“I’ll share exactly something that he told me to tell you guys because he’s aware of these questions being asked often. And he said just tell them that I suck.”
— Torey Lovullo on Paul Goldschmidt, May 12
“Goldschmidt has endured prolonged struggles before and always recovered. He deserves our patience and blind faith. Only an ingrate would treat him like a scrub, showering him vitriol in this moment of weakness. But he’s rarely looked this uncomfortable at the plate.”
— Dan Bickley, May 13
And I’m not even going to start listing all the hot-taeks from “fans” on social media, calling for Goldschmidt to be dropped in the order, benched, sent to Reno or designated for assignment. His team-mates were about the only ones who continued to have faith, Lovullo saying, “He’s so special that he spoils us every single day. Take the law of averages. Take his track record. It’s an easy bet to say at some point, he’s gonna flip the switch and be Paul Goldschmidt once again. To me, he still is Paul Goldschmidt. … He’s gonna be just fine.”
I think “just fine” is probably something of an understatement. For, despite enduring the worst extended spell of his career, Paul Goldschmidt still picks up his fifth MVP award from the SnakePit, following victories in 2013-15 and 2017. How bad was it? Simply by calendar months, May 2018 was the worst of his entire career (min 50 PA). He batted .144, which is 27 points lower than any other month. He has only had two other months at even .230 or lower. By OPS, he was at .531: again, the worst of his career, and just the third time he had been below .700. And that was only AFTER he batted .292 with an OPS of 1.030 from the 23rd of May on. From Apr 27-May 22, Goldschmidt’s line over 24 games: .116/.224/.163, a .387 OPS.
Needless to say, theories abounded as to the cause. Schoenfield speculated a sharp uptick in his swinging strike rate and drop in exit velocity. Was it a problem with hard heat? Buster Olney noted on May 22, “Through Friday’s games, the Diamondbacks’ first baseman had seen 77 pitches of 96 mph or faster without logging a hit, the most in the majors.” Jay Jaffe of Fangraphs concurred. On the other hand, Sprankton speculated about bad calls causing Goldschmidt to be behind in the count, and vulnerable to off-speed pitches as a result. Whatever the cause, it was startling for a player who had never hit below .286 over a full season, to be found sitting below the Mendoza Line on May 22, batting just .198.
But then, as quickly as it had begun, the slump ended. From the worst month of his career in May, Goldschmidt flipped the switch Lovullo mentioned, and delivered close to the best in June. He batted .364, with a 1.199 OPS which trailed only May 2015 in his career. The slumping first-baseman was named the National League Player of the Month for June. Over a ten-game span from June 5-15, he was positively nuclear, batting .535 (!) with six home-runs and a 1.731 OPS, improving his season OPS by 170 points during that stretch.
He became the first D-back ever with three or more hits in four consecutive games, going 13-for-18 on the road in San Francisco and Colorado. And per USA Today, “With 15 hits and 11 of them for extra bases, Goldschmidt joined the great Lou Gehrig (in 1936) as the only two players since 1920 to post those kind of numbers over a five-game span.” Torey Lovullo didn’t exactly say “I told you so,” but he wasn’t far off: “The storm was coming. Someone was going to have to pay and obviously, there were a couple teams in San Francisco and Colorado that had to pay for some of what happened earlier in the year.” With the slump behind him even Goldschmidt seemed to admit it had been wearing on him:
“I was looking for any adjustment I needed to make. It wasn’t like you just come in here and go, ‘Oh, I played bad. Let’s go play bad again the next day.’ But it’s not that easy. There’s not like a magic pill you take. It doesn’t matter how much video you look at or how many swings. I was doing everything I can trying to find every adjustment possible to just try to go out there and play well. For a long time it wasn’t really working. I was able to kind of get it a little bit going last week, but again, there’s no guarantee it’s going to continue. You just go in there and try to prepare and be ready.”
Hitting coach Dave Magadan said there were some minor mechanical adjustments, and suggested it was just a case of Goldschmidt becoming comfortable with these. “There was probably a period of time where he was probably thinking a little bit about the mechanical issues, and then it was splitting his focus in the game where he was probably swinging at pitches that he normally doesn’t swing at. That kind of snowballed and is part of a reason why he was going through that bad period. So it was a combination of the two: the mechanical issues along with pitch selection.”
But the comeback was completed in mid- July, when Paul was selected to his sixth straight National League All-Star team. He gave credit for the selection to Magadan and the other hitting coaches: “Man, I don’t even want to know the amount of hours they spent watching video when I wasn’t around trying to find something that would help me. Me making the All-Star Game this year would not have happened without all three of those guys.” He started the game as the NL’s Designated Hitter, batting in the #3 spot. He struck out in his first at-bat, then drew a walk in his second trip to the plate. From 2013-18, Mike Trout is the only player with as many at-bats in the All-Star Game as Goldy, both having had 14. No other player has more than 10.
After the roller-coaster tumult of the first-half, Goldschmidt’s second half was a veritable sea of tranquility. Ironically, his offensive production ended up almost identical across the two parts of the season: a first-half OPS of .920 was followed by a second-half which was just five points higher. However, as in 2017, he did drop off at the end of the season: Paul hit only .180 over the Diamondbacks’ last sixteen games, after he had managed to get his batting average back up to the .300 mark on Sep 12. That was quite a feat considering where it had been. Over the 96 games from May 23 to Sep 12, Goldschmidt’s line was .348/.442/.655 for an OPS of 1.097.
Perhaps overshadowed in this was the ongoing glory of Paul Goldschmidt’s defense. We’ll miss his bat next season, that’s for sure. But his ability with the glove is going to be hard to replace. Whether starting and finishing the 3-6-3 double-play, digging wayward balls out of the dirt, charging in to field bunts or snaring pop-ups in foul territory, there wasn’t anything he didn’t make look easy. Throw in his impeccable behavior with regard to fans, his charitable contributions off-field, and everything else. It’s no surprise he has won the Luis Gonzalez award, given “to the D-backs player who best exemplifies the talents, spirit and heart of the D-backs legend both on and off the field”, every year but one it has existed.
It may well be his final season as a Diamondback. But for all its ups and downs - basically, giving everyone else a two-month head-start! - he was still the team’s best player. This fifth MVP award is well-deserved, and a fitting full-stop on his tenure with Arizona.