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This Might Be Paul Goldschmidt’s Best Batted Ball Season

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Wait, I thought he was declining?

Arizona Diamondbacks  v San Francisco Giants Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

I know it’s pretty easy to write about Goldschmidt after the ridiculous start to June he’s having. And I almost wrote about Ketel Marte instead (next week?). But this is something I’ve been looking at for quite a while.

Goldy had quite a poor start to the season. Things looked good, briefly, after a trip to San Francisco earlier in the year but he quickly reverted to this prolonged. Many fans and analysts started to question his age, his bat speed, etc. And in some ways, it seemed believeable. But the batted ball painted a different story and it still does.

It turns out that Paul Goldschmidt was here all along (mostly).

I say “mostly” because his approach has taken a significant step back so far this season. This could be directly tied to slump and will rebound or maybe it’s here to stay.

However, I want to take a look at Paul Goldschmidt’s batted ball data. This is the second year in a row I’ve done this. Last year, Goldy had a slow start until mid-April while having great underlying batted ball data; he then went on to have a great season up until late August and September, where his bat disappeared (though possibly tied to an elbow injury).

The Exit Velocities

Yes, we all knew where this was going and of course, I’m going to bring this up. I’ve put together this data for 2015 through 2018 and it paints a pretty clear picture of where Goldy is at right now.

First, we’ll start with the overall average exit velocity. There is where everyone likes to quickly jump to the “lost bad speed” narrative. And at first glance, when combined with his slump, it made sense.

Sean Testerman

At first glance, this is pretty scary. It shows an overall drop-off in average exit velocity of almost 2 MPH. With just that information alone, is a pretty bad thing.

However, if we separate out flyballs and groundballs, it actually paints a bit different of a picture:

Sean Testerman

It might be a bit difficult to see here, but the drop in overall exit velocity is almost entirely captured by groundballs. His average flyball exit velocity is slightly lower than last year (so far), but higher than 2015 and considerably moreso than 2016. Exit velocity on flyballs is the single most important component of power. You need to hit the ball in the air and you need to hit the ball hard. Goldy is doing that at nearly career-best rates in 2018, and this includes his nearly two months of slumping.

But Statcast has another stat that really helps paint this picture as it also includes launch angle. Yes, of course, I’m talking about barrels. And this is where Goldy is flying away from his past seasons:

Sean Testerman

The rate that Goldschmidt makes quality contact has never been better, and thus the title and theme of this article. Even despite all of slumping, all of our concerns, Goldy has still been making great contact. That’s why his June breakout shouldn’t be too surprising: the actual Goldschmidt never went away; it was just hidden by April and May.

Putting It All Together

At this point, I think it’s fairly safe to conclude that Goldy’s power potential is as good as it’s ever been. What’s left is his approach: namely, that his BB% is down and his K% is considerably higher than what’s expected.

My hypothesis on this is that Goldy just wasn’t seeing the ball well to start the year. And I know that’s not really an “analytical” thing to say but it surely looked like he was in his own head. I saw swings from Goldy that I frankly had never seen before. This led to a lot of strikeouts that didn’t seem very Goldy-like and a lot of poorly-hit grounders (which explains the chart above).

To further this point, I looked into called strikes against Goldy. Specifically, called strikes that Statcast had identified as being outside the strike zone. Paul Goldschmidt has the second-highest number of called-strikes that were actually balls in the MLB. His 4.3% rate of this occuring is 6th-highest in the MLB (min. 500 pitches). In 2017, Goldy’s 3.3% rate was 82nd in baseball. Across the ~1250 pitches he’s seen, this is about a difference 12.5 strikes which equates to a little over 2 runs. Just another factor working against Goldy in his slump.

I also want to bring up that it seems like Goldy has just missed several homers this year. I re-calculated his xHR/FB% and it currently sits at 24.9%, which is considerably higher than the 20.3% that he’s at right now. That accounts for about 3.25 home runs that Goldy is “missing” from his expected value. If you were to convert three flyball outs into homers, suddenly Goldy is sitting on a ~.265/.375/.555 batting line which would equate to about a 150 wRC+/OPS+.

I’m still keeping an eye on Goldy’s approach. For June, he’s at an 8.5% BB% and 17.0% K%. Which is nice to see the drop in strikeouts but you typically expect Goldy to be getting his walks, too. And I’m still mildly concerned about his exit velocity on grounders and line drives. But I want to see how this all evens out with a good month of Goldy being Goldy. It looks like he’s mostly back to me and the batted ball data supports it. I’m also curious how the batted ball data will change as we move into the summer months and account for the large league-wide drop in offense.

Just think, we would we be having this conversation if Goldy wasn’t constantly getting screwed by the umps and gotten unlucky on a couple homers?