Cornelius Thomas is a New Yorker with a passion for baseball. who can typically be found over at Fish Stripes, but loves player evaluation and analyzing statistics, calling himself “A mix of a scout and analyst.” He’ll be speaking at SaberSeminar this year, and likes to answer the questions that nobody thinks to ask, saying “Why? Is everything to me” In this guest post, he takes a look at the early-season struggles of our first-baseman.
Paul Goldschmidt has been a phenomenon like no other over the last few years. A 8th round draft pick out of Texas State University, Goldschmidt burst onto the scene in 2012 as a self-made super talent. Along the lines of Pujols, Goldschmidt showed outstanding power, plate discipline, and even speed from a 6’3”, 225lb man, which was extremely impressive. Goldschmidt is an over-achiever in every sense, who has mystified people and delighted Diamondbacks fans with his consistency over the years.
This year, though “Goldschmidt” has not been himself. Goldschmidt’s slash line through the first game in San Francisco was .210/.328/.395. This is extremely alarming. If we take a closer look, we can see that his soft hit percentage had skyrocketed to 20.6% while his career average is 11.7%. He is also showing a propensity to hit flyballs more than his norm. That, my friends, is a sign of hitter that is clearly not himself. This is obvious.
Let’s take note of something: “A fastball takes .4 seconds to reach home plate after it leaves a pitcher’s hand, but a hitter needs a full .25 seconds to see the ball and react.” Technically, hitters have no time for indecisiveness. As the saying goes, “He who hesitates is lost”. Right now, Goldschmidt is “lost”. Confidence is one of the most integral parts of becoming successful in any field. Confidence comes from preparation. Goldschmidt prides himself on his ability to prepare and I believe that his preparation habits are as arduous and diligent as they have ever been. I believe, though, that because his early season numbers weren’t outstanding, he may have allowed doubt to drift in his head, and is perhaps questioning his preparation tactics. Ultimately, if Goldschmidt is not feeling very Goldschmidt-like, he will not perform Goldschmidt-like.
A second point, Goldschmidt’s numbers are also showing a timing deficit and this is tied to his right before the pitcher release mechanics. [Excuse the picture quality!]
There are very few differences in Goldschmidt’s approach - but a slight one does seem to exist. Goldschmidt is more closed in the first picture, pre-pitcher release, which is from 2017. He is in a different, less-closed stance in 2018 compared to last year. With Goldschmidt essentially opening up earlier, he is less able to attack the outside pitch. This is leading to him being pitched away and when he does pull the ball it typically ends up being a fly-ball rather than a line-drive. This, coupled with his indecision, is leading to a less aggressive swing, something evidenced by the decrease in his exit velocity from 91.4 to 88.9. This more open stance is leading to a higher soft hit rate and this is also contributing to an increase in flyballs and limited power.
Last year was one of his most aggressive years in terms of overall swings and he has followed this up with a much more passive approach. Why? Only Goldschmidt knows. For instance, his first pitch strike rate is all the way up to 64.4%. It was 59.0% last year. He’s been in the 50-59% range for most of his career. This is where many of the game’s best hitters are. This is absolutely unnecessary for a guy with his eye, and furthermore, a guy with his responsibilities in the order. Patience is important but just taking pitches for the hell of it is a recipe for futility. Of course, it’s good to take a pitch - but this seems excessive. It is almost as if pitchers know that he is trying to be more disciplined in not swinging at first pitch strikes - and are throwing cookies to take advantage, and get ahead in the count.
Lastly, over the weekend, I watched Goldschmidt pass on pitches that were directly over the plate in an optimal hitting zone. His modest goal of being more disciplined than last year is working against him, and he needs to revert back to a much more aggressive approach to maximize his opportunities.
I was once told by a teacher, “Be true to yourself and don’t change”. Now, this is not always a correct adage to adopt - but, in this case, if you can hear us: ”Pleasssseeee, we want the old Goldy back!!”