In a sweet and rewarding deal for the Cardinals, Paul Goldschmidt was traded to St. Louis before the 2019 season and signed a five-year, $130 million contract extension before playing his first regular-season game for the club. He’ll enter the final year of that contract in 2024.

Does it make sense to continue the relationship with a new contract extension? And if so, for how many years? He’s 36 now and will be 37 by the end of next season. If the Cardinals and their first baseman agree to a one-year deal, Goldschmidt would turn 38 with a month to go in 2025. In a two-year arrangement that would take him Goldschmidt through 2026, he’d be 39 by contract’s end.

There’s a lot to consider. But Goldschmidt and the Cardinals are a good fit, and it maxes sense to go forward. Because of Goldy’s advancing baseball age, it makes sense for the Cardinals to go one season at a time. But he may have other ideas, and it wouldn’t be unreasonable for him to request a two-year contract.

While wearing the Birds on the Bat, Goldschmidt received National League MVP votes in three seasons and won the prestigious award in 2022. He was chosen to the 2022 All-star team. Over the five seasons he’s tied for 12th in the majors with 21.3 Wins Above Replacement. He’s third overall for most times reaching base, third among first basemen in defensive runs saved, eighth in total bases, 10th in RBI, 13th in extra-base hits, and 18th in home runs.

The Cardinals made the playoffs in four consecutive seasons, 2019 through 2022, before crashing to a horrid 71-91 record in 2023. In 19 postseason games for St. Louis, Goldschmidt has slugged .526 with six homers, five doubles and 10 RBI. In 2019 he led the Cardinals to a victory over the Braves in the five-game NLDS, batting .429 with a 1.383 OPS. But it’s been a tough go for him since then. Since defeating Atlanta the Cardinals have gone 1-9 in the postseason – and with Goldschmidt batting .128 with a .517 OPS in the 10 games.

This is the part where you’re supposed to remind me of Goldy’s age and noticeable drop in offensive numbers in 2023.

Take a look:

* Batting avg: .317 in 2022, and .268 in last season.

* Onbase pct: .404 in ‘22 and .363 last season.

* Slugging pct: .578 in ‘22 and .447 last season.

* OPS: .981 in ‘22 and .810 last season.

* Adjusted OPS: 77% above league average in ‘22, and 20% above average in 2023.

* Home runs: 35 in 2022, and 25 last season,

* Extra-base hits: 76 in 2022 and 56 last season.

* Runs Batted In: 115 in 2022 and 80 last season.

* OPS with runners in scoring position: .989 in 2022 and .751 last season.

* Win Probability Added: 4.7 in 2022 and 0.6 WPA last season.

I’m wasn’t surprised to see Goldschmidt’s numbers decline in 2023. As I wrote several times before the season, it was unrealistic to expect him to match or come close to repeating his massive performance at the plate. The MVP season was the best of his distinguished career. He also experienced a drag on his batting average in balls in play for 2023 — a 41-point decrease from 2022.

Goldschmidt didn’t slip defensively in 2023. He’s still up there with the best first basemen in the game. And he’s hardly limping around the bases. Last season he swiped 11 bases in 13 attempts. And his extra-bases-taken percentage increased 11 points to 56 percent in 2023. His bases gained on non-steals — +14 — was his highest total since 2019. That’s all good stuff.

But there are more important reasons to slow down on the age-decline assumptions. And I apply that to myself. I’ve also wondered about Goldy’s erosion of skill and production and what it really means. The easiest thing to talk about is his age. Goldschmidt was 31 in his first St. Louis season. And now he’s 36. A statistical downturn is inevitable.

That said, we shouldn’t make the mistake of overlooking his underlying numbers. The digits tell us a lot about his viability and provide a reason to press the pause button.

Truths can be discovered at Statcast. And what I learned is this: Goldschmidt’s 2023 season was an odd one. All of the key indicators were healthy and impressive and showed no signs of deterioration.

Here’s what I’m referring to, and when I use the word “up” it means an improvement a category from 2022 to 2023.

In 2023 Goldy was in the 93rd percentile in hard-hit rate, the 91st percentile in expected wOBA, the 86th percentile in expected slugging percentage, the 81st percentile in average exit velocity, the 81st percentile in Outs Above Average defensively, the 78th percentile in barrel rate and the 77th percentile in expected batting average.

Compared to his brilliant MVP season in 2022, Goldschmidt’s hard-hit rate went up to 50.8 percent. His barrel rate and sweet-spot contact went up. His walk rate was up. His average exit velo was up.

Does this look like the profile of a creaky hitter with slow bat speed?

Not at all. In just about all of these areas, Goldschmidt’s did better in 2023 than 2022. Based on the quality and consistency of his contact, Goldschmidt had an expected batting average of .271 with an slugging percentage of .491. As an MVP, his expected batting average was .261. His expected slug was .482. That’s pretty amazing; yes, he really did improve — even if the evidence wasn’t reflected in his baseball-card stats.

I already mentioned batted-ball luck as one reason for the sinking numbers in 2023. But in doing some other research, I found out another relevant piece of information: Goldschmidt did not pull the ball as often in 2023. He hit more balls to the opposite field in 2023. And that impacted his power numbers.

In 2022, Goldschmidt had a pull rate of nearly 38 percent. Last season that went down to 33%. In 2022, he went to the opposite field 26% of the time. Last season, that went up to nearly 32 percent.

And that change mattered.

For Goldy in 2023, here was the difference in hitting a fly ball to right field instead of left field.

HITTING TO RIGHT FIELD:  70 fly balls, 11 hits, 59 outs, .157 batting average, 4 homers.

HITTING TO LEFT FIELD: 38 fly balls, 20 hits, 18 outs, .541 batting average, 15 homers.

That’s a huge difference.

In 2023, about the only positive thing about Goldschmidt hitting the ball to right was a .375 average on ground balls. All on singles. But he sacrificed a great deal of power by going to the right side so often.

When Goldschmidt hit the ball to right — on the ground, in the air or line drives —  only 11.7 percent of his hits went for a home run. But when he hit the ball to left -on the ground, in the air or liners — 30 percent of his hits were home runs.

Goldschmidt is aging, but his bat was plenty quick in 2023. When he hit a fly ball to to left — his natural power zone — Goldy inflicted substantial damage with a massive 1.865 slugging percentage. When he hit a fly ball to right in 2023, he slugged a non-threatening .386. He should probably adjust his hitting compass in 2024.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. Stream it live or grab the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.

Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz and on Threads @miklaszb

For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via 590thefan.com or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.

All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Fielding Bible. Baseball Prospectus, Bill James Online or Sports Info Solutions unless otherwise noted.

 

Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.