Ask Paul Goldschmidt why he’s one of baseball’s best hitters and you’ll be waiting awhile.
Simply talking about himself, in fact, seems to make the unassuming Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman uncomfortable. After two consecutive All-Star seasons — this time around, he is hitting .308 with 36 doubles and 16 home runs — Goldschmidt waves off his success with clichés. He works hard. He stays focused. Compliments prompt his fingertips to rub together in nervous circles.
So what is it that makes Goldschmidt such a threat at the plate?
“I don’t know,” Dodgers lefthander Clayton Kershaw said. “If you figure it out, let me know. He’s a tough out.”
On Tuesday, Kershaw is relieved he won’t be charged with trying. That is the American League’s task instead, with Goldschmidt batting cleanup for the National League in the All-Star Game.
By now, Goldschmidt has been outed as the secluded slugger in the desert, his talent shining through the rust of Arizona’s struggling season. Despite a midsize market of fans and the Diamondbacks’ tumble to the NL West basement, he was elected an All-Star by overwhelming fan voting. The fame appears to have crept up on him.
“I definitely never thought I’d be sitting here,” he said Monday, speaking in the broader sense.
The fact that he is speaks volumes about ignoring scouting reports. Goldschmidt seems not to have noticed that he wasn’t highly recruited after high school, or that, amid concerns that he was one-dimensional, he fell to the eighth round in the draft before the Diamondbacks selected him 246th overall.
He simply went about his business. Goldschmidt gained a reputation for showing up early each day, and systematically addressed each of his perceived flaws — defense, baserunning, his propensity for striking out.
“If you’re not getting better as a player, you’re falling behind,” he said, matter-of-factly.
Last year, Goldschmidt took home a Gold Glove at first base. He proved he wasn’t a liability on the bases. And talk of strikeouts usually quiets when a player manages 128 extra-base hits in a year and a half.
Around the division, elite pitchers shake their heads at his consistency. San Francisco Giants righthander Tim Hudson remarked that Goldschmidt’s understanding of the strike zone and a pitcher’s strategy belied his short tenure in the majors — he’s in his third full year.
Kershaw said Goldschmidt’s preparation shows at the plate, where his knowledge of his attacker’s repertoire forces pitchers to continually change their strategy.
Last year, Dodgers righthander Zack Greinke was able to strike out Goldschmidt a couple of times in the early summer using his fastball low and away. He thought he had him. When the Dodgers faced Arizona again in mid-September, Greinke stayed with the plan. This time, Goldschmidt pounced on the outside fastball and launched it into deep right field for a double.
“He was ready for it,” Greinke said. “That just puts you on another level, to have the ability to adjust. Some guys can say, ‘Oh, this is what he’s doing,’ but their swing won’t allow them to hit the ball. So he knows what he’s doing and he can adjust to it. You don’t become one of the best hitters in baseball without being able to do that.”
A few tables over at Monday’s media access, Goldschmidt seems unable to comprehend that others would be discussing him. Instead, he’s thinking of what he can learn from the rest of the All-Star field. Last year, his favorite part of the All-Star events was getting to pick the brains of other baseball standouts, he said.
“Some of the best players in the world here,” he said, “And I’m getting to play with them.”