vaporized projections

Paul Goldschmidt Might Really Be This Good

Paul Goldschmidt has been good in the past, but over the past two months he's been better than just about anyone in the National League. Where did this come from?

by Matthew Kory
Jun 9 2015, 4:30pm

Photo by Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Let's start with the basics, and a few declarative sentences. The Arizona Diamondbacks are a professional baseball team in the National League. Their players are paid American money. For the most part, that's all you need to know about them, and "need" is maybe a little strong. But there is one more declarative sentence to write: they have a player named Paul Goldschmidt and he is one of the best hitters in baseball.

Look at the National League leader boards and sort by advanced stats, fWAR, bWAR, and WARP—all essentially the same but calculated slightly differently because confusing people is fun—and Goldschmidt is tied for fifth, second, and second, respectively. FanGraphs, makers of fWAR, has him behind Bryce Harper, Jason Kipnis, Josh Donaldson, and Mike Trout, and tied with Joc Pederson. Baseball Reference and Baseball Prospectus have Goldschmidt ahead of everyone except Harper. Average them together (screw mathematics!) and Goldschmidt has been more valuable than Miguel Cabrera, more valuable than Josh Donaldson, more valuable than reigning American League MVP Trout.

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If you live in a Bryce-Harper-less world, Goldschmidt (pronounced "Smi-ith", I think) is your National League MVP. This is basically saying that if you lived in a world without ice cream, the best frozen desert would be popsicles. But that doesn't mean popsicles are worthless. Popsicles are delicious, and finishing first doesn't always matter that much. What's the shame in coming in second in a field of 375? None! I'd even posit there should be glory in it. Screenprint the "I finished second out of 375 and all I got was this lousy t-shirt (and a contractually obligated $500K bonus)" t-shirts!

Of course only an idiot would buy a popsicle when good ice cream is available, but that hardly matters—neither Harper nor Goldschmidt is available. The Diamondbacks would trade Goldschmidt for Harper in a hummingbird heartbeat, but they would hang up with great and destructive prejudice on a straight-up trade of Goldschmidt for any other National League player. Having the second best player in the National League is better than having any other player in the National League except one; as it turns out, that's better than bad, it's good.

There's another thing: despite the tenor of all of the above, two months of WARPy goodness is hardly definitive proof that Harper is better than Goldschmidt. Harper certainly seems like he is better, but baseball has a way of making declarative sentences look stupid moments after you make them. Or write them at the beginning of an article. Both, really.

"Uh, a straight-up comparison to Bryce Harper? I mean, okay, it just sounds weird." — Photo by Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The neat thing about Goldschmidt, who I probably should have mentioned by now is hitting .343/.468/.657, is that he's savagely laid waste to his preseason projections. Baseball Prospectus projected Goldschmidt for 3.1 wins above replacement; already he's been worth 4.1. Similarly FanGraphs projected Goldschmidt to be worth 3.4 or 3.5 fWAR (depending on which system you look at). Already he's been worth 3.1 and we are, to reiterate, only through two months of the season. (Baseball Reference doesn't do projections but if they did they'd probably be in line with FanGraphs or BP though slightly different because otherwise it would be uncomfortable.)

It's weird that the projection systems missed so badly on Goldschmidt, a prototypical slugger headed into his age-27 season, which is typically the peak year for hitters. Last season he hit just 19 homers but those came in 109 games which works out to be a 28 homer pace. Ten seasons ago everyone hit 28 homers, but last season 28 homers would have been 16th in all of baseball, ahead of Adrian Gonzalez, Andrew McCutchen, and Miguel Cabrera. This season Goldschmidt has 16 already, same as Mike Trout.

But lost in all of this is that he's slugging over .700 and getting on base almost 47 percent of the time for Arizona, a team (really, cf. earlier) whose second best player this season is A.J. Pollock, and whose third best player is David Peralta and there is a good chance that even people who follow baseball closely think I've made at least one of those names up. I could've said "whose second best player is Fonzheimer Turkleston and third best player is Hork Van Slurmpt" and it would have been less true but not much less convincing. If Arizona put "Turkleston" and "Van Slurmpt" on two player jerseys and two players wore them on the field, how many Diamondbacks fans would notice immediately? I'm going to say eight, but I'd believe up to 13.

It's possible Paul Goldschmidt could have a down month starting as soon as you read this. In fact, it's not just possible, it's extremely likely. But so is a down month (or two) for Harper, for Trout, for the whole lot of them. The baseball season is long and bad things happen to good players. Even worse things happen to bad players, too; ask a Mets fan. But whether he hits a long or short down period, Paul Goldschmidt is one of the best baseball players in the sport, even if the projection systems missed on him, even if he plays in anonymity for a team that people keep forgetting is in the league. He's already been better than most anyone thought. The fun part will be finding out how good he can be.