At present, Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt is batting .301/.383/.543 and is on pace for 35 homers and 40 doubles. While the 25-year-old right-handed slugger has been a fairly productive hitter ever since he made his major-league debut in August 2011, this season he's obviously reached new heights.
While we're still talking about a data sample of not even half a season, we can draw some soft conclusions about Goldschmidt's work in 2013. Primarily, he's succeeded by taking a more disciplined approach at the plate and by faring better against same-side pitching (i.e., right-handed pitching).
On the first point, Goldschmidt in 2013 has dropped his K% from 22.1 percent in 2012 to 21.0 percent, and he's increased his BB% from 10.2 percent to 11.5 percent. As well, Goldschmidt this season is swinging at 24.8 percent of pitches outside the strike zone vs. 29.4 percent a season ago. In a somewhat related matter, his swinging-strike percentage of 8.9 is a career low. He has the profile of a young hitter who's learning the zone and also learning to pass on pitches he can't handle.
Goldschmidt's evolving discipline is also playing a role in his success against right-handers. Last season, Goldschmidt had a nice campaign, as he authored an OPS+ of 125 and tallied 64 extra-base hits in 514 at-bats. However, he batted just .257/.326/.412 against right-handers, which is roundly unimpressive for a first baseman playing his home games in hitter-friendly Chase Field. Simply put, too much of Goldschmidt's value in 2012 was tied up in his ability to hit lefties. He was too imbalanced.
In 2013, however, Goldschmidt is batting .313/.402/.536 against righties, which, needless to say, constitutes a tremendous improvement. Now let's probe a bit more deeply into his progress against right-handers ...
|Paul Goldschmidt vs. RHPs|
|Data courtesy of FanGraphs|
Before we unpack these numbers, here's what you're looking at ...
K% and BB% are simply the batter's strikeouts or walks stated as a percentage of total plate appearances. BABIP stands for batting average on balls in play. Wide swings in BABIP can indicate a run of unsustainable good or bad luck (especially for pitchers). GB/FB is the number of ground balls divided by the number of fy balls. For a hitter, the lower the number, the better, generally speaking. HR/FB is the percentage of fly balls that go for home runs. Like BABIP, a spike or steep drop in HR/FB can sometimes be attributable to mere randomness (again, especially for pitchers).
Insofar as Goldschmidt's ability to continue pounding the ball when the pitcher has the platoon advantage, the above numbers are a mixed bag. On the one hand, Goldschmidt's 60-point jump in BABIP versus right-handers may not hold up over the long course of the season. As well, his gigantic uptick in HR/FB should also raise concerns. There's also the fact that he's hitting more balls on the ground against RHPs, which is not something a power-hitting first baseman wants to do.
On the other hand, Goldschmidt's improved plate discipline is acutely evident against right-handers. As you can see, he's improved his BB% by more than four percentage points in those situations. That's a positive development, to say the least.
Still, there's already some cause for concern, as Goldschmidt has lost 61 points of SLG since June 2 and has gone 2-for-his-last-25 against right-handers with no extra-base knocks. If Goldschmidt continues to regress in the coming weeks, we should be watching not for a drop in overall rate stats (although that will be symptom), but rather for a decline in his BABIP and HR/FB against right-handers -- the two numbers that will be the most difficult for him to sustain. If those drop, can he maintain his walk rate against right-handers, as same-side pitchers begin to fear him less and work him in the zone more often?
Goldschmidt's story in 2013 is not even half written, and how a somewhat complicated performance profile against right-handers plays out will largely tell the rest of that story.