Paul Goldschmidt was the talismanic first baseman for the Arizona Diamondbacks who starred for the major league team from 2011 until the conclusion of the 2018 season. To say that he was the Diamondbacks best player over that period would be an understatement. Throughout Goldy’s time in the desert, he posted some eye-popping numbers, including belting a whopping 209 home runs. His final slash line over his D’Backs career of .297/.398/.532 was sufficient to earn numerous personal accolades. Goldy was an All-Star every year from 2013-2018, and he also earned the Diamondbacks’ MVP award on five separate occasions. Oh, and he also earned three Gold Gloves (he now owns a fourth after the 2021 season) and four Silver Slugger awards.
He was ultimately traded in December 2018 to the St Louis Cardinals, where he has continued to be one of the best first basemen in the National League. So why am I trudging over old ground, especially since it has been three seasons since his departure? It is because the organisation has persistently failed to fill the void left by Goldy’s departure, something which is again to be a concern heading into the 2022 season (whenever that may arrive).
First base in Goldschmidt’s absence was manned primarily by Christian Walker with help from Jake Lamb. If we were to look at the 2019 output produced by Goldschmidt in St Louis compared to his replacements in Arizona, there doesn’t seem to be too much difference. Goldschmidt hit 34 home runs and accumulated 2.6 fWAR. Walker and Lamb belted 29 & 6 home runs, respectively, combining for 3.0 fWAR (although Lamb played more third base than first).
It is in later years, however, that the disparity has become pronounced. In 2020 it was again Walker and Lamb expected to handle the majority of first base duties in the shortened season, although it was a year to forget for both players. Walker once again shouldered the majority of the workload, but both players struggled to produce offensively, with Walker responsible for all seven home runs hit by the first basemen. Walker accrued 0.8 fWAR, and Lamb was the owner of a miserable -0.6 fWAR, culminating in his release from the organisation that September. By comparison, Goldschmidt amassed 2.0 fWAR for 2020 alone.
2021 was again a similar situation with Walker manning the first base bag. He continued his worrying trend of declining power, struggling to impact the baseball and posting a career-worst hard-hit rate at 41.1%, good enough for only the 49th percentile, per Baseball Savant. Again, Goldschmidt bettered this hitting 31 home runs and placing within the 91st percentile for hard-hit rate and 93rd percentile for exit velocity.
It is clear to see that the Diamondbacks have failed to replace Goldy’s output at first base since his departure. It is, however, the failure to replace the impact he had off the field that has been most detrimental to the team. Goldschmidt was a highly popular figure in the dressing room and well respected. He has all the traits that a young burgeoning locker room love to have, and it is a void that is undeniably felt. The guidance and experience he could pass on to emerging talents such as Pavin Smith, Daulton Varsho and the next wave of D’Backs stars would be invaluable.
Further to this, Goldy was absolutely a fan favourite. A native Texan by way of Delaware, he fully embraced Arizona and always made time for fans during spring training and batting practice. The fans repaid this engagement with unwavering love and support. So much so that when the trade was announced, there was almost an outpouring of grief from the Arizona community, such was the emotional wrench. Not only was he loved by the fans for his friendly and open nature but also his active involvement in the local community, establishing the Goldy’s Fund 4 kids to help raise funds for Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
The next closest Arizona off-field presence similar to Goldy is David Peralta, with the veteran outfield another fan favourite. There has been increased talk this offseason that Peralta may be on the move, with the array of outfield talent waiting in the wings. If he does move on, it will be vital for the organisation to find someone who embraces the local community and fans as Paul Goldschmidt did over his eight seasons, if only to keep fans interested over the course of the next couple of rebuilding years.
Featured image of Paul Goldschmidt by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images
Matthew O’Brien is one of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @DiamondbacksUk