For his entire career Paul Goldschmidt has been a consistent offensive force, earning him All-Star Game nods each year in Arizona from 2013 to 2018. However, in his first season after being traded to St. Louis, he did not perform at the level he had before. Goldschmidt bat .260/.346/.476 with a 116 wRC+ during the 2019 season. While these numbers were well above average, they were the lowest that he had put up in his career at that point, leading to his first missed All-Star Game and lowest finish in MVP voting since 2012. In the shortened 2020 season however, he rebounded for a line of .304/.417/.466 with a 146 wRC+, much closer to his career average of .293/.392/.522 and 141 wRC+. At first glance there is a clear contrast between these numbers, and the underlying statistics support this idea even further.
There appear to a few factors behind Goldschmidt’s improved 2020 season. First, he did not strike out very much. His K rate was 18.6%, while the MLB average was 23.4%. He also drew walks much more frequently. His BB rate of 16.0% was well above the league average of 9.2%. These numbers are significant improvements over his K% of 23.8% and BB% of 7.9% in 2019. Much of this can likely be attributed to Goldschmidt’s plate discipline taking a step forward in 2020. In general, he did not swing as much. His swing rate of 40.5% was below the league average of 45.9% and his 2019 rate of 47.0%. Pitchers also did not offer as many hittable pitches, as his Zone% of 40.7% was below the league average of 41.2% and his 2019 rate of 41.3%. When he was given strikes however, he took advantage of them. His Z-Contact% jumped from 80.1% to 85.9% between 2019 and 2020. Overall, he was more selective of what he swung at, which not only led to an improved walk rate but also improved his quality of contact as well.
Goldschmidt’s power numbers were somewhat similar between 2019 and 2020. His hard-hit rate, exit velocity, and expected slugging percentage were all above average but had relatively little change between the two years. What did change was which direction he hit the ball. In 2019 he only went to the opposite field 24.4% of the time while he pulled the ball 38.0% of the time and hit 37.6% of balls to center. In 2020 he had a much more even spread of 30.9% of balls to the opposite field, 34.9% pulled, and 34.2% to center. In addition to this, he made some big adjustments to his batted balls. In 2019 he hit ground balls 38.5% of the time, fly balls 29.7% of the time, and line drives 24.4% of the time. In 2020 those numbers dropped to 34.9% on ground balls and 20.1% fly balls, while his line drive rate rose to 38.9%. As a result, his batting average on balls in play shot up from .303 to .364.
In conclusion, Paul Goldschmidt made some big improvements between 2019 and 2020. Although 2020 was shorter and may not translate seamlessly to a full season, his greater selectivity and ability to recognize and take advantage of hittable pitches served him well and will continue to do so if he stays sharp in coming years. Although he may not be working with the same power numbers that he was in Arizona, continuing to hit line drives and putting them all over the field will be important factors for how his offense ages throughout the remainder of his contract.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, and Baseball Savant.
Featured Photo: Cardinals / Twitter