The Arizona Diamondbacks didn’t make the postseason in 2013, but the blossoming of Paul Goldschmidt — their most valuable player by FanGraphs’ calculations — a season ago gives more than enough reason to believe they will in 2014.
While he may not yet be a household name, the former eighth-round steal in the 2009 draft finished second in the National League’s MVP voting last season due in large part to his bat, which he used to post a .302/.401/.551 line over 160 games, accumulate a league-high 36 home runs while garnering the league’s best on-base plus slugging mark (.956). Compared to his .286/.359/.490, 20-home-run and .850-OPS sophomore 2012 campaign, it’s plain to see Goldschmidt augmented his game considerably last season.
What caused his spike in production is no secret, really: He became more selective at the plate.
Goldschmidt’s overall swing rate two seasons ago was 43.7%, and his out-of-zone swing rate (chase%) was 27%. While these are by no means ‘patient’ by anyone’s standard — the 2012 league-average marks were 45.5% and 27.6%, respectively — Goldy took colossal steps forward in this respect last season. In 710 plate appearances, he offered at just 40.6% of all pitches thrown to him (seventh-lowest among qualified NL righty batters) and chased at 20.7% (fourth-lowest), a near seven percent decrease from where it stood in 2012.
As we can see, opposing pitchers were forced to throw more stuff in the zone (49.9% zone rate in 2013 compared to 47.8% two years ago) due to Goldscmidt’s improved discipline. The consequences of that spike in zone rate can be found in the home-run-to-fly-ball portion of the above table, which depicts a stark increase in the amount of home runs Goldschmidt hit for each fly ball he produced. Last season, his 22.5% HR/FB rate was second only to Pedro Alvarez (27.1%) among qualifying NL batters. Juxtaposed to his 14.7% rate in 2012, which was only slightly above the league average of 12.4%, that’s a tremendous increase.
The kicker of Goldschmidt’s enhanced eye at the dish can be found in the in-play column, however. What we see here is that Goldschmidt is putting essentially the same amount of balls in play over both seasons despite swinging at significantly fewer pitches. It’s one thing to hack away and see your in-play rate increase, but it’s another to swing at less pitches and find the same result. And not only that, he’s doing a heck of a lot more with those pitches he does put in play (see previous paragraph).
If Goldschmidt can continue to improve his eye at the plate, we could be in for a special season from the 26-year-old in 2014.