Is Anything Wrong with Paul Goldschmidt?

photo: Paul Goldschmidt (Joe Puetz/Imagn)

Note: This article was written prior to Paul Goldschmidt’s key two-run double in Tuesday’s eighth inning. And let’s face it, a slump doesn’t end with one at-bat.



The St. Louis Cardinals first baseman is slumping with the bat during the first month of the 2021 season. Perhaps fans are more sensitized after witnessing the dramatic late career decline of Paul Goldschmidt’s teammate Matt Carpenter, but whatever the background, many of the natives are restless over the team’s back-to-number-three hitter.

The numbers were laid out well on Tuesday by Bernie Miklasz at scoopswithdannymac.com:

“In his 21 games first baseman Paul Goldschmidt is batting .230 with a .272 OBP and .333 slugging percentage for a .605 OPS. Since his four-hit game in the season opening win at Cincinnati, Goldy is batting .195 with a .241 OBP, .280 slug and .522 OPS. He has one double and two homers since the opener.

“Among the 25 MLB first basemen who have at least 50 plate appearances so far, Goldschmidt ranks 21st in slugging, 22nd in OPS, and 23rd in OBP. With a 72 OPS+ he’s 28 percent below league average offensively. Encouragement can be found at statcast; Goldschmidt’s hard-hit rate (52.3%) ranks 16th in the majors.”

Paul Goldschmidt

Is there an explanation?

Let’s consider three possibilities.

Change in approach

A recent in-depth analysis at Viva El Birdos suggests that Goldschmidt may need to alter his approach at the plate. The data indicates he is swinging at too many pitches (often bad ones), and even though his hard-hit rate is high, the balls are not in the air enough.

Based on fewer than two dozen games, does a 33-year-old with a decade of big-league success need to make major changes? Is there a trend downward?

Goldschmidt’s 2020 OPS+ of 144 was his highest since 2015. And if you discount last season as an anomaly, how can you attach any significance to three weeks of play in 2021?

While the data may offer viable clues, the following situation was not acknowledged as another potential factor.

Injury

Fact: Goldschmidt sat out of the home opener due to lower back discomfort. That was on April 8. The 33-year-old insists there is no lingering affect.

However, one insider with whom I spoke believes Goldy is not comfortable going after certain pitches, indicating he is less than 100% physically.

But would Goldschmidt admit it if there is an ongoing negative impact? Most athletes are notoriously careful to avoid creating the perception they are making excuses.

“It is not one of the things that has lingered,” Goldschmidt replied when asked about his back in a media Q&A on Tuesday via Zoom. “I’ve gotten that lower back sore before. It just kind of happens for whatever reason. It can be sore for a few days and then goes away.

“I wouldn’t say it has never affected my play,” the first baseman admitted. “It is just one of those things you don’t want to get so bad that you miss time. But fortunately, it happened that day and it hasn’t affected my play going forward.”

Paul Goldschmidt via Zoom (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

So is his back a problem or not?

A semi-regular slump

During a recent discussion at The Cardinal Nation’s free forum, I reminded posters that in recent years, both before and since joining St. Louis, Goldschmidt has been streakily bad for long periods.

In fact, the career .909 OPS offensive performer with four Silver Slugger Awards and six All-Star Games to his credit has put up at least one stinker month during at least each of the last four years, and sometimes two.

Goldy’s bad months OPS
April 2021 (current) 0.605
Sept/Oct 2020 0.774
August 2019 0.705
June 2019 0.582
May 2018 0.531
Sept/Oct 2017 0.555

There is no discernable pattern to the timing. The guy can just go ice cold for extended periods, whether spring, summer or fall – but he always more than compensates for it over the long haul.

Is there any reason to expect otherwise over the final five months of the 2021 season ahead?

In conclusion

No one totally knows, perhaps not even Goldschmidt himself, what is going on. For all we know, all three of these theories could be partially right.

But I for one am not overly concerned yet.


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Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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