When you’re the Cardinals, and you’ve spent the past three seasons staring at the lights when it’s all over, that creates a sense of urgency. After all, three playoff-less season, after a first-round dry heave to your biggest rival, is purely unacceptable in Mos Eisley. So the Cardinals went out and got the biggest bat there was, perennial MVP-candidate Paul Goldschmidt. Finally, Matt Carpenter would have some support, and if Fowler bounced back and Harrison Bader took a step and Marcell Ozuna got back to normal, the Cardinals should have a scary offense. All of those things have basically happened…except for Goldschmidt being the weapon of mass destruction he’s been. Best laid plans of mice and men and all that…
The Cards offense has been middle of the pack so far this season, except when it comes to on-base percentage as they do have a lot of guys who take walks. Carpenter got off to his usual slow start, though is rounding into form as he usually does when it gets warm (and then falls apart in September from carrying the team). But Goldschmidt hasn’t come along, and even though he’s having a fine season–115 wRC+, 345 wOBA–they’re way off his career norms (149, .390)
So what’s up? On the surface, Goldy’s walks are a touch down and his Ks are a touch up, but nothing that would suggest any long-term problems or anything more than a two-month spike. He’s whiffing at a touch more pitches, but not so much that you worry about bat-speed. If there’s one noticeable difference, it’s that he’s making way more contact on pitches outside of the zone (71.4% this year to 66.7% last) and far less in the zone (77.9 from 82.2). But that’s not really the problem, judging by his slugging zones this year vs. his career:
There’s a couple deadzones at the top there, but that might just be a quirk of the season still being relatively young. You wouldn’t want to go there too often, you wouldn’t think. And pitchers aren’t.
Where Goldschmidt has seen some changes to this year is he’s seeing an uptick in changes and curves. And he’s been atrocious on them. On curveballs he’s hitting .100 with a slugging of .100. On change-ups he’s hitting .125 with a slugging of….. .125. Guess there’s a pattern there. The averages are some 150 points below his career marks and the slugging isn’t even worth talking about. He’s had a bit of rough luck on those pitches, but he can’t make an argument of being undone when he’s barely hitting the ball much less hard on them.
So why so? Usually when a player has this much trouble with offspeed pitches, the suggestion would be that he’s cheating on fastballs and is getting caught ahead. Goldy’s numbers on fastballs are a touch worse than his career norms. He’s whiffing at a few more swings on fastballs (26% to 22%), a few less line-drives (27% to 29%) and perhaps just a touch more worrying is that he’s popping up more of them (10% to 7%).
Goldschmidt is 31, and will turn 32 in September. Lately there’s been a train of thought that it is at 32 or so when players start to struggle with the flood of velocity in the game today. It’s hard to get there with Goldschmidt yet, especially as he’s carrying a 50% hard-hit rate, by far the highest of his career. Still, Statcast doesn’t think he’s performing below where he should be, as his expected wOBA is .356 which isn’t far off from the actual .350 he’s putting up.
Again, two months. Again, this is Paul Goldschmidt. Still, if he remains as vulnerable to offspeed pitches throughout the season, and the slightly less squared up fastballs continue, there’s only one way this slope goes.