Paul Goldschmidt’s struggles in September and in the postseason incited worry among the St. Louis Cardinals fanbase, and that worry is well founded.
St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt had an outstanding year in 2022, competing for the Triple Crown until a September downturn nixed those chances. In the counting stats, he had one of his strongest seasons at age 33. He hit .317 and led the National League in slugging, OPS and OPS+. But underneath those sparkling numbers lie some ugly peripherals that could point to an imminent collapse.
If one takes a cursory glance at Baseball Savant, they’ll see that Goldschmidt ranks near the top in exit velocity, hard-hit percentage and several other categories. But his performance against the slider is a reason for concern: His average against them is .276, which is solid, but his weighted on-base average of .393 is overshadowed by an expected weighted on-base average of just .291, which is a gigantic drop of 102 points. Goldschmidt also swung and missed on sliders 41% of the time.
Goldschmidt had some unprecedented good luck against sliders this season, but it’s not the only red flag: He also had far more trouble against the fastball than in previous years, against which he would consistently have xWOBAs over .400. This year, he hit a career-low .358 against four-seam fastballs, and his struggles were visible to the naked eye in September and October, where he routinely had trouble catching up to the heater.
It’s hard to think Goldschmidt will buck this trend at age 34. It’s likely that his reflexes will continue to slow down and he’ll have more trouble catching up to the fastball. Combine that how he will likely crash back to earth against the slider, and 2023 could be the start of a slippery slope into oblivion.
Despite the gloomy outlook, Goldschmidt is still a seven-time All-Star, and it’s hard for someone who’s been this good for this long to drop off too precipitously. Expect his numbers to be more like 2019 than this season or 2021. While Goldschmidt was integral to the Cardinals’ playoff run this year, they’ll probably have to turn to other contributors next season if they want to make it far into October.