Carlos Gomez has been a plus defender in center field since he first donned a big-league uniform. FanGraphs estimates he’s been worth +64.6 runs defensively over his seven-year career, which using the sabermetric standard of ten runs equaling a “win,” we can effectively argue that Gomez has been worth six wins above the norm with his glove alone.
That can be a bit abstract to think about. On Monday night, though, Gomez’s glove in center field quite literally stole a potential victory from the Cincinnati Reds.
It got a bit dicey in the top of the ninth inning when Francisco Rodriguez issued a two-out walk to Derrick Robinson after an eight-pitch battle. The free pass brought up Joey Votto with a chance to take a one-run lead with a home run. K-Rod tried to tie him up with a fastball on the inner half, but Votto barreled up the baseball and launched a moonshot to center. What appeared to be a go-ahead home run and a blown save quickly transformed into one of the greatest plays of the entire Major League Baseball season.
Statistically, Carlos Gomez has been the best center field (or outfield) defender in all of baseball. Only Baltimore’s third baseman Manny Machado owns a higher UZR, and only Atlanta’s shortstop Andrelton Simmons has more defensive runs saved. In almost every defensive metric, Gomez has been truly elite, and Monday’s spectacular game-saving play just serves as a dramatic example of that elite status.
His defensive prowess is one of the main reasons he’s already been a five-win player this season and why he currently ranks number one in the National League in WAR (Wins Above Replacement). Sure, he’s playing at an All-Star level. In reality, though, he’s compiling MVP-type numbers. And for those who argue defense is overrated by statheads, it’s hard to overstate the magnitude of his leaping grab against the Reds.
It may only be the second week of July, but Gomez has to be the favorite to win a Gold Glove this season. We can make jokes about his offensive production and how that finally makes him a candidate for the award. More specifically, though, this will be the first year in a Brewers uniform where he will likely amass 600 plate appearances. Part time players don’t deserve Gold Glove awards, and Gomez’s turnaround at the plate has finally made it worth giving him the everyday role in center.
The great Mark Simon of ESPN’s SweetSpot network wrote an article last month in which he argued opposing hitters simply cannot hit the baseball over Gomez’s head. At the time of the article, Gomez had only allowed one non-homer to land over his head in straight-away center field. It was a double to Adrian Gonzalez in Los Angeles on April 26. Since then, Gomez has also allowed a double to Starling Marte. Still, the larger point holds true. Carlos Gomez can go back on the baseball better than anyone in the game.
To make the point a little more nuanced, he’s truly special at Miller Park where he’s familiar with the dimensions and very comfortable with his routes. As of July 9, Gomez hasn’t allowed a single non-homer to get over his head at Miller Park when he’s going back on the baseball.
The massive white space in and around the circle illustrates Gomez’s impact in center field. There has not been a single hit anywhere near the wall in center field. Not one. That’s almost unfathomable to think about. That means every single baseball hit to center to deep center field in Miller Park has either been a home run or caught. No doubles caroming off the top of the wall. No screaming liners misread off the bat. No balls skipping off the tip of his glove. It’s been nothing but death for fly balls hit to center field in Miller Park.
Carlos Gomez can still amaze fans with Web Gems, but he’s also becoming more intelligent defensively. He’s taking better routes. He’s getting better reads. He’s not just relying on his plus-speed to make up for occasional mistakes. Carlos Gomez has developed into the best center fielder in all of baseball, and it’s getting to the point that it may not even be a debate.
Just ask Joey Votto. There’s likely not a doubt in his mind who’s the best outfield defender in Major League Baseball. He saw it firsthand on Monday evening, and it cost his team a victory.