It’s Time to Address the Elephant in the Room: Paul Goldschmidt

TAMPA, FLORIDA - MARCH 06: Paul Goldschmidt #46 of the St. Louis Cardinals takes batting practice before the Grapefruit League spring training game against the New York Yankees at Steinbrenner Field on March 06, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FLORIDA - MARCH 06: Paul Goldschmidt #46 of the St. Louis Cardinals takes batting practice before the Grapefruit League spring training game against the New York Yankees at Steinbrenner Field on March 06, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

Paul Goldschmidt has been regarded as one of baseball’s premier players. This season, however, the numbers tell a different story.

Over the years 2015-2017, Paul Goldschmidt was third in total RBI, with 325, behind only Nolan Aranado (393) and Edwin Encarnacion (345). But in 2018, Goldschmidt had nearly 700 plate appearances though his RBI total was 83, ranking 44th in MLB.

The top 3 players with the most RBI in 2018 were J.D. Martinez (130), Khris Davis (123) and Javy Baez (111). Therefore, it makes sense that they came to the plate with runners on base a great number of times, with all three being in the top 15 of plate appearances with runners on base, as Goldschmidt was.

Baez, for example, had 314 plate appearances with men on base, and he knocked in 77 of those runners (not including his own run from a Home Run), or a ratio of 24.5%. Nick Markakis had the most plate appearances with runners on base with 362, and he knocked in 79 runners or a ratio of only 21.8%. Oddly, Markakis hit .325 with runners on base and Baez hit .276.

You’d think a player who had an average 50 points higher than another would knock in more runners per PA, but Markakis tends to walk a lot. The difference is Markakis was the clean-up hitter for Atlanta last year.

So rather than channeling his inner Vlad Guerrero Sr., he would be happy to take a pitch outside the strike zone and walk with men on base and leave the heavy lifting to Kurt Suzuki or Johan Camargo.   This explains why Markakis was 14th in times-on-base in 2018 but 66th in runs scored, (and also explaining why Markakis is no longer batting clean-up for Atlanta).

I wish to provide you with statistics for 4 players from the 2018 season:

Name                        Plate App   HR   RBI   AVG    OBP    SLG   BO *

Paul Goldschmidt     690           33    83    .290   .389   .533   2,3
Xander Bogaerts       580           23  103    .288   .360   .520   4,5
Justin Upton                613          30    85     .257   .344   .463   3,4
Gregory Polanco        535           23    81    .254   .340   .499   2,3
*Primary Batting Order, 2018

Based upon the above data who is the best hitter?? Goldschmidt, by far right?? Highest average, highest on-base, highest slugging percentage.

Who would you want to come to the plate with runners on base in 2018? Goldschmidt, right?? But look at the chart below:

Batting with runners on base

Name                        Plate App   AVG    OBP    SLG     RBI**     RBI** per PA

Paul Goldschmidt       307         .280   .397    .545     50              .163
Xander Bogaerts        271         .303    .384   .580      80              .295
Justin Upton                318          .242   .333    .454     55              .173
Gregory Polanco        209          .264   .348    .435     58               .278
** RBI less run scored by batter via HR

In 100 fewer plate appearances, Gregory Polanco knocked in more runners-on-base than Paul Goldschmidt did in 2018.   Sure Goldschmidt walked a bit more in those situations, 48 times to Polanco’s 24, but they shared the same position in the batting order so we can alleviate that noise.

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On a “per opportunity basis”, Polanco was simply 70% better. I show Bogaerts and Upton as two other quality power hitters who in those instances were far on the other side of the spectrum.

I’m not saying Polanco is a better hitter than Goldschmidt. In prior seasons and especially in 2017 Goldschmidt was a great run producer, and his rate was 25.2%, ranking him 30th of 416 qualifiers (50 PA with men on base).

However, when I look at players who come to the plate, there is an element of luck or a series of isolated circumstances, and of course, varying talents that led to these anomalies.   But in the case of Paul Goldschmidt, it may not be so easy to explain, because he is overall a very good and consistent hitter.

This year for the St. Louis Cardinals, however, his percentage of knocking in runners-on-base is even worse, at 14.7%.   Are pitchers just not giving him anything to hit, or is he just pressing in RBI situations??   Statistical review of pitches thrown and analysis of the runners-on-base plus the actual locations of his hits may help to answer some of that, but the remaining answer lies in Paul’s large head.

Using a cutoff of 22%, there are only four players who knocked in this percentage of runners-on-base for each year since 2015, including this year.   Nolan Arenado, Jose Abreu, Daniel Murphy and, interestingly, Goldschmidt’s new teammate, Yadier Molina, who has only eclipsed 80 RBI’s in a season once, but surely has made the most of his opportunities, and he is at 32% thus far in 2019, nearly double Goldschmidt’s rate.

Players may look the same based upon general stats, but some are more productive, or simply ‘better’ and knocking in runners given the opportunity to do just that.  Perhaps this chart below will help:

Name                   Career OPS      Career AVG      RBI*/ PA (15-18)   RBI*/ PA (2019**)

Marcel Ozuna           .777                   .275                      .22                              .24
C.J. Cron                     .783                   .262                      .22                              .25

Brandon Belt            .811                   .264                      .18                              .15
Jayson Heyward      .753                   .262                      .18                              .16

*-RBI less run scored by batter via HR

**-As of May 21, 2019

dark. Next. Mets pull the plug on Yoenis Cespedes

This calculates to eighty more runs knocked in for Ozuna and Cron over Belt and Heyward even though Ozuna and Cron combined have the identical OPS as Belt and Heyward combined.   Oh by the way, for those who wish to understand why the name of the article is “Paul Goldschmidt:  Elephant”, please refer to the old joke of what to do with an Elephant with 3 balls….  You walk him and pitch to the rhino of course.  So, look for my next article, Paul DeJong:  Rhino.