Saturday night in Seattle, Carlos Gomez had his first multi-hit game in almost two weeks. In that twelve game period, Gomez was 4 for 35 (.114) with three singles and a home run. Brewers fans hope that Saturday’s game gets Gomez’s gears going again. Gomez has been one of the best and most consistent Brewers bats all year. Add in his unbelievable defense and it’s easy to understand why Gomez earned his first trip to the All Star game.
Prior to the ASG, Gomez was batting .295 with 14 HR / 51 R / 45 RBI / 21 SB. In 362 plate appearances, he walked only 16 times (5.4 BB%) while striking out on 84 occasions (23.2 K%). Gomez still lacked good plate discipline but more than made up for it with both power and speed bolstered by an increased average. Gomez was driving the ball to right field. He was hitting more line drives. He popped up less frequently. All these factors pointed to a player putting it all together. Yet, Gomez’s inflated BABIP suggested a coming correction. For Brewers fans, the question wasn’t if Gomez’s numbers would slip but how far?
The slide began just before the All Star break. Gomez went 2 for 31 (.065) in the nine games before the break. The slump dropped his average below .300 to a respectable .295. Since the break, Gomez is batting .239 with 4 HR / 11 R / 9 RBI / 9 SB. The drop in average may be disconcerting to Brewers fans but it could be worse. First, even with Gomez’s recent slump, he’s still hitting .286 on the year. Second, prior to 2013, Gomez maintained an average over .239 in only three seasons — .260 in 2012, .247 in 2010, and .258 in 2008. So this season’s post-ASG slump average falls within his career norms average. Even if his second half slump alines with his former ceiling on average, overall, it’s a positive for Gomez.
As I mentioned above, Gomez’s high BABIP suggested an impending adjustment. Well, the pendulum has swung fully in the other direction. Here are Gomez’s BABIP splits by month –
BABIP contains an element of luck. Sometimes a ball gets hit hard right at someone. But BABIP isn’t all luck and such a significant drop from July to August suggests that there is more going on here.
First, let’s look at Gomez’s recent approach at the plate. Since the All Star break, Gomez has had 84 plate appearances. He’s walked 11 times (13.1 BB%) and struck out 28 times (33.3 K%). He has more than doubled his walk rate, which was at 5.4 BB% before the ASG. This more patient approach may also account for the up tick in his strike out rate, which was at 23.2 K% prior to the ASG.
Now let’s look at the balls Gomez is putting in play. More often than not line drives result in hits. Gomez’s season BABIP on line drives is .741. According to BrooksBaseball, here are Gomez’s monthly splits for “line drives per ball in play” —
For all of you who prefer to see the relationship visually, here’s a graph (again, courtesy of BrooksBaseball) –
In August, Gomez is squaring up fastballs better than any other time this season. Meanwhile, he has been struggling to get good swings on breaking balls and off-speed pitches. To understand what’s changed, let’s also look at Gomez’s “ground balls per BIP” –
Again, here’s a graph of those numbers –
While Gomez is hitting fewer ground balls on fastballs, he’s pounding way more breaking balls into the ground than he has all season. Finally, to explain what Gomez is doing with off-speed pitches, let’s look at his “fly balls per BIP”. First the chart –
And now the graph –
Now, the Brewers being only 10 games into August explains the extreme 100% fly ball rate on off-speed pitches. That will correct itself during the rest of the month. Right now, it highlights how Gomez has consistently lifted more and more off-speed pitches into the air.
Of course, Gomez’s approach at the plate is only part of the equation. When a hitter breaks out for a stellar first half of the season, pitchers make their own adjustments. According to BrooksBaseball, here’s how left-handed pitchers have attacked Gomez before then after the All Star game –
And here are the results for right-handed pitchers vs Gomez –
Let’s start with the obvious. Left-handed pitchers are giving Gomez fewer fastballs. He’s seeing about the same percentage of sinkers from LHP but four-seam fastballs are down from 35% to 16%. The sinkers are also more likely to come when there are two strikes or the pitcher is ahead in the count.
The dramatic increase in breaking balls from LHP comes primarily from an increase in sliders (11% to 25%) and a slight up tick in curve balls (12% to 16%). LHP are using the slider against Gomez when they are behind in the count. They are also breaking off the curve ball when ahead in the count or have two strikes on him.
Finally, LHP are throwing Gomez more and more change-ups on the first pitch. Since the All Star break, Gomez is just as likely to see a first pitch change-up (33%) as he is to see a first pitch four-seam fastball (33%) from a southpaw.
The adjustment right-hand pitchers have made on Gomez is more subtle. Gomez is seeing a slight increase in four-seam fastballs and sinkers. As a percentage, he is seeing fewer breaking balls but which breaking balls he’s seeing has changed. Before the ASG, Gomez was seeing sliders 19% of the time and curve balls 12%. Following the break, Gomez is now seeing sliders on 23% of pitches and curves 7%. The sliders are also coming, predominantly, when Gomez is behind in the count or has two strikes.
So part of Gomez’s recent struggles can be attributed to his poor BABIP. In addition, pitchers are adjusting to Gomez and forcing him to modify his approach. While it’s obvious that Gomez has taken a step forward this season, the size of the step will be determined by how well he handles the adjustments for the rest of the year.