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10 Degrees: Dubious run? Little reason to doubt bargain of D'backs' Goldschmidt standard

Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports

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Paul Goldschmidt is turning into one of baseball's best contract bargains for a power hitter. (AP)

Around this time last year, we introduced the concept of doobs to the masses. For those not indoctrinated, it goes something like this: When you are dubious about something, you can doubt it, question it, disbelieve it – or, best of all, throw doobs on it.

The quarter pole of the baseball season is a perfect time to cast doobs on some of the hottest starts of the season. Last season offered some hits (Adam Jones, Derek Lowe, Bryan LaHair) as well as misses (Carlos Ruiz, Fernando Rodney). This year will prove no different, except one thing we changed: the Honorary Dubious Floating Head.

Choosing Bud Selig last year made sense because he may have the most dubious face in baseball. Yet compared to the ultimate dubious face, the commissioner looks downright bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. A dubious face combines a side-tilted lip purse and rancid stink-eye. And never before or again will there be a doobs face to match the patron saint of them, McKayla Maroney.

In the Doobs Olympics, McKayla is Michael Phelps. For our sake, all we needed was that one look to properly encapsulate everything we need to say about overblown starts on a scale of 1-5. And it's why …

1. Paul Goldschmidt should be so proud: He's the only player on this list who draws not an iota of scorn from McKayla.

Rare is the breakout hitter who merits no doobs. Truth is, the stats and scouting reports both back up Goldschmidt's evolution into a legitimate MVP-level candidate for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Yes, he is coming off a tremendous week and a half, in which he hit .462/.500/1.128, whacked seven home runs, drove in 14 runs and left Diamondbacks officials with pulled muscles from all the self-congratulatory back-pats they deserve for locking him into a five-year, $32 million contract extension this spring. So it is a convenient time to invest in this baseball bullion. Still, consider what Ari Kaplan of ariball.com points out about Goldschmidt:

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Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt is also shaping up to be a stellar first baseman. (USA Today Sports)

- Even if his batting average on balls in play (BABIP), an easy indicator of early-season surges, is well above career averages at .382, his line-drive rate – often an indicator of high BABIP – has gone up as well.
- After striking out an untenable amount in the minor leagues – including 161 times in Class A – Goldschmidt has refined his swing-and-miss game while upping his walk rate. He's swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone just 22.9 percent of the time, down 6.5 percent from last season. And his 21 unintentional walks rank 16th in the major leagues.
- He uses all parts of the field. While most of his home runs have been pulled this year, the rest of Goldschmidt's spray chart resembles Miguel Cabrera, with dots all over the field.

[Related: D'backs' Gerardo Parra achieves rare HR feat ]

All this from an eighth-round pick out of Texas State who, even after hitting 35 home runs in 2010, barely merited mention on top-prospect lists. Whether because they came in the California League or Goldschmidt's strikeouts worried some, it's amazing to look back and see how a player can evolve into something he wasn't. Not once did Goldschmidt show up among Baseball America's top 10 Diamondbacks prospects, his rapid ascent similar to when …

2. Mark Reynolds could crack the list only at No. 7 – and sort of begrudgingly. The man-without-a-position label assigned by scouts stuck until Reynolds did what all successful position-less players do: hit their way into a job. When he started cracking home runs, he was no longer a 16th-round pick without a place to play. Teams will make room for a bat.

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Mark Reynolds (AP)

It's why the Cleveland Indians dreamed big on him this offseason: 40-home run power almost never comes on the open market for a one-year deal, at just $6 million no less. Granted, Reynolds finished every season from 2010-12 with a batting average .221 or lower. But the homers. The power. The possibility something would change.

And it has ... for now: Reynolds, the strikeout king with 223 in 2010, is actually making better contact, something far more shocking than his American League-leading 12 home runs. At a 69.2 percent rate coming into Sunday's games, he was nearly 5 percent better than his career average. Most of that came from him not whiffing on pitches outside the strike zone. He's making contact on 57.7 percent of those this season, compared to 46 percent over his career.

Now, let's not do cartwheels quite yet. The 69.2 contact rate remains 160th of 170 qualified players and on par with notorious hackers and strikeout mavens. And he does still have 43 strikeouts in 160 plate appearances after Felix Hernandez sat him down three straight times Sunday. While strikeout rate is supposed to have stabilized, it's fair to hedge on this one, ask for a little time and have a down-the-middle doobs forReynolds. Verdict:

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At least he's not …

3. Carlos Gomez, the current major-league leader in FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement, who is about to be dealt a handful of doobs. Verdict:

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OK, now an interlude of good: Gomez is an incredible amount of fun to watch. He plays an important position (center field) with an infectious energy, has top-end speed and hits for power. Gomez is a top 10 he-might-do-something-I've-never-seen-before guy in baseball.

Back to the rough stuff: There is no way Carlos Gomez finishes the season with a batting average over .300 and an on-base percentage over .350 independent of a sorcerer or witch brewing a potion that feeds the lucky streak he's on. His expected BABIP, according to AriBall, is almost 50 points lower than his actual BABIP of .417, which is still the second highest in the major leagues to Joe Mauer's silly .451.

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Carlos Gomez (USA Today Sports)

Then there is the matter of walks. Gomez actually drew two on Saturday to bring his grand total this season to eight. Unless a hitter plans on winning a batting title, walking that infrequently while striking out more than 20 percent of the time leads to awful consequences, like joblessness.

Barring an education on plate discipline, Gomez's numbers will regress. He'll start skying infield pop-ups again (he's got just one after 17 last year). His BABIP will normalize. And he'll go back to being the guy who plays a solid center field, can run, pops an occasional home run and evermore tantalizes, hopeful the skills can match the tools.

In the meantime, anyone watching Milwaukee should focus more on …

4. Jean Segura because for the most part, he is legit. Verdict:

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McKayla is throwing doobs on the idea that Segura is a power hitter. He is not going to finish the season one home run behind Ryan Braun, as he is now. While most of his homers have come to the opposite field, they're more fence scraper than scoreboard wrecker.

In 451 plate appearances last season at Double-A, Segura hit seven home runs. He went homerless in another 166 in the big leagues. Over 171 plate appearances this season, Segura has seven homers, plus he leads the major leagues in hits and stolen bases.

How good has Segura been?

 Line drive %
Ground ball %
Flyball %
Middle infielder A
20.853.1
26.2
Middle infielder B
19.956.723.4

Middle infielder A is Segura. Middle infielder B is Dustin Pedroia. The difference: 20.6 percent of Segura's fly balls are leaving the park, whereas 3 percent of Pedroia's are, which makes up for the unsustainable home run spike.

And speaking of, what …

5. Vernon Wells has done this season is an homage to hard work, good scouting and massive levels of dubiousness. Verdict:

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What?! A missing McKayla!? How?! Why!?

Because what Wells is doing this season isn't completely unprecedented. We went back through Baseball-Reference.com's Play Index to see if there had been outfielders who followed terrible age-32 and -33 seasons with a breakout year at 34. And though it's not common – only 75 outfielders ever have posted 3.5-win-or-better seasons at 34 – Wells has company.

Perhaps the best match was an outfielder in the 1950s named Gene Woodling. At 30, he led the American League as a Yankee in on-base percentage and posted an 82-to-29 walk-to-strikeout ratio. A year later, he went to Baltimore in a 17-player trade that sent Don Larsen to the Yankees. In a half-season with Baltimore, he was awful, and the Orioles dealt him to the Indians. In the 1956 season, while he got on base at nearly a .400 clip, Woodling managed only one WAR.

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Vernon Wells (USA Today Sports)

The next year, Woodling hit .321/.408/.521 with a career-high 19 home runs and 78 RBIs. He accumulated 4.5 wins that year. It was like Dave Parker following two subpar years with a 4.7-win season during the cocaine trials in 1985, or Steve Finley popping 5 WAR after a combined 1.4 the season before.

Woodling is the best-case scenario: He played another five years and hit .290/.393/.438, the 15th best OPS+ among outfielders from 1958-62, which says something considering seven are in the Hall of Fame.

Wells needs to do some work to get to Woodling's level. He's still popping the ball up way too much (20.4 percent of fly balls). His plate discipline is no better, either. Wells is fishing at a career-high 35.9 percent of pitches outside zone. His contact rate of 78.6 percent is the lowest of his career.

Scouts attribute Wells' resurgence to bat speed – "He's catching up to fastballs," one scout said – though one scout disagreed and said: "He's cheating like hell. Look at where all his home runs go." And he's correct: all to the left one-third of the field.

Still, escaping L.A. has done wonders for Wells, more than it did for …

6. James Loney when he left the Dodgers last year, went to Boston in the Red Sox's mega-dump and proceeded to fall on his face. He looked primed for a minor-league deal until the Rays swooped in, gave him $2 million and sprinkled him with their pixie dust. Verdict: 

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McKayla throws doobs all over pixie dust.

Now, Loney has changed his mechanics, as blogger Tommy Rancel noted, by re-establishing a leg kick. And for the first month of the season, the Rays did a good job protecting him from left-handed pitching, which has eaten Loney alive in recent years.

Hitting close to .400 has a way of forcing a hitter into the lineup regardless of pitching handedness. And of his 59 plate appearances so far in May, 25 have come against left-handers. His numbers have dipped some, and they're bound to go further once his line-drive numbers even out. Because no hitter, not even the best in the big leagues, can lace line drives 33.3 percent of the time like Loney is at the moment.

If he happens to be Casey Kotchman 2.0 – go to Tampa after a down few years, rake, get a fat contract, turn back into a pumpkin – at least he'll have this. He just needs to keep hitting guys like …

7. Clay Buchholz and his Extra UV Protection Ball.

Just kidding. Verdict:

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The one is because he's a pitcher, and every pitcher deserves at least the slightest acknowledgement that his arm could blow up at any moment. We're already at 11 Tommy John surgeries this year and counting. Otherwise, Buchholz looks good. His cutter has grown into an enormous weapon and turned Buchholz from an oft-injured and middling starter into an All-Star with big strikeout numbers.

One interesting bit of information about Buchholz: Hitters are swinging at only 58.6 percent of his pitches in the strike zone. This could mean a number of things:

• Buchholz is hiding the ball well.
• He's outsmarting the hitter with pitch selection.
• His ball moves in mysterious fashion and confounds the hitter.

Some players are excellent at limiting swings. Detroit's Doug Fister, who has the lowest single-season swing percentage since PITCHf/x's implementation, is even chintzier this year: 53.1 percent. Same with Los Angeles' C.J. Wilson, regularly behind Fister and this season at 57.6 percent.

There may be some greater mechanics behind Fister, Wilson and Buchholz throwing the ball over the plate and hitters not biting. The more tried-and-true method to sitting guys down is what …

8. Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli have embraced: strike guys out and don't walk 'em. In a combined 40 2/3 innings this season, they've walked five and struck out 52. They may be the best two relievers of the first quarter, and they happen to pitch the eighth and ninth innings for the same team.

Melancon, 28, arrived in Pittsburgh in the deal for Joel Hanrahan. One blown UCL and flexor tendon later, he almost certainly will be non-tendered by the Red Sox and may not be back until 2015. Melancon, in the meantime, has three more years of cost control in a deal that looks better by the day for GM Neal Huntington. Verdict:

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The only dubiousness is just how much of last year was reality vs. aberration. Melancon, throwing a majority of sinkers, allowed eight home runs in 45 innings. In half that workload this season, he's given up one homer. And while the sinker hasn't been shelved, Melancon has turned into one of the biggest cutterballers in the big leagues. Only Mariano Rivera, Bryan Shaw and teammate Bryan Morris throw a higher percentage of cutters than Melancon's 53.8 percent.

Grilli is a straight fastball-slider power pitcher, and he has pitched like Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman circa 2012. Grilli is striking out 14.46 batters per nine (30 in 18 2/3 innings) and with only four walks is complementing funk with finesse. Verdict:

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He is good – the stuff, the moxie, everything. As for seven other players who didn't get a full dossier but still deserve mention, they run the gamut of dubiousness.

Starling Marte: Suffers from Carlos Gomez Disease with nine walks against 43 strikeouts. Numbers practically identical to last year – except BABIP. Verdict: Mega doobs.

Carlos Santana: Finally, the Santana the Indians thought they had upon his arrival in 2010. Much is owed to a big BABIP spike – he was at .271 coming into the season, 207th among 230 players with at least 1,000 plate appearances between 2010 and 2012 – and the likelihood of that changing over a short period without a correlating spike in line-drive rate (which there hasn't been) makes this one easier. Verdict: Medium doobs.

Scott Feldman: It's too bad the Cubs are at least respectable. Now would be a great time to trade Feldman, who had sign-and-flip written all over him and now has a legitimate market with a 2.19 ERA that is outperforming its peripherals. Verdict: Creeping doobs.

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Scott Feldman is pitching like an ace for the Cubs this season. (USA Today Sports)

Josh Donaldson: Between the defense at third for the A's and the bat that has raked for more than a half-season, Donaldson profiles as a solid six-hole hitter, if not more. Verdict: Middling doobs.

Travis Wood: Crazy reverse split in which he's destroying right-handed hitters (.166/.234/.262) with sliders and a cutter he's throwing more than ever. He's not a 2.03 ERA guy. Something in the 3s, however, is eminently possible. Verdict: Mild doobs.

Shelby Miller: Only a couple seats left on the bandwagon. Verdict: Minuscule doobs.

Matt Harvey: Wagon oversold. Verdict: Zero doobs.

Young starters with stuff are easy to dream on, and …

9. Patrick Corbin has personified that this year. Always second fiddle to Tyler Skaggs as return from the Dan Haren trade, Corbin has a power sinker with improved velocity, secondary pitches that have gone from questions to weapons and greater pitchability, as evidenced by throwing first-pitch strikes to 12 percent more batters. Scouts love what they see as a new-and-improved Corbin.

"I thought he was a [No.] 4 or 5," an NL East scout said. "I've seen him twice now, and I think he's at worst a 3 and very easily could be a 2. He's got command, that sinker is a kamikaze and he's fearless."

The numbers, on the other hand, speak of a different Corbin.

They say his .259 BABIP is too low, especially for a groundball pitcher. (True.) And they say his strand rate – the percentage of players left on base at the end of innings – is absurd at 89.2 percent. (Yup. Only Jeremy Guthrie and Matt Moore's are higher.) And they worry his home runs-per-flyball rate is unsustainably low. In essence, while a 1.52 ERA and 6-0 record say Corbin is a much better pitcher than last season, the peripherals say otherwise.

This is where the doobs meter gets tricky. In the majority of cases, stats and scouts agree on a player. With Corbin, they don't. Having seen Corbin, having heard effusive praise and knowing the rarity of an increase in velocity, I'll bet on his home run rate staying down and the strand rate dip and BABIP jump not derailing him. Verdict:

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This is a bet on the Diamondbacks, too, because an infield of …

10. Paul Goldschmidt, Aaron Hill, Didi Gregorius and Martin Prado should be very kind to a sinker-heavy staff with Corbin, Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley and Brandon McCarthy so reliant on it. And with Daniel Hudson's return imminent – he should be back before the All-Star break – as well as Adam Eaton, Jason Kubel and Hill coming off the disabled list, the Diamondbacks are adding a lot of talent to a team already in first place.

GM Kevin Towers took a world of crap for both the Justin Upton and Trevor Bauer deals this offseason, and some of the criticism was warranted. He deserves plenty of credit, too. Not only were he and his scouts about the only ones to see value in Gregorius' bat, they recognized Goldschmidt for what he is and locked him up through 2018, when he'll be 31.

To get the best years of his career is the reward of good scouting and development. Tom Allison, the D-backs' former scouting director, visited Goldschmidt at Texas State before Arizona popped him in the eighth round. He lasted that long because of a worry he would hit only left-handers, one that platoon splits bore out over the first year or so of his career.

Goldschmidt is a worker, though. He honed his defense at first base, and it's not absurd to think of him as a Gold Glove candidate. He kept peppering balls to the opposite field, same as he did on his way up, not looking at his 6-foot-3, 250-pound frame and pigeonholing himself as a pull-power beast. He worked on hitting righties with drills and video, and while it's a small sample – you could throw five McKaylas on anything now if you were really being a stickler – he's hitting .352/.440/.629 against them this season.

At 25, Goldschmidt is entering his prime years, and as much fun as it is seeing Bryce Harper and Mike Trout and other no-doubt talents ply their trade, watching the evolution of a player like Goldschmidt is a different sort of treat. He wasn't supposed to be this, not even close. That he is – and that McKayla isn't doobsing him – makes his story all the better.

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