Paul Goldschmidt and the Long Road Ahead
Paul Goldschmidt against the Miami Marlins at Chase Field. IMAGE: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
You know what this site needs? More love for Paul Goldschmidt! Seriously, where are all the unapologetic Goldy fans? Oh yeah, I guess that’s all of us. Nevermind.
I was thinking about Paul this morning, as is often the case, and decided that I wanted to know more about what we could expect from the guy. While nobody has a crystal ball, we also don’t have to throw darts at the board when trying to figure out just what to expect from Goldy down the road. After all, he might be our only All Star this year (c’mon Bochy, do the right thing and take Corbin).
As it turns out, Baseball Reference does similarity scores for all players. They let us know, at this point in Goldy’s career, what other first baseman had similar careers at that same age threshold. There’s a list of ten players who had similar numbers up to the start of their age 24 seasons and are most comparable to our beloved Goldschmidt.
Here are the names of guys with similar starts to their career as Paul: Gus Suhr, Babe Young, Ed Bouchee, Greg Walker, Wally Joyner, Brad Fullmer, Geoff Jenkins, Adrian Gonzalez, Joey Votto and Ike Davis. Now, I’m not a baseball historian, although we recently added one, but I know enough to say that there are some impressive names on that list. Unfortunately, there are some unimpressive ones, too. This is to suggest that while Goldschmidt has been amazing thus far, his career is far from over. And we all know there is a long list of guys who started fast and got derailed for one reason or another. I don’t like to think about it either, but it is an acknowledged possibility.
Here are the career wOBA numbers for each player listed as similar to Paul up to their age 24 season. I divided them into two graphs to clean it up some and make it easier to read. I compare Goldy to the five oldest players on the first graph and the five most recent players on the second one. Huge thank you Fangraphs for the visuals.
Of the five players compared to Paul, Wally Joyner had the longest career, hanging on until he was 39. By 35 he was pretty much done being anything above average but that’s a great career. Gus Suhr had a productive career, too, and was a very useful player through his age 33 season. Babe Young was solid, too, into his early 30’s. On the flip side, Greg Walker and Ed Bouchee flamed out pretty early and had unremarkable careers. Both had good results early on but weren’t able to sustain it. So, one had a long successful career (Joyner), two had very average but productive careers (Suhr and Young) while two joined the pile of forgotten ball players (Walker and Bouchee).
For those that think Paul should be starting the All Star Game, that purple line is Joey Votto. You could say he’s earned it. As I’m sure you’re aware, Adrian Gonzalez is no slouch either, although his slowing bat has been catching up with him in recent seasons. Geoff Jenkins and Brad Fullmer had up and down careers that were pretty unremarkable. Ike Davis… Well, let’s just call Ike Davis “worst case scenario.” Out of this group, you have a likely Hall of Famer in Votto, good players in Gonzalez and Jenkins, an average career with Fullmer, plus a total tank job in Davis.
While I like to look at Goldschmidt through my Sedona Red glasses, it’s critical that we acknowledge the possibilities for Paul. He’s not the next Ike Davis, I think we can agree on that. Is he the next Joey Votto? It’s hard to say. Maybe he ends up somewhere in the middle, like Gonzalez or Joyner.
And we’re approaching a critical time in making this determination. If you look closely at the graphs, there’s a divergence. Some of the players continue to excel right along their age curves until they peak some time around 27-29 years old. Others flame out as the league catches up with them and they immediately begin to trend downward.
Goldschmidt strikes me as way too intelligent a player to fall into the latter group. He’s not a free swinger with contact issues like Davis. But the question we all want to know is whether or not he can take it to the next level like Votto. He’s already got Votto’s power, now he needs to control the strike zone like Joey does and hit a few more line drives at the expense of some fly balls. That’ll help his BABIP and consequently his average and on-base percentage.
There is a wide range of possible outcomes when it comes to Paul Goldschmidt. Is this it? Is this the best season we’ll ever see out of him? He wouldn’t be the first player to start a career on fire only to fall into oblivion. Or are we watching a guy develop into a potential hall of famer? Let’s face it, he is off to an amazing start to a big league career. Does the answer lie somewhere in the middle?
I think we’ll have a very good idea at this same point next season. If he improves his performance over that span, we’re talking Joey Votto-good. If he holds steady, we’re looking at someone similar to or slightly better than Adrian Gonzalez. If he’s in the minors, we’re looking at Ike Davis. That’s not happening, but after playing a very contentious series with the Mets, I want to get in every dig in I can at them.
Stay tuned to the Paul Goldschmidt Show. It may be about to get very interesting.