Exercise regimen helps slugger with all parts of his game
By Daniel Kramer
The pain in his right elbow persisted, but Paul Goldschmidt persevered. The D-backs avoided a September scare two weeks ago when their All-Star first baseman and National League MVP Award candidate underwent an MRI that revealed inflammation in his left elbow but no structural damage, forcing him to miss five games.
Goldschmidt, 30, is unsure how he hurt his elbow, on a throw or swing, and the extent of the damage appears to be minor. Since his return, though, he has just a .226/.250/.452 slash line, but the D-backs hold a five-game threshold for the top NL Wild Card.
A beacon of health over his seven-year career -- just one stint on the disabled list for a fractured left hand in 2014 after being hit by a pitch -- Goldschmidt has become a model for endurance in the 162-game gauntlet.
"Some of it's luck, just getting hit by pitches and random stuff like that," Goldschmidt said. "Some of that stuff is out of your control, strains and stuff like that. I think everyone is doing everything they can to stay healthy, and I've been pretty fortunate so far. But that can change any day, so it's definitely something you're thinking about."
A daily exercise regimen consisting of sophisticated pregame stretches and postgame weight-lifting, classified as more maintenance than strength-building during the season, helps Goldschmidt nourish and build upon the genetically produced strength that has manifested into elite power, which he executes with such efficiency, from defense to baserunning to his swing.
Examine Goldschmidt's swing at the plate, and there aren't many moving parts. Beginning slightly opened with his hands cocked higher than most, he quietly slots into his hitting position with load in his back (right) foot and a minor toe tap in his plant (left) foot. These mechanics are simple to repeat, Goldschmidt says, and establish a short handpath to the contact point, which, supplemented with remarkable strength and astute body awareness, creates a punch through the zone, wielded heavily through his wrists.
A closer look at Paul Goldschmidt's swing -- not many moving parts, short and efficient route to contact point, easy to repeat, he says: pic.twitter.com/k2GqtmOSVd
"His mechanics allow him to make quick little adjustments on the fly, whereas maybe somebody else that's got a lot more going on, it's a little tougher for them to make that adjustment mid-at-bat," said D-backs hitting coach Dave Magadan.
Goldschmidt's mainstream numbers are MVP Award worthy -- a .308/.414/.585 slash line with 35 homers, 115 RBIs, 109 runs and 17 stolen bases -- but an analytical dive explains why and how he's reaching those figures.
A healthy 46.9 percent of Goldschmidt's batted balls have been scorched with an exit velocity of 95 mph or higher, quantified by Statcast™ as hard-hit, for the 10th-highest rate in MLB (min. 250 batted balls), and he's converted those into 119 hits, second-most on such batted balls. He is also establishing the most optimum contact, as 13.7 percent of his batted balls have been barrels -- a Statcast™ metric illustrating the most optimum hits -- also the 10th-highest rate.
Nobody slugs fastballs better -- Goldschmidt has clubbed them to an MLB-high .724 slugging percentage -- which has forced pitchers to be more diverse within their repertoire and more precise with location. Knowing that he won't get much nibble over the plate, he has exploited early, with a .406 average on the first pitch.
"He understands percentages and when he's going to have the ability to get off on the at-bat real quick, he takes advantage of it," said D-backs manager Torey Lovullo. "There's a method to what he's doing. I know that for sure. He has a strategy for just about everything he's doing. I think he's paying attention to a lot of things that are enabling him to do that."
It's not just hitting that has made Goldschmidt one of the best all-around players today. He's a two-time Gold Glove winner and widely considered one of the game's best baserunners.
Since 2015, Goldschmidt has stolen 70 bases, the 12th most in MLB in that span, and by far tops among first basemen. A glance at his counterparts on the leaderboard, and most are the usual suspects for delivering on speed -- Mookie Betts, Charlie Blackmon, et al. -- yet they far outpace him on the raw speed leaderboards. Statcast™'s new Sprint Speed metric shows that Goldschmidt is averaging 26.9 feet per second on his max-effort runs, a hair below the league average of 27.0 and well off the elitists at 30.0 and above. Intellect, fueled largely by mental conditioning, fills the disparity.
"Watch his turns on the corners," said D-backs first-base coach and baserunning savant Dave McKay. "He takes a lot of pride on his turns. Guys don't. They just touch the bag and go to the next one. You'll see wide turns all the time. Every team, you'll see these tremendously wide turns. Watch Goldy, pull up and watch him turn third base, he doesn't even go on the grass. He stays on the dirt. His turns are so sharp, it eliminates so much distance."
D-backs 1B coach Dave McKay raves about Goldschmidt's baserunning. L: Efficiently-routed triple R: 1B-home, inside lane never touches grass pic.twitter.com/GQAZyKhf7u
Goldschmidt's mere presence on the basepaths can be a distraction to the opposing pitcher as well. He doesn't just study the starting pitcher; he scouts the entire bullpen and infielders, everyday players and September callups, to gameplan for when to steal or chase an extra base. Goldschmidt's 77.3 percent success rate on steal attempts is ninth best in MLB, and he ranks 14th with 11.6 baserunning runs above average since '15, per FanGraphs.
"If there's an opportunity to get to the next base, we try to take it," Goldschmidt said. "It's just hard. The game is hard to score runs … Just understanding that 90 feet, even if you're not going third to home, could be the difference between scoring a run and not scoring a run."
"He doesn���t think anybody can pick him off," McKay says.
Goldschmidt's collective body of work is cerebral and largely reserved outside of teammates and like-minded peers, which made this year's World Baseball Classic a perfect environment to envelope himself with those as meticulously sagacious. During the Classic, Goldschmidt shared Ubers with Nolan Arenado and Daniel Murphy -- a rideshare between a trio of the game's best hitters -- to get to the ballpark early, and let knowledge breed knowledge.
"He's not the most talkative person, but he's very smart. Very locked in at what's going on … You can definitely make a really good argument that he's the MVP this year," said Arenado, who is also among the small handful of candidates for the award.
Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.