THE REDBIRD REVIEW
There are batting slumps. All hitters go through them. They adjust and rebound, hopefully sooner than later to limit their period of misery and doubt.
But this thing with Paul Goldschmidt … it wasn’t a slump. It wasn’t a downturn. Metaphorically speaking, he dropped off the face of the earth. Or at least his bat did.
The National League MVP favorite ceased hitting with authority on Aug. 25 and wasn’t himself for the remainder of the season, including the two playoff-game losses to the Phillies.
What happened? Until the conscientious Goldschmidt goes through his usual process of self diagnosis and shares his findings, we won’t know. I suspect that it may have been physical discomfort (his back?) with Goldy swinging through pain and failing to overcome it. Manager Oli Marmol has said that Goldschmidt wasn’t hurt. OK, fine – but please excuse my skepticism.
Before Game 1 of the Philadelphia series, Marmol said this: “Goldy is one to tell you exactly how he’s feeling. He’s very literal and he’s very honest. So when he says ‘I’m not feeling good,’ he means that. Right now, he’s saying, ‘I feel really good.’ So, I’m looking forward to these next three days.” ‘
Goldschmidt went 0 for 7 against the Phillies and struck out four times. He left five runners on base in the two games. In terms of Win Probability Added, Goldschmidt was the Cardinals’ worst hitter over the two brutal days that ended the team’s season. True to his character, Goldschmidt owned his failure.
“Myself, I didn’t play well at all,” he told reporters after the Cards got eliminated on Saturday night. “That’s what I look at. If I could have played better maybe we could have won at least one of them if not both of them. It’s disappointing. We had a few chances, we just weren’t able to score.
“I didn’t play good all September and now October. It really stinks. It’s 100 percent on me. I didn’t do my job. I can’t change it, and I hate that. You have to go forward and try to do better next time.”
On Aug. 25, Goldschmidt led the Cardinals to a 8-3 win at Wrigley Field by pounding the Cubs for two homers and five runs batted in. He ended the afternoon with a .339 average, .420 onbase percentage, .637 slugging percentage, and 1.057 OPS. At the time Goldy had 33 homers, 34 doubles, 105 RBIs – and seemingly a good chance of becoming the first National League player to achieve a Triple Crown since Joe Medwick in 1937.
From there, Goldschmidt’s strong offensive foundation began to crumble. In his final 135 plate appearances of the regular season, he hit only two home runs and drove in just 10 runs. In his 33-game stretch that began Aug. 26, Goldy batted .235 and slugged a significantly substandard .348. He did manage to draw enough walks to post a .341 onbase percentage over that time, but that was the only positive showing in his profile.
At times Goldschmidt seemed off balance when swinging. He was out of rhythm – with the various parts of his hitting mechanism lacking synchronization. His offensive game degenerated: too many ground balls, too many pop-ups. Pitchers challenged him by throwing more strikes, and took advantage of his declining contact rate. And when Goldschmidt did connect, he didn’t barrel many pitches.
Here’s a “Before” and “After” look at some of his key indicators. The number on the left side represents his performance through Aug. 25. The number on the right represents his performance after Aug. 25.
Strikeout Rate: 20.7 percent … 25.2%
Swing-Miss Rate: 9.5% … 11.4%
Average Exit Velocity: 91 mph … 89.6 mph
Line-Drive Rate: 19.3% … 17.1%
Ground-Ball Rate: 38.3% … 48.8%
Fly Ball Rate: 42.4% … 34.1%
Pop-Up Rate: 9.7% … 14.3%
Barrel Rate: 12.8% … 6.1%
Isolated Power: .298 … .113
Contact Rate On Strikes: 84.5% … 71%
Win Probability Added: +4.90 … minus 0.08
Goldschmidt’s stats plummeted against a variety of pitches, and if you read these numbers you’ll see the widespread evidence of a collapse at the plate. But I won’t type in the numbers against pitch through Aug. 25. They were all good, very good, or great. I’ll just show you how he fared against the relevant pitches after Aug. 25 — excluding the change-up which he punished all season.
Four-Seam Fastballs: After Aug. 25, he slugged .395 with no homers — this, after hitting 16 homers on this pitch through Aug. 25.
Sinkers: .160 average and .280 slug with one homer after Aug. 25.
Sliders: .217 with a .261 slug and no homers after Aug. 25.
Curves: .100 average and .100 slug after Aug. 25.
Cutters: .222 average and .222 slug after Aug. 25.
I know I threw a lot of statistics at you (sorry) but it’s important to see facts that detail the depth of Goldschmidt’s extreme-level struggles. When such an accomplished hitter gets overmatched by virtually every type of pitch thrown to him for nearly six weeks, it points to a serious issue. Which it was. But from Aug. 26 until early October, Goldschmidt’s atrophy was downplayed or largely ignored by the locals.
This drought lasted a lot longer than people wanted to believe. Marmol remained in denial. The media remained in denial. But two glaringly empty playoff games forced everyone to face the harsh reality. Paul Goldschmidt faded badly, and the team’s offense went flat.
In an ironic way, Goldschmidt’s ruinous slump served to reaffirm his immense value to the Cardinals. When he stopped hitting, they stopped scoring.
Goldschmidt was 35 at the end of the 2022 season. And now we’ll have all offseason to wonder what happened to him, and we will worry about the possibility of it happening again.
Thanks for reading …
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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.
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.