Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 11/15/14

Paul Goldschmidt had some pretty robust projections entering the year — Steamer projected him to have the seventh-highest wOBA among first basemen, for instance — considering that he had just 177 major league plate appearances under his belt. And despite a slow start, the 24-year-old slugger is living up to those projections and then some. If he keeps producing for the final six weeks in the same fashion, he will need to be considered one of the best first basemen in the game.

Last season, Goldschmidt came up and performed well down the stretch, giving the struggling D-backs’ first-base contingent a shot in the arm. In those 177 plate appearances, he provided the D-backs with more value than the motley crew of Brandon Allen, Lyle Overbay, Juan Miranda, Russell Branyan and Xavier Nady did in 580. He then went on to start the final four games of Arizona’s National League Division Series against the Brewers, and hit phenomenally — he posted two-hit games in three of his four games, and homered in two of them.

Still, heading into the season, manager Kirk Gibson was hedging his bets. Goldschmidt started on opening day, but Overbay started in five of the next 11 contests, giving rise to the notion that the two may share the job. Those concerns only deepened when the mini-hulk only managed a Bruce Banner-like .193/.288/.281 line in April. But then a funny thing happened — Gibson started playing Goldschmidt more anyway:

Games Started Goldschmidt Overbay April 15 8 May 22 6 June 22 4 July 24 3 August 18 0

Gibson would have drawn little criticism had he given Overbay the lion’s share of the playing time. After all, Overbay is having his best season since 2009, and Goldschmidt could have been sent back to Triple-A with the old “he needs more seasoning” routine. And yet, Gibson stuck with him, and he has been rewarded for that. In fact, once Chris Johnson came aboard, the D-backs parted ways with Overbay entirely, designating him for assignment and letting him walk as a free agent.

If Goldschmidt is feeling any pressure to produce without Overbay around, he certainly hasn’t shown it. In the 27 games since Overbay last started for the D-backs, Goldschmidt has hit .301/.342/.534. Which is to say that over the past month or so, he’s hit the same way he has all season, as his season line is a remarkably similar .298/.359/.534.

Looking at the first-base leaderboards, it’s hard to deny Goldschmidt’s impact. Looking at WAR, Joey Votto and Edwin Encarnacion have been more valuable than has Goldschmidt, but E5 is a designated hitter half of the time. Crossing him off the list leaves Goldschmidt tied for second place with Prince Fielder. And while Goldschmidt gets a minor boost from his defense, the only players who bump over him when looking at wRC+ are Allen Craig and Paul Konerko, and Craig is not yet a full-time first baseman himself. Now, there is a catch — first-base production as a whole, according to wRC+, is at its lowest level since 1982. Normal stalwarts like Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez and Mark Teixeira are having career-worst seasons, even with Pujols and Gonzalez heating up as of late, and the position lost Miguel Cabrera this season as well. Perhaps if the competition wasn’t as stiff, Goldschmidt wouldn’t stick out as much. Then again, Goldschmidt, as we discussed above, hasn’t hit well all year himself either. So while it’s a point worth acknowledging, it is perhaps a moot point.

In picking apart Goldschmidt, many have said that he is basically a glorified platoon player, and it’s certainly true that he has mashed lefties with a lot more authority than he has righties. But in looking at the splits of his splits (thanks to the always awesome Jeff Zimmerman), we can see that he has improved his performance against right-handed pitching as this season has progressed:

Vs. RHP PA AVG OBP SLG April 45 0.205 0.311 0.308 May 61 0.268 0.328 0.411 June 54 0.234 0.315 0.468 July 74 0.279 0.324 0.426 August 56 0.306 0.339 0.490

Let’s make that even simpler:

Vs. RHP PA AVG OBP SLG April-May 106 0.242 0.321 0.368 June-Aug 184 0.274 0.326 0.457

Now, is .274/.326/.457 the world’s greatest batting line? Of course not. Is 184 PA a small sample size? Of course it is. But has he improved over the early part of the season? Yes, yes he has. The jury is still out, but Goldschmidt’s season wRC+ vs. RHP now stands at 96, and if his performance from the last three months sticks, it figures to be better than that by the end of the season. Combine that with his lefty-thrashing ways and the fact that he has hit as well on the road as he has in his high-altitude home, and I think that’s something you might be interested in. Especially when you combine it with potentially better than average defense and a pretty good knack for stealing bases from someone listed at 245 lbs.

Paul Goldschmidt has been as valuable this season as Prince Fielder, and has been more than valuable than Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez and Mark Teixeira, to name a few. That doesn’t mean he’s as good as or better than any of them — they have long track records of success, and Goldschmidt only crossed the 600 PA mark for his career last week. He needs to show that he can hit righties for more than a few months, and achieving better results in high-leverage situations would help round of his portfolio as well. But with his play this season, Goldschmidt has separated himself from the pack of young guns like Freddie Freeman, Yonder Alonso, Brandon Belt and Ike Davis with whom he started this season, and put himself into the discussion of who is the best in the game.


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