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):
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)
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.