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With Improved Supporting Cast, Goldschmidt Might Be Even Better in 2016

Photo By: Barton Silverman/The New York Times

Photo By: Barton Silverman/The New York Times

The Arizona Diamondbacks enter the start of the regular season with an excitement surrounding the club that has not been seen in recent years. The front office was incredibly aggressive in the offseason, signing Zack Greinke to a record-breaking contract and sending last year’s No. 1 pick Dansby Swanson to the Braves in exchange for Shelby Miller.

What those moves did was create a win-now mentality for the D-Backs, a team that has not sniffed the playoffs since 2011, when they won 94 games in the regular season and lost a hard-fought series to the Brewers in the NLDS.

At the heart of that potential success is a guy who, despite being underappreciated and underpaid, has transformed himself from an unheralded prospect to a perennial MVP contender.

Paul Goldschmidt, who put together one of the best hitting seasons in 2015 with a .321/.435/.570 slashline to go along with 33 home runs, 110 RBI, 103 runs scored and 21 stolen bases, is the engine that makes the team go. He is the heart and soul of the Diamondbacks organization and he has a chance to be even better in 2016.

Before we delve into the players he will be playing with, let’s talk about the excellence of the 28-year-old Goldschmidt.

Despite working his way up the minor league ladder as an under-the-radar prospect after playing collegiately at Texas State, Goldschmidt burst onto the scene in 2011 during the Diamondbacks’ postseason run. Since then, all he has done is hit at least .286 in four straight seasons — including over .300 in the past three — and cement himself as one of the premier players in the game.

Since the start of the 2013 season, Goldschmidt is third in Major League Baseball in weighted runs created plus (wRC+), fourth in FanGraphs‘ wins above replacement (WAR), fourth in batting average and third in OPS. Among first basemen, he is first in runs scored and WAR as well as second in wRC+ and batting average.

And those numbers don’t even do him justice. He isn’t just a big, strong masher who strikes fear into opposing pitchers when he’s in the batter’s box. He impacts the game in seemingly every aspect; he led all first basemen with 21 stolen bases last year, he is widely regarded as one of the best defensive players at his position and he is a humble yet driven leader who places winning above personal statistics or accolades.

“Humble, humble, humble,” former D-Backs pitcher Wade Miley told Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY in 2013. “He’s the greatest teammate I’ve ever had. Everyone loves him in here.”

Okay, so it’s incredibly clear: Goldschmidt has become such a consistent, reliable player that it is almost expected. But that only leads to the next question: is it possible for him to get even better in 2016?

Photo by: Joe Camporeale / USA Today Sports

Photo by: Joe Camporeale / USA Today Sports

On the surface, it seems like that idea is a bit of a stretch, but a look at some advanced statistics and the lineup around him indicates that maybe Goldschmidt’s numbers can improve.

First, the players protecting him in the lineup. Center fielder A.J. Pollock solidified himself as one of the best outfielders in the league and will be getting on base and in scoring position often in front of Goldschmidt. David Peralta broke out in a big way in 2015 by hitting .312 with 53 extra-base hits and is one of the game’s most underrated hitters.

Those two are slated to hit in front of Goldschmidt, suggesting that he could see plenty of RBI opportunities in 2016. Also, the trio of Yasmany Tomas, Welington Castillo and Jake Lamb should offer Goldy enough protection in the order so that opposing pitchers cannot pitch around him as much as they have in years past.

However, if they do pitch around him, one doesn’t have to worry about Goldy expanding his zone and chasing pitches. He displayed one of the most patient eyes at the plate in 2015, collecting a career-high 118 walks, a whopping total that trailed only Joey Votto (143) and Bryce Harper (124) on the MLB leaderboard. His chase rate has improved every season since 2012 and he was ninth-best in baseball in that department in 2015.

 If anyone ever criticizes him for being too patient — particularly with runners in scoring position — don’t expect him to change.

“As talented as our offense is, it’s any way to get on base,” Goldschmidt told Bob McMannus of the Arizona Republic. “If it’s a walk, it’s a walk. I just try to be ready to hit all the time from the first pitch to the last pitch and everywhere in between. If it’s a pitch out of the zone, I’ll try to take it and lay off.

“I try to get on base any way I can. At the same time, I’m still ready to hit.”

In addition to his remarkable patience, Goldschmidt also has a terrific ability to barrel up the baseball. He ranked fifth in baseball in hard-hit percentage, according to FanGraphs, while he was third in exit velocity, per Baseball Savant.

There really aren’t any holes in his swing. He doesn’t pull the ball nearly as frequently as other power hitters around the game, instead opting to hit the ball up the middle and the other way. That approach makes him less vulnerable to prolonged slumps, as does his propensity to hit line drives instead of fly balls.

Arizona’s improved starting rotation can also potentially benefit Goldschmidt. With the Greinke and Miller acquisitions, the Diamondbacks will theoretically play in more close games, which will mean that opposing teams might be more inclined to pitch to the slugging first baseman. He led Major League Baseball with 29 intentional walks in 2015, and there were countless other occasions where teams put him on via “unintentional” intentional walks — meaning that the catcher did not stand up put his hand into the other batter’s box, but the pitcher had no intention of throwing a hittable pitch.

 All in all, Goldschmidt has solidified his reputation as one of baseball’s most consistent and reliable hitters. He hits for average and power, plays great defense and steals more bases than any other first basemen in the game. His numbers were excellent in 2015 but, with a better roster around him, he will likely see more pitches to hit, which could allow him to score more runs, drive in more runs and maybe even hit more home runs.

Goldy has not won an MVP trophy yet in his young career, but 2016 could be the year where he finally gets the recognition that he deserves as the Diamondbacks try to contend in the brutal National League West.

Article first posted on HC3 Cold hard Sports

Heath is currently a finance student at Texas A&M University. The Astros are his favorite team, but he is an all-around baseball fanatic who continually marvels at the game's best players. He has written for Bleacher Report and VAVEL USA in his career, and also maintains a sports blog, HC3 Cold Hard Sports.

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