The Joy Of Paul Goldschmidt

Jul. 26, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks infielder Paul Goldschmidt (44) doubles to deep center during the game against the New York Mets in the eighth inning at Chase Field. The Mets defeated the Diamondbacks 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE

Goldschmidt has plus raw power and a pretty good idea of the strike zone, which should combine to give him a pretty healthy MLB career as at least a solid backup. Whether he's more than that depends on whether his fringy bat speed will play enough to let him get to that power -- and with a fair number of soft-tossers kicking around the National League, he might be able to make it work. He's a below-average defender at first who might have to DH, and could end up as more of a right-handed platoon/bench bat who starts against lefties.
-- Keith Law, July 19, 2011

When Paul Goldschmidt goes in to Cooperstown, I hope he reads the above out as part of his acceptance speech. Okay, that might be just a little premature. But it's probably safe to say that Goldzilla has lived up even to the expectations of optimistic Diamondbacks fans thus far, never mind the underwhelming opinion of Law. Let's take a look at what our young first baseman has done for the team to date.

[Note: all stats exclude last night's game. So you can add another home-run to the totals...]

2012 has definitely not been a good year for Law and his opinions on Arizona prospects, between the above (in a piece entitled "Low-ceiling prospects ready to help"!) and his statement in March that Arizona are "clearly better with Bauer in the rotation than Collmenter or Joe Saunders," followed by a "Free Trevor Bauer" campaign. Goldschmidt was promoted a couple of weeks after Law's comments - and in about a full season (151 games), has hit .282 with 24 home-runs, for a 124 OPS+. His bat speed has proved more than adequate to cope with major-league pitching. Here's where Goldschmidt ranks by OPS among 1B in the majors this season (min. 300 PAs, 50% of games at 1B):

Rk Player OPS PA Age Tm AB R H HR RBI BB SO SB CS BA OBP SLG
1 Joey Votto 1.069 370 28 CIN 298 52 102 14 49 66 65 5 3 .342 .465 .604
2 Allen Craig .933 317 27 STL 284 55 86 17 60 28 62 1 0 .303 .363 .570
3 Prince Fielder .900 504 28 DET 427 63 130 20 84 59 57 1 0 .304 .397 .504
4 Paul Konerko .892 423 36 CHW 377 49 119 18 54 38 59 0 0 .316 .388 .504
5 Paul Goldschmidt .881 409 24 ARI 365 51 108 16 61 34 96 11 2 .296 .355 .526
6 Albert Pujols .868 503 32 LAA 450 66 126 26 82 43 57 8 1 .280 .344 .524
7 Garrett Jones .839 335 31 PIT 316 50 89 17 57 16 72 2 0 .282 .313 .525
8 Mark Teixeira .837 468 32 NYY 404 64 105 23 77 47 69 2 1 .260 .340 .498
9 Adam LaRoche .836 464 32 WSN 406 51 107 23 77 50 106 1 1 .264 .338 .498
10 Adrian Gonzalez .826 491 30 BOS 450 61 138 13 80 30 75 0 0 .307 .352 .473

Goldschmidt, for league-minimum salary, is giving his team a better OPS this year than Adrian Gonzalez (2012 earnings: $21 million), Mark Teixieira ($22.5 million) and even Albert Pujols (a relative bargain, $12 million). A couple of other things stand out. Goldschmidt easily has the most stolen-bases of any of these players. As noted previously, his 11 SB are the most for Arizona at the position since their inaugural season, and is tied with Eric Hosmer in the majors at 1B. Also, note that Goldschmidt is a lot younger: the average age of the other nine is 31. Let's see where Goldschmidt stacks up against his peers, those who are 24 or younger this season (any position, 300+ PAs)

Rk Player OPS PA Age Tm AB R H HR RBI BB SO SB CS BA OBP SLG
1 Mike Trout .995 433 20 LAA 381 91 130 21 65 40 88 37 3 .341 .404 .591
2 Giancarlo Stanton .913 347 22 MIA 310 48 87 21 55 33 89 5 1 .281 .354 .558
3 Paul Goldschmidt .881 409 24 ARI 365 51 108 16 61 34 96 11 2 .296 .355 .526
4 Freddie Freeman .818 439 22 ATL 388 68 108 15 76 39 83 1 0 .278 .349 .469
5 Jason Heyward .814 462 22 ATL 412 70 110 19 57 45 117 16 5 .267 .341 .473
6 Jose Altuve .774 479 22 HOU 436 67 131 5 31 33 59 25 7 .300 .354 .420
7 Brandon Belt .771 325 24 SFG 277 32 74 4 37 43 80 9 1 .267 .363 .408
8 Elvis Andrus .769 509 23 TEX 444 68 133 2 48 47 64 19 7 .300 .370 .399
9 Justin Upton .767 449 24 ARI 389 77 107 9 46 50 93 13 8 .275 .361 .406
10 Ruben Tejada .751 321 22 NYM 296 38 94 1 20 19 54 1 2 .318 .363 .389

Against his contemporaries, Goldschmidt ranks even better, with only TPFKA Mike Stanton and Mr. Trout ahead of him (as an aside, I hadn't quite realized just how amazing a season the latter was having until I looked at this chart. Whimper. Bobby Borchering...). Now, I'd admit that a few factors work in his favor: Chase Field is one, and the level of expected production from 1B is likely higher than, say, a middle infielder like Altuve. But Paul's level of production has been superior this season to much more heralded prospects, such as Heyward, Belt and even Upton [Goldschmidt is about two weeks younger than J-Up, which is interesting in a number of ways].

Let's look at the concerns raised by Law, and see if there's any evidence thus far, that he was justified. First, his "fringy bat speed". Well, if that's the case, it doesn't seem to be leading to a lack of hard-hit balls. The only real data we have for that is from the home-run resource at Hit Tracker Online, which included the speed of the ball off the bat. The average speed of a home-run ball in the majors this year was 103.4 mph. The median speed of Goldschmidt's 16, comes in a little higher, at 104.6 mph. Looking at his hit chart doesn't seem to give much evidence that he's having to cheat to catch up with major-league pitchers either, as it shows a good spread of hits for Goldschmidt.

Then, there's the assertion Goldschmift is a "below-average defender at first". Now, even the modern defensive stats generally require multiple years to be reliable; there's too much random variation in them otherwise. But 2012 UZR has Goldschmidt at +3.2, good enough for 8th among the 18 qualifying players at the position. Baseball Info Solutions Defensive Runs Saved metric more or less agrees, rating Paul as +3 runs above average. Even the traditional measures seems like him a .994 fielding percentage is fifth in the league among everyday 1B. All told, there's not much data to support Law here either.

Where Law might have more of a point is describing the player as "a right-handed platoon/bench bat who starts against lefties," because Goldzilla has destroyed southpaw hitters this season, in an appropriately Toho-like way:
vs. LHP: .380/.438/.785, 10 HR in 121 AB
vs. RHP: .254/.313/.398, 6 HR in 244 AB

So, one-third of his at-bats have been against left-handed pitching, but they have been responsible for almost two-thirds of his home-runs. Looking at BABIP, the right-hand line (.326 BABIP) is likely a lot more sustainable than the left-hand path (.409), and it is almost certainly the case that Goldschmidt has overachieved, to a certain extent, thus far.

That extent is what will determine the final accuracy of Law's prediction, and will be countered by Goldschmidt's aging curve, which should still see him improve through experience over the next couple of years. I'm optimistic that the Diamondbacks have found a first-baseman who can produce at the heart of the order for the foreseeable future.

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