Perhaps the most important factor when trying to project how a team might perform in the upcoming season is to scroll down the roster and pinpoint which players are likely to regress and which players might be poised for a breakout campaign. This becomes inevitably more crucial when looking at a roster like the Brewers, where we’re seeing primarily all familiar faces.
One player who at first glance seems destined to come crashing back to earth is Carlos Gomez. In his third season since being shipped down I-94 in 2010, he was finally able to see some steady work in center with Nyjer Morgan’s OBP plateauing around .300 and Gomez offering a clear defensive upgrade with, at worst, similar offensive production. Gomez took full advantage of the at bats, logging his first season at any level of pro ball with double-digit home runs (19) and posting his best ever wOBA (.329) and slugging percentage (.463). A career year at the plate also came with his most efficient and productive year on the bases — notching a career-high 37 swipes (tied for fifth most in the N.L.) while being caught just six times.
Maybe it’s the fact that 2013 will be Gomez’s age-27 season, or maybe it’s because his regression seems a little too obvious, but for whatever reason, I’m inclined to take the glass-half full outlook on his upcoming season. I mentioned Morgan, partly to explain why Gomez had 415 at bats, and not 515, but I also mentioned The Artist Formerly Known As Plush because I want to dissuade the Brewer faithful of any instincts to compare the two players and point to Morgan’s regression in 2012 as a justification to predict the same for Gomez in 2013. Gomez is a physical specimen — a former top prospect that helped anchor a deal that landed the Mets Johan Santana in his prime. Morgan has more in common with Craig Counsell.
Gomez was incredibly consistent in the final three months of the season, hitting five home runs each month, while batting .274 in July, .260 in August and .275 in September/October. The elephant in the room is whether his 2012 power is repeatable, considering he more than doubled his previous career best in homers. This is where I tend to harken back to the fact that Gomez will be 27 this year. Most players see their power numbers continue to trend up around this stage in their careers, yet none of the projection systems on FanGraphs foresee him topping his power output from last year.
His home run/fly ball ratio and slugging percentage have both increased in each of the past four seasons, so I have no problem projecting a 20-HR season from the Brewers’ centerfielder as long as he sees around 500 at bats.
That’s where it gets interesting — nobody seems quite sure how many at bats Gomez will get in 2013, with Bill James going so low as to project just 351 at bats for him this year. That makes little sense to me, as Logan Schafer is the only other centerfielder with a solid shot at making the roster, and though Schafer is good defensively, he’s not an upgrade over Gomez. A soft platoon also doesn’t seem logical because Gomez hit .261 against lefties last year and .260 against righties. Look for him to get more than 500 at bats for the first time in his career in 2013.
The defensive metrics — Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) — show Gomez having a pretty down year in 2012.
Fifteen defensive runs saved is gold-glove caliber, and yet Gomez got there while starting just 59 games, so suffice it to say, none of these numbers tell the whole story by themselves. However, I do recall several high-leverage gaffes on Gomez’s part last season, that would have singlehandedly beat up his DRS a bit. These mistakes where the product of lack of focus, and poor decision making, so there’s no physical reason he can’t rebound in a big way in 2013.
Obviously he’s not without one big, glaring flaw. His 6.3 percent walk rate in 2009 with the Twins is his career best, and he posted an unfathomable 4.4 percent walk rate last season. But a player with his tools can be afforded a weakness or two if he can pick up where he left off in 2012, where he was a 3.5-win player according to FanGraphs in just 137 games. If the Brewers struggle to stay in the hunt for the division title this year like PECOTA is predicting, it won’t be because of Gomez, who in my eyes, has all the makings of a 4-win player en route to another career year in 2013.