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Paul Goldschmidt Tribute Week: Run Goldy Run

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As we enter 2019, let’s honor probably the greatest position player to pull on a Diamondbacks’ jersey. We start with his under-appreciated prowess on the bases.

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MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

It’s still less than a month since Paul Goldschmidt was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, and there’s part of me which finds it difficult to accept. I came across my “Goldy” shirt in the closet the other day, as I looked to clear out space for some new arrivals as Christmas presents, and the struggle was real. Do I move on, and acknowledge the fact that the red in which Goldschmidt will be playing this year, is not going to be of the Sedona kind? Or do I hang on to it, for nostalgic purposes? I mean, I’ve got a bunch of old shirts already, but a Byung-Hyun Kim shirt is not quite the same. In the end, I kept it [the Just Dingers shirt, not so much...] - but it’s probably not something I’m going to be able to wear this season.

With the dust settling, it feels a little like the aftermath of a break-up - albeit one you knew was almost inevitable. The odds of Goldschmidt (or any player) being a Diamondback for life were always likely to be slim, and the logical part of my brain understands why. It’s an inevitable result of the discrepancy between baseball player salaries and performance, and how the latter peaks earlier than the latter. The smaller the budget your team has, the more problematic it is, to risk $25 million or more a year to a player over thirty. The odds are, they won’t be worth it and will become an albatross by the end of the contract. But logic and emotion are difficult bedfellows, especially when it’s not my millions which are being spent.

However. what we want to do here is not look forward, but back. Over the next ten days or so (I’m using “week” fairly loosely!), we’ll be paying tribute to Goldschmidt’s time as a Diamondback. Where did he come from? What were the highlights of his time here? Should have been the D-backs’ first MVP winner? Who was he off the field? Is his career trajectory to date Cooperstown worthy? What can we learn from Goldschmidt? He deserves that, and more. Because he has been an undiluted joy to watch since he made his debut for the team in 2011. Paul has been a true five-tool player, capable of doing something special every time he came to the plate or when the ball was hit to him.

To begin with, I want to highlight here one of those tools which perhaps doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. He has won Silver Sluggers, Gold Gloves and All-Star starting slots. But he’s second all-time on the franchise list for stolen bases, Goldschmidt’s 124 trailing only Tony Womack (182). Even in terms of average, Goldschmidt is amazing. He stole a base once every 8.8 games. That’s a better rate than Justin Upton, Gerardo Parra or Steve Finlay. It’s all the more remarkable given his position, being almost unprecedented among everyday first-basemen in the live-ball era. Since 1920, among those who played 60% or more of the time at first, the only player with a better rate than Goldschmidt and more than TWO stolen-bases is Hall of Famer George Sisler.

That was clearly in a different era as well. Since Goldy made his debut in 2011, he has swiped more bags than any other two players at the position combined. For here are the top five stolen-base totals at first-base (again, 60%+ required).

  1. Paul Goldschmidt: 124
  2. Eric Hosmer: 67
  3. Anthony Rizzo: 52
  4. Joey Votto: 46
  5. Brandon Belt: 39

I wasn’t able to find out the answer, but have to wonder - how often has a first-baseman ever stolen home, as shown in the video above? It can’t happen very often. That’s only one impressive example of Paul’s talents on the base-paths. On October 1, 2016, Goldschmidt was credited with three stolen-bases in the same game against the Padres - including two steals of third base. It was the first three theft game by any first baseman in the majors for more than 15 years, since Ryan Klesko - coincidentally, with the same two sides playing - did it on May 24, 2001. The steals helped Goldschmidt reach 32 SB for the year, still the most by a first-baseman in a quarter-century (Gregg Jefferies had 46 in 1993).

“It’s not like the last thing on the list, where it’s hitting number one, defense number two and baserunning three. It’s like you put them all on the same level. By taking that seriously, I think you can be a better baserunner. It takes effort and you have to be into it (focused) during the game.”
Paul Goldschmidt

Is he the fastest on the team? Far from it. This year, Statcast ranked him 14th out of 18 qualifying D-backs for sprint speed. Last year: 17th of 19, ahead only of Chris Iannetta and Jeff Mathis, and equal with... Yasmany Tomas, often derided for his glacial pace. But as with every other aspect of the game, Paul has put in the effort to turn a potential weakness into a plus, and you’d never know his base-running talent was once rated at 30 (on the 20-80 scale) by Baseball Prospectus. As a result, last season, first-base coach Dave McKay said Goldschmidt was “right at the top” among base-runners he had seen over a coaching career now in its fourth decade.

He called Paul, “The type of guy who wants to be as good as he can get at whatever he’s doing... If there’s an edge and he can be better, then he is the one guy who seeks it out more than any player I’ve known.” Goldschmidt simply doesn’t fail very often. Paul’s success rate of 79.5% ranks him in the top 50 of those with a hundred or more SB, since baseball started tracking caught stealing numbers in 1961 - ahead of Derek Jeter, Barry Bonds and Michael Bourn. In the 2016 season mentioned above, Paul stole 32 bases in 37 attempts, an 86.5% success rate, barely below that of Mookie Betts (26-4, 86.7%) or - get this - Billy Hamilton (58-8, 87.9%) the same year.

It’s not just stolen bases either. When it comes to taking the extra base, he has done so 44% of the time over his career - MLB average last year was 41%. As a result, Goldschmidt has accumulated 22.3 BsR (Base-running Runs Above Average). Since 2011, the only kinda-first baseman to be even in double digits save Paul, is Wil Myers at 13.4, and he played just twice at 1B this year. There’s good reason why Devon Fink, one of our siblings at Beyond the Box Score wrote in 2017, “Paul Goldschmidt is not only one of the best running first baseman of our time, but of all time.” Of his five tools, Paul’s talents on the bags may be the one which gets the least attention - yet it may also be the one where his work ethic is most apparent.