clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Arizona Diamondbacks All Decade Team: First Base, Paul Goldschmidt

New, 12 comments

You the voters have named Paul Goldschmidt the Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman of the decade. Color me SHOCKED.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Seasons: 2011 - 2018

Stats with Arizona: 1092 games, .297/.398/.532, 209 HR, 710 RBI, 124 SB, 145 OPS+, 40.3 bWAR, 36.3 fWAR

Best season: 2015- 159 games, .321/.435/.570, 168 OPS+, 163 wRC+, 8.8 bWAR, 7.3 fWAR

Of the three Paul Goldschmidt exclusive articles I’ve written here at the Snake Pit, I could almost combine them into a short story just shy of 10,000 words. 9,359 to be exact. That’s not including the hundreds of Snake Bytes and Round Tables where I’ve spent a paragraph or two fawning over the player. I loved the guy, and so did the vast majority of D’backs fans (expcept for 25 of you who are barred from ever participating in a poll on this site ever again). It’s why I began drafting this article before the voting for the D’backs First Baseman of the Decade voting had even gone live. Apologies in advance for occasional similarities to those past pieces as I’ve covered the legend in various aspects over the years. No sense in reinventing the wheel here. View this as a revised edition of those entries. You might want to consume this in segments due to the length. Don’t call me long winded, as I’m tasked with summarizing a player in one article that we dedicated an entire week to upon his departure last year.

As I’ve pointed out numerous times in the past, there exists an alternate universe where Goldy’s greatness never took place in an Arizona Diamondbacks uniform. Worse still, there exists an alternate universe where he did it all wearing Dodger blue for he was drafted by Los Angeles in the 49th round of the 2006 draft. Fortunately for all of us, he elected not to sign out of The Woodlands High School in Texas and instead went on to play at Texas State University. While playing for the Bobcats, Paul set school records in home runs (36), doubles (45), walks (110) and RBI (369).

Arizona selected him in the 8th round of a ridiculously loaded 2009 draft class. Players drafted ahead of him include: Stephen Strasburg, A.J. Pollock, Mike Trout, Shelby Miller, Nolan Arenado, Jason Kipnis, DJ LeMahieu, Patrick Corbin, Kyle Seager, Wil Myers, and Brandon Belt. We should know the reasons why he was selected so late well enough by now. Goldy was viewed as a dime-a-dozen, bat only first baseman. Too clunky as a defender. Not quick enough on the bases. Strikes out too much. You know the type. Every franchise has a handful of those in the minor leagues. What so many college amateur scouts missed out on was Paul’s work ethic, his never ending strive for improvement. The Arizona Diamondbacks were one of only two teams to send a scout, Trip Couch, to Goldy’s final conference tournament game, so he was a literal unknown heading into the draft. Trip was familiar with Goldschmidt going back to Paul’s high school days, and it was his scouting reports which allowed the D’backs to be most familiar with the amateur player.

Much to our fortune, Paul signed with Arizona and finished his undergraduate studies with the University of Phoenix while playing professional baseball. He absolutely raked from the minute he stepped onto a professional baseball field and did so at every stop in the minor leagues through Missoula, Visalia, and Mobile. Goldy won MVP honors in California League in 2010 and the Southern League in 2011 earning All Star nods in both seasons as well. MiLB.com and USA Today each named him as the Best Hitter and Minor League Player of the Year respectively in 2011. His meteoric rise through the minor leagues resulted in him being selected to play in the Futures Game in 2011 during the first All Star Week ever hosted at Chase Field. What D’backs fans who attended the game did not know at the time was that they’d be watching him in the Valley on a regular basis shortly thereafter for he was called up in August of 2011 as the D’backs progressed to winning the National League West.

We’ve given grief to Keith Law every chance we get on the Snake Pit for his early takes on Paul. There were a pair of tweets from Keith which came around Goldy’s August 2011 debut where he stated the player was quickly becoming massively overrated and a likely platoon player. Why’d he feel that way? Well, in his first taste of the Majors you could say Goldy was pretty terrible against left handed pitchers, albeit in a small sample size, and had an obvious weakness against curveballs. Law gracefully admitted why he was wrong during an MVP caliber 2013 from Paul.

“What I didn’t see, or know, about Goldschmidt is that he’s one of the highest-aptitude hitters in the game -- boasting an outstanding work ethic, according to several sources I spoke with who know Goldschmidt personally, but also the intelligence to take instruction and make adjustments as needed. He’s among the best in the game at addressing holes or weaknesses, whether in his swing or on defense or on the bases, such as closing the hole he’d showed on the inner half in his first half-season in the majors, where right-handers especially could beat him with velocity.” - Keith Law, September 2013

We were witness to routine greatness from the get go with Goldschmidt. In only the second game of his big league career, he demolished a 94 MPH fastball right down the middle of the plate off Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco for a two run shot to left field. It signaled the beginning of one legend and the ending of another, Lincecum, essentially simultaneously. Timmy “The Freak” was a two time Cy Young Award winner and four time All Star before he ever faced Goldy. He went from having a 137 ERA+ from 2007 through 2011 to a 72 ERA+ beyond that point. It’s obviously all Paul Goldschmidt’s doing, because in 34 career plate appearances against Lincecum he hit .536/.559/1.357 with 7 home runs, 17 RBI, 4 walks, and only 5 strikeouts. Complete utter dominance and great comedy.

Goldy earned his way onto the 2011 playoff roster following his performance in the final two months of that season having gone .250/.333/.474 in 177 plate appearances with 8 home runs, and 9 doubles which was good enough for a 118 wRC+/117 OPS+. He didn’t play in the first game of the National Division Series against the Milwaukee Brewers instead giving way to veteran mid-season acquisition Lyle Overbay. Overbay went 0-for-3- in the opener, so Paul was given the nod to start in game two at Miller Park hitting in the five spot. Facing future teammate and likely Hall of Famer Zack Greinke Paul hit his first career playoff home run in the second inning.

That gave Kirk Gibson all the confidence he needed to lock the rookie into the same starting lineup position for the rest of the NLDS, and he was rewarded handsomely for doing so despite the series defeat. Paul hit a deafening two out grand slam in game three at Chase Field off Shaun Marcum producing one of the more infamous GIF’s in D’backs history. Hilariously, the Brewers elected to walk Miguel Montero ahead of Goldy to load the bases! Enormous mistake. His grand slam was only the third ever to come off the bat of a rookie player in the playoffs. All told, he finished that NLDS with seven hits, two walks, and two home runs in eighteen plate appearances.

Following that 2011 playoff appearance the legend of Paul Goldschmidt would continue to blossom, but Arizona would not return to the playoffs with him on the roster for another six seasons. Lyle Overbay was re-signed for the 2012 season to continue serving as a mentor for Goldschmidt, but it almost immediately became obvious that Goldschmidt was already a budding superstar. He started in 136 games that season and appeared in 145 effectively rendering Overbay as nothing more than a bench warmer until his eventual release later in the season.

Arizona failed to repeat as division champions falling victim to the even year antics of the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants, and the disappointing season would usher in another period of transition for the team. In his first full major league season, Goldschmidt hit .286/.359/.490 with 20 home runs and 80 RBI for a 126 OPS+. Perhaps most surprising beyond his immediate success was his baserunning ability as a power hitting first baseman. Paul hit 43 doubles and was 18-for-21 in stolen base attempts drawing comparisons to Jeff Bagwell who he grew up watching in Houston. The 18 stolen bases were well above his single season totals at all professional levels in previous seasons, and set him apart from other first basemen in the league. Suddenly, the bat only bulky first baseman drafted out of Texas State University was turning heads not just for his prowess at the plate, but also for his baserunning IQ and defensive wizardry soon thereafter.

After the disappointing 2012 season for the team as a whole, Kevin Towers traded Justin Upton to the Atlanta Braves. Having moved one of his best offensive players, Towers wisely ensured that Goldschmidt would fill that role for the foreseeable future with one of the most team friendly contracts ever. Paul signed five year, $32 million dollar extension with a club option for a sixth season. It was poor timing on the behalf of Goldschmidt and his agent because had he waited until after an MVP caliber 2013 season he could have commanded far more either through a contract extension or eventual salary arbitration.

“What’s not to like,” [Kirk] Gibson said. “I mean, everything he does from the time he gets to the park until the time he leaves every day. He’s very good at preparation, before, during the game, after, a great teammate, works really hard. He has high aspirations to be a world champion. He wants to win a Gold Glove. And he would never change. It will never change until he stops playing. We talked about the ‘Diamondback way’ the last couple of years and he’s a model of a Diamondback guy.”

It was during the 2013 season when he became a perennial MVP candidate, and it was the first of six All Star appearances in a row for him. The six Mid-Summer Classic nods are the most in franchise history ahead of Randy Johnson and Luis Gonzalez with five each. He’d go on to win a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger award at the end of the season, repeating that feat in 2015 and 2017 (he did win a fourth silver slugger in 2018). Goldy finished second in NL MVP voting that season to Andrew McCutchen, and would also go on to finish second in 2015, third in 2017, sixth in 2018, and eleventh in 2016. Around this time last year I looked at the entirety of his career with the franchise and discussed my beliefs on whether or not he was given the shaft in any season with the team in MVP voting. I reached the conclusion that his best opportunity to win the award was in 2013 where he lost to Andrew McCutchen. Goldy led Cutch in OPS, RBI, HR, and runs, but McCutchen was more valuable in terms of fWAR, bWAR, and wins above average (WAA). Not helping matters was that the Pittsburgh Pirates made the playoffs for the first time in two decades that season while the D’backs played golf in October. Narrative certainly had an impact because of that. It was the best finish by a Diamondback player since Luis Gonzalez and Matt Williams finished in 3rd place in 2001 and 1999 respectively.

As fate would have it, McCutchen and Goldschmidt’s quest for an MVP award were intertwined again in 2014. Both men were on track for equally impressive encore seasons, but a beanball battle between the Pirates and Diamondbacks in the second half arguably hurt both men’s chances. It started when Ernesto Frieri fractured Goldschmidt’s left hand with an inside fastball on August 1st cutting his season down at that moment. It was the first, and to date the only time, that Goldy has been placed on the injured list. Kirk Gibson, Arizona’s manager at the time, known to adhere to the “unwritten rules” of baseball, saw to it that the opposing dugout’s best player had his just desserts in retaliation. McCutchen was drilled in the back later on in the series, and had to miss two weeks of the season as a result. McCutchen still finished the year third in voting, but it’s possible he could have repeated as the MVP without the injury.

Goldy came back with as much of a vengeance as he could muster given his calm demeanor during the 2015 season putting together his best campaign to date. He posted an absurd 199 OPS+ in the first half of the season, and only had one month below 165. That season he slashed .321/.435/.570 with 33 home runs, 110 RBI, 21 stolen bases. His intentional walk rate skyrocketed to 29 and he led the National League in that category for the second time in his career. Unsurprisingly, he was named the starting first baseman for the National League All Stars becoming the first Diamondbacks position player to start multiple times. He didn’t stand much of a chance in the MVP voting that season having run into the buzzsaw that was Bryce Harper’s 10 WAR season.

There is one very unusual moment in Goldy history during this time period that always stands out in my mind. In a truly rare display of frustration in 2015, with the Diamondbacks hovering around .500 and losing four of their previous five games, and the birth of his first child just a few days away likely weighing on his mind, Goldy destroyed his bat in the dugout after a strikeout on August 29th against the Oakland Athletics in the 8th inning with the game separated by one run. I can hardly count on one hand how many times I’ve ever seen him that frustrated before, and it was oddly refreshing to watch. The only other instance that immediately comes to mind is when he was hit by a pitch, seemingly intentionally, in Colorado during the 2017 season (IIRC). Before he took his base, he turned to the catcher and appeared to say “that’s bullshit” in the calmest manner I’ve ever seen anyone swear before.

2016 was a lost season for the Arizona Diamondbacks as a whole, and Goldy’s production took a bit of a step back from his lofty standards as well. The D’backs were one of the worst teams in the league. His OPS+ at season’s end was only 133, his lowest since 2012, and he finished at 4.7 bWAR, hardly better than his injury shortened 2014 season. The silver lining was that he tallied a career high 32 stolen bases, almost unfathomable for a first baseman let alone one of his size. Paul trailed Jean Segura by one stolen base for the team lead that season, but it was still good enough for sixth best in franchise history. Paul became the only first baseman since Jeff Bagwell in 1997 to hit 20+ home runs and steal 30+ bases.

Mike Hazen’s front office took over upon the conclusion of the 2016 season. For the first time in Goldy’s Diamondbacks career, some wondered if it would be in the best interest of the team to trade Paul Goldschmidt. Hazen could have opted to trade away most of the team’s assets, including Goldschmidt, with an eye towards success in future seasons. Alternatively, he was patient with the roster he was given and opted for a few minor tweaks as opposed to a massive overhaul. Mike was determined to give the team an opportunity to succeed, and evaluate their performance prior to making any franchise altering decisions.

Much to our benefit that strategy proved to pay dividends, and Paul Goldschmidt was once again the spearhead of the offense. In the month of August, he was in the midst of the MVP discussion with even a few convinced this was his best opportunity to win the award as the Diamondbacks marched towards their first playoff berth since 2011. Over a span of 132 games from Opening Day to August 31st he was batting .319/.428/.607 with a 159 wRC+ and 33 home runs. Perhaps one of the best games in his career to date came on August 3rd, 2017 against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. That game started an hour and a half later than it was supposed to because of weather and had two subsequent rain delays of at least thirty minutes. Goldy opened the contest with a three run homer in the 1st inning off Jose Quintana. He put the team up 6-1 against the defending World Champions with another two run shot in the 5th. After the pitching staff allowed the Cubs to tie the score at eight by the 8th inning, it appeared that this unusually long contest would be headed to extra innings. That was until Goldy stepped in against closer Wade Davis in the top of the 9th, and promptly deposited his shortest home run of the contest into the left field bleachers. It was the first three home run game of his career.

When the calendar month turned to September, he cooled off considerably. Manager Torey Lovullo withheld Paul from the lineup on September 4th against the Dodgers with what was described as right elbow soreness. Goldy started feeling the discomfort during a homestand that began on August 25th. An MRI demonstrated no structural damage, but his performance during the final months of the season led some to believe that it was a more significant issue. The final 22 games of his season were easily the worst of his career which saw him hit .171/.250/.305 with a 37 wRC+. He wound up finishing in third place in the MVP voting and earned first place votes for the first time in his career, so it is quite possible he could have won the award for the first time provided with a strong finish. He made his fifth All Star team, this time as a reserve, and won his third Gold Glove and Silver Slugger.

All of that paled in comparison seeing him have the opportunity to suit up for the Diamondbacks in the Postseason for the first time since his rookie season in 2011 bringing us full circle to what he meant to this franchise. The setting was the National League Wild Card Game against the Colorado Rockies at a sold out Chase Field. I was standing, along with 48,802 fans in attendance, somewhere close to the visitor’s bullpen, when he came to the plate in the bottom of the 1st with runners on the corners and no outs. By this time the “Goldy” chants were almost deafening, a far cry from the last time he stepped to the plate in a playoff appearance 6 years ago. This time was drastically different. All eyes were glued to him, and very few fans were surprised by the outcome when he swung the bat at that first pitch. Jon Gray missed high and inside with a curveball, and Paul made sure he paid for it.

It even caught the attention of old friend Andrew McCutchen.

2018 marked only the third time in six seasons that Goldy missed the top three in NL MVP voting. The season for him was the inverse of his 2017 in the sense that his poor finish from that season carried over into a slow beginning in 2018. Some began to wonder if we had seen the best of his playing days pass him by. Fortunately, he put those concerns to rest in a hurry. He followed up a career worst 47 OPS+ in May with one of his best stretches ever from June through the second week of September. Much to our dismay his strong performance was not enough to stave off an end of the season collapse for the Diamondbacks. The team was either tied or within a half game of first place for the National League West at the beginning of each calendar month including September, but ultimately finished 9 games back of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The overall team collapse of the 2018 season ushered in a harsh dose of reality. 2019 would mark the conclusion of Paul Goldschmidt’s contract extension with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Picking up the $14.5 million dollar club option was a no brainer for Mike Hazen, but it did not guarantee that Paul would remain with the club. For six seasons, the Diamondbacks severely underpaid him for his production. Now, Goldy has nobody to blame but his former agent for negotiating that contract extension and himself for signing it prior to the start of the 2013 season. However, Arizona tried and failed for multiple years to make right by him and negotiate a new contract to ensure that he would remain a Diamondback for the entirety of his career. They were under no obligation to do so, and both sides refused to comment on the matter on numerous occasions, so I can’t help but imagine there was a longstanding impasse in negotiations behind the scenes for many years. Rather than accept a hometown discount Goldy and his new agency may have made it clear that he would not sell himself short to the franchise for a second time. That’s pure speculation on my part.

There were obviously other factors behind Mike Hazen’s eventual decision to trade the franchise icon as opposed to handing out a hefty extension. Goldy would be age 31 for most of the 2019 season meaning that an extension would be paying for certain declining performance later on in his career. Modern day GM’s are very conscious of that and are more reluctant to do so than their predecessors. The second issue on hand for the general manager was that there was an obvious payroll crunch. Could ownership have made additional payroll available to accommodate America’s First Baseman? Likely, but that would result in a vast majority of team salary being allocated to only three players in Goldschmidt, Zack Greinke, and Yasmany Tomas.

It was because of this that around lunch time on December 5th, 2018 we as fans were delivered with the gut punch that Paul Goldschmidt had been traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for Luke Weaver, Carson Kelly, Andy Young, and the Cardinals’ 2019 competitive balance round draft pick. The decision to trade Goldy was difficult to process or accept at the time. Many fans were disappointed or even outraged. His trade was one of the most significant in franchise history, so it took a long time to digest. We discussed it on the Snake Pit for what seemed like an eternity. It was almost impossible to see the light at the end of the tunnel if you could not separate your fandom from the baseball operations decision.

As difficult of a move as it was, in the season that immediately followed it may have actually been the right decision. Goldschmidt signed a five year, $130 million dollar extension with the St. Louis Cardinals, something the D’backs could not accomplish for almost a decade. However, he’d go on to produce the worst overall season of his career to date. Goldschmidt was worth 2.8 bWAR for St. Louis, stole only three bases, put up an OPS+ of 113, failed to win any awards, and was not named to the All Star team for the first time since 2013. And the Diamondbacks return you ask? Carson Kelly appears to be the catcher for the foreseeable future for Arizona as he alone was worth 1.9 bWAR in a position that is more difficult to get production out of than first base. Luke Weaver made twelve starts amassing a 152 ERA+ before being shut down due to injury concerns. He should be at least a stable #3 arm in the rotation if he can remain healthy, if not better. As for Andy Young, Michael McDermott has him listed at #20 on his top thirty prospect list for the team, and there is a strong possibility that he winds up on the MLB roster at some point this upcoming season. So yes, while it is undeniable that there was a tremendous amount of pain seeing the face of the franchise be traded, Mike Hazen has to be applauded for the impressive haul he secured in return for one year of a first baseman on the wrong side of thirty years old. As painful as the move was, it set the franchise up handsomely for the future. That’s without mentioning the contributions of his replacement at first base, Christian Walker, who was just as productive as Paul in 2019.

Paul Goldschmidt finished his career with the Arizona Diamondbacks as the best position player in franchise history. Goldy is the franchise leader among position players in bWAR (40.3), fWAR (36.3), OPS+ & wRC+ (145), OPS (.930). The only position player to reasonably compare him to in team history is Luis Gonzalez who leads Goldy in almost all “accumulation” stats categories. That’s only a result of Gonzo playing more games in a D’backs uniform because if Goldy would have played the 2019 season with Arizona he undoubtedly would have surpassed Gonzo most counting stats. As for stolen bases, he finishes second on the all time franchise leaderboard at 124 to Tony Womack’s 182.

It was a remarkable career which will surely result in Paul having his number retired someday by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Anything less would be an insult. Paul Goldschmidt defined a generation of Diamondbacks fandom through his quiet leadership last decade as the first true “homegrown” superstar position player.

The Model Citizen

It would be remiss to fail to mention the person outside of the baseball uniform. What separated Goldschmidt from others is that his acts of benevolence went largely unnoticed by those outside of Arizona, and he never sought attention for his kindness. It’s the type of person he is. Together with his wife, Amy, Paul focused efforts towards the Phoenix Children’s Hospital. They began volunteering there even before his first full season in a Diamondbacks uniform, and his rise to stardom aided their charitable efforts towards the organization significantly. In 2014, Paul and Amy designed a “bleacher creature” stuffed doll of Goldy’s likeness. They were sold for $44 apiece with proceeds donated to the Phoenix Children’s Hospital. The first time he sought the aid of the media, strictly to boost fundraising efforts, was before his first Goldy’s Bowling Bash at Lucky Strike in Downtown Phoenix in 2016. The event wasn’t isolated to local athletes and teammates only. Division rivals Clayton Kershaw, Nolan Arenado, and Buster Posey have participated in the event, as well as former Arizona Diamondbacks such as Justin Upton. In 2017, his charity donated $186,121.94 to the Phoenix Children’s Hospital from funds raised during the event, and obvious indicator of the program’s success.

“On any given day, you can see them in the halls of the hospital,” she said. “Paul talking baseball and signing autographs for his biggest and littlest fans and Amy hosting self-esteem pink parties for girls, patient birthday party celebrations or just doing girl stuff, like painting nails.” Kelly Lane, Phoenix Children’s Hospital Foundation 2017

The high standard he set carried over into the clubhouse with his teammates. He never laid blame on a teammate or coach after a tough loss, and there were plenty of opportunities to do so as the D’backs were 537-555 (.491 win percentage) in games he appeared in. In postgame interviews, it was always a collective team effort that was the deciding factor in Paul’s eyes. The D’backs won and lost as a team in his responses, and he was always quick to put the most recent game in the past to remain focused on one game at a time. Sure, there were a few times some of us would have liked to see him get upset and vocal, but it’s just not the type of leader he was. Looking back on his time in the desert, it’s refreshing that a player of his caliber did not command the spotlight towards himself. Paul quietly went about his business as best he could.

“He’s Jesus Christ in a baseball uniform,” says Mark Grace, a three-time All-Star first baseman. “He’s everything you want in a baseball player. We know what a special, not only player, but a human being this guy is. He’s not in a major market like New York or Chicago, L.A. or Boston, so he does get overlooked.”

“I’m glad that I’ve gotten a chance to sit in the dugout with him; I’m honored when I get to sit in the dugout with him,” Torey Lovullo added. “I’m next to him and I’m like, ‘I can’t believe that this guy’s actually talking to me,’ he’s this good.”

Goldy was a foundational player that a relatively young organization could build an identity around. He was the perfect role model for younger generations of fans, a person for parents and coaches to use as an example for children. Paul lacks a World Series clinching blooper, and his case for the Hall of Fame will take another decade of strong performance to build, but he immortalized himself in our hearts in ways different than Luis Gonzalez and Randy Johnson. The smiles he brought to our faces with his own will never be forgotten.