Mental approach raises Goldschmidt's game
D-backs first baseman continues to look for ways to improve
PHOENIX -- It's a question that makes Paul Goldschmidt pause as he tries to come up with an answer.
Sitting in front of his locker before a recent game, Goldschmidt, one of the elite hitters in baseball, spoke with MLB.com about his mental approach to the game.
So just how much of his success does he credit to the mental side of the game?
"A super high percentage," Goldschmidt says. "I don't know if you're saying 95 percent, 75 percent, but it's up there. Because I know physically I was talented, I was good at a young age, so there's definitely that part of it. But to get the big leagues and have success … how you improve is by the mental side."
Goldschmidt's 2015 stats
Goldschmidt started learning and improving his mental approach in the Minor Leagues through his work with Minor League manager Turner Ward and hitting coach Alan Zinter.
An eighth-round pick in the 2009 Draft, Goldschmidt was not a highly-regarded prospect. Scouts felt he had a long swing and was below-average defensively. That may have been true, but what they didn't take into account was a mentality that would allow him to make the necessary adjustments.
Ward, now the D-backs' hitting coach and Zinter, who is the Astros' assistant hitting coach, would talk with Goldschmidt about how to deal with the failure inherent in a sport whose best hitters don't get hits seven out of 10 times as well as how to never give away at-bats regardless of the score.
"I think those guys started putting it into my head things I didn't realize at the time would be considered a mental part of the game," Goldschmidt said. "But then when you start to learn, you look back and you realize those guys were awesome and taught me so much. Maybe I would have even made the big leagues without those guys, but I wouldn't have been as successful."
When Goldschmidt got to the D-backs in August of 2011, he met Peter Crone, a mind and performance coach. Crone has worked with the D-backs since 2009 and when he and Goldschmidt met, they immediately hit it off.
"He helps you take a lot of stress and worry out of things," Goldschmidt said. "Whether it's a fear of failure or really any type of fear, we all have fears or think too much about the future or the past and let that affect us. He just tries to put you in a state of mind where you're focused, but relaxed. It helps you get the distractions out of your head whether it's a fear of failure or worrying about results."
A year later, Goldschmidt crossed paths with former big leaguer Steve Springer, who has worked with players for years on their mental approaches.
"His main message is that you focus on the process," Goldschmidt said. "You want to have a quality at-bat and hit the ball hard. If you're able to do that, then it's a successful at-bat regardless of the outcome."
Trying to get Goldschmidt to say something about his success is a difficult endeavor.
Once you understand his mental approach to the game, though, you can see why that's the case.
"If you start thinking because you had a 3-for-4 game or are on a good streak that now you're the greatest or you have it all figured out, then the next day when you go 0-for-4, what do you say then, I'm the worst player?" Goldschmidt said. "I just try to be honest. I'm not thinking about all those things that people are asking me about."
Things like All-Star Game voting, where he ranks among his peers, or how many consecutive games he's hit in do not help him succeed and therefore are things that he chooses not to focus on or talk about.
"I mean, what am I going to do, start thinking about what other people's opinions are or make comparisons to other players?" he said. "All that does is distract me from doing my best to help our team. It's not going to be helpful to me or the team so I'm focused on just being the best that I can be, whatever that is. I just try to take out as many distractions that I can."
Look in Goldschmidt's locker at home or on the road and you'll always find a book. Sometimes it is a business tome, other times it is "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz, which Crone recommended.
Goldschmidt meticulously records notes in the back of the book of things he wants to remember. Some books he'll take more out of than others, but he's always on the lookout for some new piece of information.
When Goldschmidt is in the dugout, he's talking baseball with Ward, or a teammate, trying to pick up even the tiniest bit of information.
When Goldschmidt was on the disabled list for the final two months of last season, he made sure to get his rehab work in early so he could always be behind the batting cage during batting practice, with the belief that there would be something he could learn by watching Ward work with other hitters.
"Maybe you read a book and there's only one thing you get out of it, but know you're a little bit better because you took that one little quote from it," Goldschmidt said. "It's the same thing when talking with teammates about hitting. Maybe I'm talking with A.J. [Pollock] and he says 10 things and I just take one of his things and the other nine you let go. That's why I always try to ask questions and talk with the hitting coach, or manager, or watch other guys."
Taking it to another level
Goldschmidt realized that his talks with Crone were helping on the field, so he decided to work even more on a one-on-one basis with him.
The lessons not only help him on the baseball field, but off it as well.
"He has a program where he works with athletes and actors and businessmen and so we've been doing a more detailed program this year," Goldschmidt said. "We had been talking about it for a while. Every time he'd come around, we'd have a great conversation and I'd feel like I was in a better place mentally and I was like, why don't I do that more often? Physically, I'm not really going to get that much better, so the mental side is pretty much the best way to try and improve."