hitters have a .340 or better BABIP since 2010. In addition, if he is going to pack on the fly balls for power, he’s going to have to give up some of those line drives. So, if you get your HRs, it’s going to come with his batting average going down.

There are certainly scenarios that aren’t a leap of faith where Goldschmidt bats .285 with 32 HRs and 20 SBs. However, there are far more reasonable scenarios in which Goldschmidt continues to struggle against righties, gets fewer and fewer at bats, and ends up with a .275 average, 26 HRs and 12 SBs. Those are still good numbers, however they aren’t overly exceptional for a first baseman and certainly no better than a poor projection for Edwin Encarnacion. Heck, Josh Reddick hit 32 HRs and stole 11 bases last season. Carlos Beltran hit 32 HRs and stole 13 bases; Chase Headley went 31/17; B.J. Upton went 28/31; Jason Heyward went 27/21; Aramis Ramirez went 27/9; Aaron Hill went 26/14; Hanley Ramirez went 24/21; Jimmy Rollins went 23/30; Yoenis Cespedes went 23/16; Bryce Harper went 22/18; etc.

Basically, 25/15 guys aren’t that few and far between and you can get them at shallower positions. Drafting Goldschmidt, who is unproven, over most of the above and several others confuses me.

Even if we take his most optimistic projections from Fangraphs: 29 HRs, 105 runs, 109 RBIs, 15 SBs and .284 average, is he that exceptional? Last season, those would put him 27th in HRs, sixth in runs, seventh in RBIs, 47th in SBs and 51st in average. Considering the runs/RBIs seem a tad ridiculous and they are his only top 25 output, perhaps he isn’t a top 25 hitter, let alone player.

If we give Goldschmidt a more conservative, but still above average projection—85 runs, 29 HRs, 105 RBIs, .275 average and 12 SBs—how does he stack up against first basemen last season (who had 20 plate appearances)? Fifth in runs, ninth in HRs, fourth in RBIs, 18th in average and fourth in SBs. The average clearly hurts and, at best, you can make an argument that he is the fifth best first baseman. Is the fifth best first baseman worth a top 20 pick? That’s up to you.

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