The Cardinals Can Only Go So Far Without Paul Goldschmidt

The Cardinals are battling through another down year. This time around, their struggles can be tied to one player's decline above the rest.

ST LOUIS, MISSOURI - APRIL 19: Paul Goldschmidt #46 of the St. Louis Cardinals returns to the dugout after striking out against the Milwaukee Brewers in the sixth inning at Busch Stadium on April 19, 2024 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Coming off of a disappointment for the ages last year, the St. Louis Cardinals entered the 2024 campaign with high hopes. There’s no way a team with so much talent could remain a last-place one, right?


We’re a month into the season and here the Cardinals sit, 5.5 games back of the Brewers for the NL Central lead, but also just a half-game above place. The Cards are just half a game above the Pirates, so they are nowhere near out of the woods yet.

However, it still remains, well, shocking that such a great team – at least on paper – can’t put it together. In 2023, the underperformance was surprising and came out of nowhere. This year, there are more centralized reasons, but the results on the field remain unacceptable.

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Injuries have been running rampant throughout the roster, as Matt Carpenter, Dylan Carlson, Tommy Edman and Lars Nootbaar have all missed time on the injured list. This has forced the likes of Alec Burleson, Jordan Walker, Victor Scott II and Michael Siani to get more at-bats than anyone would typically be comfortable with early on in the season.

But injuries can’t explain why Paul Goldschmidt, a future Hall of Fame talent, has gone from MVP candidate (and MVP winner) to below-average producer in such a short amount of time.

What in the World Has Happened to Paul Goldschmidt?

To this point, Goldschmidt has never once been even close to league-average at the plate. The 14-year veteran is one of the most consistent sluggers in the game with the lowest single season OPS+ of his career being 115. Even that output has him 15% above-average at the dish.

In his career, the first baseman has nearly 350 home runs, over 1,100 RBI and runs scored, a .516 SLG and .903 OPS as well as a smooth .292 batting average. He’s made seven All-Star Games, won four Gold Gloves, five Silver Slugger and was the 2022 NL MVP. His production on both offense and defense has always been off the charts.

Through 30 games this year, though, the story has been entirely different. Goldschmidt is hitting just .230 with an OPS+ of 82 through his first 130 plate appearances. He’s striking out nearly 30% of the time, easily the highest his strikeout rate has ever been outside of a 48-game showing in 2011. He has also seen a rather significant drop in HR% and BB% so far, too.

Here’s how Goldschmidt ranked at season’s end versus where he is now. Clearly, something is off.

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Statistic2023 percentile2024 percentile
xwOBA91st 56th
Avg Exit Velo81st66th
Hard Hit%93rd57th

These are the numbers “Goldy” has posted after a disastrous spring training showing in which he went 6-for-47 with 20 strikeouts. His Chase % in particular suggests that he’s swinging too frequently at pitches outside of the strike zone. He’s chasing 28% of pitches which is the highest mark he’s had since back in 2019, a year he also struggled in.

A total lack of barreling up the ball is also of concern for the first baseman. For a ball to be barreled, it needs to be a batted ball that has an exit velocity of at least 98 mph. To calculate barrel percentage, you take the amount of barrels a hitter has and divide it by the number of balls they’ve put in play.

Goldschmidt’s barrel % currently sits at 5.3 which isn’t just poor, it’s awful. He’s never barreled less than 7.8% of batted balls in a single season and the time he did was all the way back in 2016. In every single year since then, he’s been at 10.7% or higher.

Historically a better hitter against left-handers than right-handers, Goldschmidt has really seen his numbers decline against righties this year. So far, he’s hitting just .214 with a .596 OPS in 99 plate appearances. Against lefties he’s at least hitting .292 with a .747 OPS which is better but not exactly star-caliber.

Another dramatic example of Goldschmidt’s decline is how he’s fared against individual pitches to kick off 2024.

In years past, he’s been an excellent fastball hitter and handles breaking/offspeed pitches with ease, too. In the span of just two seasons, he’s seen his Run Value against four-seam fastballs go from 19 to -2. He’s hitting .306 in his career off of four-seamers, but has a .243 mark this year.

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Against sliders, the Run Value has gone from 11 down to 0 and he’s 6-for-31 against them, all for singles. Off of changeups, his Run Value has gone from 9 to -1. He’s a career .295 off of the pitch, but is just 1-for-11 so far this year.

Perhaps it’s a fluke and nothing more than a slow start, but it’s also entirely possible that we’re simply seeing age catch up to the pending free agent. The fact that he isn’t hitting the ball very hard and that he’s not only chasing too many pitches but striking out an insane rate does not bode well.

The Cardinals have already taken some action on Goldy, as they’ve moved him from his patented No. 2 spot in the batting order down to No. 5, which is the lowest he’s batted since he joined St. Louis.

The pending free agency aspect is important to note for Goldschmidt because his decline is coming at the worst possible time. If he enters the free agent pool after his worst professional season, there’s not exactly going to be a long line of suitors for his services.

A Glimmer of Hope

This isn’t meant to be a Paul Goldschmidt hit piece, so there’s also a positive way to spin things for the respected veteran.

While his first-month stats were poor and difficult to look at, he’s been turning things around for roughly the past two weeks.

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In the last 14 days, Goldy has four extra-base hits, a .298 average and .791 OPS. In the last seven days he’s been even better, hitting .348 with an .858 OPS and 152 OPS+. In seven games out of the five-hole, he’s got a .407 batting average with two doubles, a home run and three RBI.

It seems as though things have begun clicking for him at a time the Cardinals needed him most.

If it means anything, Goldschmidt is also far from the only hitter on the Cardinals getting off to a rough start. Fellow Hall-bound corner infielder Nolan Arenado is hitting just .220 with a .597 OPS across the past two weeks of play. Him and Goldschmidt have combined for just three home runs so far this year.

Nolan Gorman has a .190 average through 29 games as well, posting a .254 OBP, .607 OPS and 72 OPS+.

Over the years, Goldschmidt has endured his fair share of struggles. He’s appeared in over 1,800 games across his career and has gone through slumps even though he’s always been a superstar.

If the Cardinals are to have any hope at all, it’s time for Goldy to kick things into gear, otherwise we’re looking at a career that’s going out with a whimper rather than the bang it deserves.

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