2014 Position Preview: Centerfield | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

Starter: Carlos Gomez

Backup: Logan Schafer

AAA Depth: Elian Herrera, Kevin Mattison

The Future: Tyrone Taylor, Carlos Gomez

Baseball fans have little trouble with the notion that players who debut in their early twenties tend to improve for the first few years of their career; the difficulty is in comprehending the myriad of paths this improvement can take. We intuitively expect a straight line progression of skills steadily improving each year, but in actuality, many players develop in fits and spurts. Carlos Gomez presents an extreme example of this latter phenomenon, bursting out last season with a huge performance that finally lived up to his high prospect ranking, after disappointing for his first 5+ years in the majors.

Offense is where Gomez’s improvement has come. The old Carlos Gomez was a whiff-tastic out-machine at the plate, striking out nearly a quarter of the time with barely a triple digit ISO to show for it.  He also failed to walk enough to poke his OBP above .300. After returning from a collarbone injury in September of 2011, Carlos made the conscious decision to change his approach at the plate. He eschewed the ground balls and infield hits approach pushed on him by coaches throughout his major league career for a free-swinging, power-hitting approach. He batted this way throughout the 2012 season, striking out as much and walking as seldom as ever.  Despite posting a modest .296 BABIP, however, he hit .260 with a .305 OBP, career highs in both categories to that point. How is this possible? Because balls that land in the seats always count as hits, and he hit 19 of them, 11 more than he had in any previous season. This garnered him the first above-average offensive season of his career.

2012 was merely the prelude to his fantastic 2013, though, which saw him hit .284 with a .338 OBP and an eye-popping .506 SLG, good for a 130 wRC+. This performance was buoyed by a .344 BABIP and a 16.4% HR/FB ratio; the power should continue going forward, but the BABIP will probably regress some. All the same, those numbers did happen and a Carlos Gomez who hits like that is an MVP candidate. That offense combined with his masterful defense was enough to make him one of the best players in the NL last year, coming in second in fWAR to MVP Andrew McCutchen with 7.6, and tying Clayton Kershaw for the league lead in bWAR with 8.2.

Speaking of that defense, while his offense has been an exercise in development, Carlos Gomez is and has always been an artist in centerfield, and last year was his magnum opus. Regular readers of the site do not need me to describe his defensive prowess, so I’d just like to share a few facts in bullet point form:

  • Fangraphs calculated Gomez as being more than two and a half wins more valuable than an average player based on his defense alone (considering performance and position). This was good for third in the majors, behind noted glovemen Manny Machado and Andrelton Simmons.

  • Inside Edge fielding data (available on Fangraphs) identified five fielding chances Gomez faced which outfielders convert 1-10% of the time. Gomez converted 60% of these chances, which led the majors. In other words, if anyone can make a play on a ball, Gomez almost certainly can.

  • Baseball Info Solutions credited Gomez with five home run saving catches last year, which not only led the majors, but is the most they’ve ever recorded in the 10 years they’ve tracked the stat.

  • Gomez won the NL Gold Glove for CF last year, breaking a 30 year drought for the Milwaukee Brewers organization.

  • Remember this? That happened, and it was awesome.

Gomez’s all-out playing style does tend to make him more injury prone; he missed 15 games last year for various strains and sprains accrued in the line of duty, though was able to avoid the DL. It’s unlikely he’ll be able to stay out there for a full 162, but he’s thus far been able to avoid major injury, aside from a broken collarbone in 2011.

When he is out, his spot will most likely be taken by Logan Schafer. Schafer was drafted by the Brewers in the third round of the 2008 draft. The numbers seem to have him as roughly average to above average in center. That’s good for him, because his major league numbers at the plate are nothing to write home about. He should probably improve some on the .211/.279/.322 line he posted last year, if only because his .252 BABIP is likely to improve substantially given his speed.  At 27 years of age, though, he’s unlikely to show much more improvement in his skills. He’s a more than adequate fill in if he’s only needed for 15-20 games, but if Gomez misses significant time, he’ll be a weak spot.

Elian Herrera and Kevin Mattison are currently in the Brewers’ camp. Both were acquired this winter. Herrera was claimed on waivers from the Dodgers, and Mattison was claimed from the Marlins in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft. Both are 27 years old, have played CF professionally before, and as near as I can tell, neither are deceased. This is roughly the extent of their qualifications. If either see significant playing time, the season is not going well.

Gomez is signed for the 2014, 2015, and 2016 seasons for a total of $24 million, having agreed to an extension for the same just before his breakout 2013. If he’s able to have more seasons like last year, he’ll be one of the best bargains in baseball. Even if he regresses significantly from last year, he’ll still be a very good bargain. Either way, that contract definitely needs to go on the list of Doug Melvin’s greatest hits.

Of course, if Gomez continues to rake, he should be in line for a major raise after 2016, when he’ll be only 31 years old. Should the Brewers prove unable to resign him, right now the most promising successor in the system looks like Tyrone Taylor. He’s a toolsy 20 year old drafted in the second round of the 2012 draft. He spent last year in Low-A, where he hit .274/.338/.400, good for a 109 wRC+. If he develops to his potential, he’ll be an above-average defender with good contact skills and some power. However, at this point he’s still more ceiling than floor.

Best Case Scenario: Carlos Gomez duplicates his performance from last year and combines with Ryan Braun to anchor the best outfield in baseball. The voters would normally honor this by ignoring fielding and awarding Braun the MVP, but, y’know, PEDs and all that unpleasantness. So they instead honor Gomez…and they’re right to do so, as he actually posts a higher WAR than Braun, proving that it’s possible to do the right thing for the wrong reasons.

Worst Case Scenario: Gomez turns back into a pumpkin offensively, and would lose playing time as his defense is unable to make up for his out-machine tendencies…except Logan Schafer is busy hitting like the pre-2012 Gomez, but without the fabulous defense. Center field becomes a black hole both defensively (where it’s a good thing) and offensively (where it’s a bad thing) for the Brewers.

Most Likely Scenario: Gomez settles in as a slightly above average hitter, with enough power to offset his relative lack of on-base skills. This, combined with his otherworldly defense and baserunning, still makes him an excellent player, though not an MVP candidate.

 

Carlos Gomez ZiPS: .260/.313/.462

Carlos Gomez PECOTA: .251/.305/.413

Logan Schafer ZiPS: .243/.300/.358

Logan Schafer PECOTA: .249/.305/.375

So far in the series:

 3/10: Ryan previewed the catcher position

3/11: Curt previewed first base

3/12: Jonathan previewed second base

3/13: Steve previewed third base

3/14: Vineet previewed short stop

3/17: Adam previewed left field

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