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The Curious Case of Paul Goldschmidt: Examining A Slump

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A brief look at possible contributors to Goldschmidt’s slump

Colorado Rockies v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

An interesting conversation came up during one of the post-game threads after the Astros series and I wanted to dive a little deeper into it. The observation was simple - Goldy is getting behind early in counts at an extreme rate and he’s constantly playing catchup. Could this be a reason for his slump? Props to piratedan7 for sparking the discussion and shoewizard for fueling it with more data. Is it true? Is it a smoking gun? Will Goldy ever recover? Let’s try to troubleshoot.

First thing I wanted to look at was the data from the D’backs Strike Zone twitter account. I wanted to know how often Goldy is getting unfavorable calls and at what rate are they putting him behind in the count? Here is the scrubbed data for this season:

Date Result Situation
5/6/18 2:26 Call hurts Strike 2 should be ball 4
5/3/18 5:39 Call helps Ball 2 should be strike 2
5/3/18 5:39 Call hurts Strike 1 should be ball 1
5/3/18 3:57 Call hurts Strike 2 should be ball 2
5/2/18 5:21 Call helps Ball 1 should be strike 3
4/28/18 3:05 Call hurts Strike 1 should be ball 1
4/22/18 23:21 Call hurts Strike 2 should be ball 4
4/21/18 6:26 Call hurts Strike 1 should be ball 1
4/16/18 0:30 Call hurts Strike 3 should be ball 3
4/15/18 23:31 Call hurts Strike 2 should be ball 4
4/15/18 4:07 Call helps Ball 2 should be strike 3
4/7/18 21:03 Call hurts Strike 3 should be ball 2
4/7/18 20:20 Call helps Ball 4 should be strike 2
4/6/18 4:36 Call hurts Strike 3 should be ball 3
4/4/18 3:55 Call helps Ball 3 should be strike 3
4/3/18 8:07 Call hurts Strike 3 should be ball 3

Surprisingly less than what I imagined. According to their tools, Goldy is seeing more calls hurting him than helping but not at an alarming rate. Most of the calls are indeed pushing the count in favor of the pitcher but it’s just not a common enough event to consider a major factor. And this isn’t something that is new to him... here is the same scrubbed data covering the past two seasons in addition to 2018.

Year Call Hurts Call Helps Total Discrepancy
2018 11 5 16 -6
2017 44 11 55 -33
2016 39 30 69 -9

He is on pace for more “calls hurts” this season but that’s an unreliable metric to forecast. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these calls carry more weight than others - say a strike three call with RISP is more mentally damaging than a strike one call in a blowout at the end of a game - but it’s probably safe to say that there isn’t much to work with here. I’d be pretty pissed about those four strike three’s that should have been balls and the three ball four’s that weren’t called though!

Next quest was to verify the claim that Goldy is working from behind in too many counts to be effective. Tip of the hat to shoewizard for doing much of the legwork here - here is the data:

Career 2018 MLB 2018 Average
First Pitch 378 (9%) 8 (6%) 3994 (11%)
After 1-0 1761 (42%) 42 (30%) 15061 (40%)
After 0-1 2018 (49%) 89 (64%) 18711 (50%)
After 0-2 824 (20%) 31 (22%) 7724 (20%)
Total 4157 139 37766

This gist of this is that Goldy is seeing less 1-0 counts and more 0-1 and 0-2 counts. He is also keeping the bat on his shoulder for this first pitch more than usual. Definitely a case to be made here. Goldy is behind in the count at a career high and also above the league average. He has a career OPS of .771 and .591 in 0-1 and 0-2 counts respectively so the chances of a positive result are greatly reduced and the chance for a strikeout is more likely. Of the 120 plate appearances with these counts, Goldy struck out in 52 of them... that’s 43% of the time. An increase in occurrences will result in an increase in bad results. If this trend continues then the strikeouts will almost certainly stay. And it’s hard to blame on pitch recognition as he is still recording walks at a 15% rate.

So why is Goldy seeing more of these counts? Let’s see how pitchers are attacking Goldy.

Percentage of pitches seen throughout Goldschmidt’s career

Pitchers are throwing fewer fastballs and more breaking balls to Goldy at rates we haven’t seen since he debuted in 2011. With the benefit of being ahead in the count, pitchers don’t have to rely on the fastball as much and with Goldy having to protect the plate, he’s swinging (and missing) at more offspeed pitches... as seen below:

Percentage of pitches swung at throughout Goldschmidt’s career
Percentage of pitches whiffed throughout Goldschmidt’s career

These two charts show the spike of swing and miss rates on offspeed pitches as well as the steady climb of whiff rates on fastballs over the past two seasons. Is this a sign of reduced bat speed or are the pitch counts dramatically affecting his approach? I think there is a lot of merit in the thought that the increase of ‘behind-in-the-count’ counts are causing some of the regression but it’s up for debate just how much it is contributing.

Keep in mind that Goldy has been worth about 1 WAR so far this year so he is on pace for another 5 WAR season. For all of the doubts about his ability to sustain power and average and the concerns about strikeouts, he is still a plus defender and baserunner.