Gauging Gomez | Disciples of Uecker

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Gauging Gomez

By on February 24, 2014

Last season, Carlos Gomez gave Brewers fans something positive to discuss. Gomez posted the best numbers of his career across every major offensive category and won a Gold Glove for his stellar center field play. Yet, Gomez’s performance was only part of the story. His breakout season occurred after the Brewers’ front office signed him to a long-term deal. If the Brewers hadn’t been proactive, Gomez would have become a free agent, making this a very different off-season for the Crew.

Instead, the Brewers gave Gomez $4.3 M last year, his final arbitration eligible season. They then bought out his first three years of free agency for $24M — $7 M for 2014, $8 M for 2015, and $9 M for 2016. After last season’s performance, it would be safe to say that, if Gomez was a free agent this off-season, Scott Boras probably would have gotten him more than $24 M over three years.

Boras is famous for handing out binders overflowing with info on his free agents. Like the 73-page book Boras put together for Prince Fielder, which “projects that Fielder will have 600 homers, 1,700 RBIs and 1,500 walks by age 37. Those totals would place him in the exclusive company of Ruth and Barry Bonds.” In the alternate universe where Gomez had a Boras binder this off-season, I’m sure it would be overflowing with nuggets like “since 2012, only two players have compiled more than 40 HR and 70 SB. One is Mike Trout. The other Carlos Gomez.”

Now, I don’t know what other glorious statistical cherry picking would fill this hypothetical Boras binder on Gomez, but I do know one thing: the majority of it would focus on Gomez’s offensive performance over the last two seasons. Or, even more specifically, the last season and a half. Here are his 2012 first and second half splits –

1st Half 178 .233 .703 5 11
2nd Half 274 .278 .809 14 26

Collectively, Gomez managed a .260 AVG / .768 OPS in 2012. Both were career highs at the time, and the first season Gomez pushed his OPS over .700. It also became the first time, at the major league level, that Gomez’s offense was statistically above average, though only by a slim margin. His 104 wRC+ shows just how close he came to average in 2012. (100 wRC+ is league average, meaning Gomez was 4% better than a league average player).

Now here are his first and second half splits for 2013 —

1st Half 362 .295 .870 14 21
2nd Half 228 .265 .799 10 19

Overall, Gomez hit for a .284 AVG / .843 OPS last year. With his 130 wRC+ showing that he had become an above average offensive force.

With the dramatic jump in power, AVG, and OPS between the first and second halves of the 2012 season, it’s easy to see why a Boris binder on Gomez would hone in on the last season and a half. It would proclaim that Gomez turned a corner, figured it all out, made the necessary adjustments, etc. All attributes that standard player prediction models don’t factor into their equations.

Since Gomez’s adjustments are not hard data, Steamer and Oliver, projection systems featured at Fangraphs, don’t factor them into their equations. Only their repercussions do. These systems only see that Gomez had two above average seasons in addition to a bunch of below average seasons. Each projection system has their own angle on the data, but none can factor in how an adjustment permanently changed Gomez’s approach at the plate.

So what is expected of Gomez in 2014? Stellar defense seems a certainty, but how much do the projection systems believe in Gomez’s offensive?

Steamer 568 .254 .746 21 33
CAIRO 439 .268 .805 20 29
Oliver 544 .274 .819 25 36

The Steamer and Oliver predictions can be found here and Cairo predictions here. On first blush, each projection expects Gomez to regress in 2014. To what degree is the main difference.

Steamer is the least optimistic about Gomez’s upcoming season. They see Gomez’s average returning to his career norm, which is .255. It does believe that the power will stick as the projected .746 OPS is still above his .710 career average. But, overall, Steamer predicts that 2014 will be more like 2012 for Gomez. Their 104 wRC+ prediction exactly matches Gomez’s 2012 output.

CAIRO sees a more productive 2014 season for Gomez than Steamer, but that doesn’t necessarily make for a rosier outlook. CAIRO’s projections fall in line with what Gomez did the second half of last season. Similar power, AVG, and OPS but not nearly as many steals (Gomez had 19 SB in only the second half of 2013). The reason why? CAIRO expects Gomez to have only 439 AB next year. Last year, players who had around 439 AB, and drew a similar amount of walks as Gomez, played in between 124 to 142 games. That means CAIRO thinks Gomez will miss at least a month of the season due to injury.

Finally, Oliver has the most faith that the Gomez from last season will be back. While they predict that his AVG and OPS will dip, they see him hitting one more home run and stealing only a few less bases. Overall, Oliver pencils in Gomez for a 125 wRC+ campaign in 2014. Much closer to his 2013 levels than 2012.

So which of the three projections should a Brewers fan believe? To determine that, let’s dig deeper and see if Gomez’s 2012 adjustments show up in any other advanced metrics and what they might tell us.

All three 2014 projections factored in a lower BABIP for Gomez. Last year, Gomez set a career high with a .344 BABIP. His career average is a .311 BABIP. Next year, Steamer expects a .303 BABIP and Oliver .330 BABIP. On this front, I would tend to agree with Oliver’s more optimistic prediction. To understand why, let’s look at Gomez’s BABIP splits over the last two seasons –

2012 (1st Half) .277
2012 (2nd Half) .308
2013 (1st Half) .353
2013 (2nd Half) .328

Since Gomez’s 2012 adjustment, his BABIP split has never been as low Steamer’s 2014 projection. BABIP involves a small degree of luck but, more so, it falls inline with a player’s historical trends. Gomez’s recent trend doesn’t suggest his BABIP will slip below .300. Looking at his batted ball splits shows why.

2012 (1st Half) 17.8 34.7 47.5 0.73 8.9
2012 (2nd Half) 15.8 43.7 40.5 1.08 18.2
2013 (1st Half) 18.4 42.6 38.9 1.09 14.7
2013 (2nd Half) 26.3 36.5 37.2 0.98 19.6

First off, let’s talk about line drives. Line drives are most likely to become hits and, last year, Gomez hit more of them than ever before. That’s great because Gomez hit for a .700 AVG on line drives last year. Gomez’s 26.3 LD% in the second half is an extremely encouraging sign, though I don’t expect him to maintain that clip. For reference, Robinson Cano had a 26.0 LD% last season. But Gomez’s increasing LD% signals his ability to square up balls better.

Now, there’s been a lot of talk about Gomez adjusting his swing to not hit the ball on the ground as much. Yet, the data above shows that Gomez’s best two halves came when he put the ball on the ground the most. Gomez’s best AVG and OPS season splits came when his GB/FB ratio peaked, above 1. Even at its highest, Gomez’s GB% is below league average. But that doesn’t mean Gomez is trying to lift every ball off the ground, as is evidenced by his FB%.

As you can see, Gomez’s FB% has steadily dropped over the past two seasons. He’s still hitting fly balls at above the league average FB%, but not nearly as much as he previously did. The good news is that more of the fly balls Gomez hits are becoming home runs. His HR/FB ratio has jumped significantly since the start of the 2012 season and it isn’t due to luck. As ESPN’S Home Run Tracker shows, Gomez’s power spike is legit –

HR Avg. True Distance Avg. Std. Distance
2010 5 381.2 379.6
2011 8 352.8 352
2012 19 401.8 399.7
2013 24 401.5 398

With the pressure to be a ground ball machine off of him, Gomez is not afraid to let it rip when he sees a pitch he likes. It’s resulting in better contact, as his LD% indicates, and more power on pitches he can elevate. For these reasons, I’m optimistic that Gomez’s 2014 BABIP will land closer to the .330 predicted by Oliver.

Of course, any Brewers fan that watched Gomez at the end of last season will remember how often he swung himself out of his shoes. Gomez’s increased LD% and HR/FB were accompanied by a spike in strikeouts. This has some prognosticators worried. Here’s a look at Gomez’s plate disciple splits over the last two seasons.

2012 (1st Half) 22.5 5.1 0.23
2012 (2nd Half) 21.2 4.0 0.19
2013 (1st Half) 23.2 4.4 0.19
2013 (2nd Half) 27.2 9.2 0.34

Gomez’s second half spike in Ks wasn’t good, but it wasn’t all bad news either. As you can see, Gomez more than doubled his BB% too. So even though Gomez’s AVG was 30 points lower in the second half, his OBP was slightly higher — .337 OBP for the first half and .339 for the second half.

In addition, Gomez’s home run rate stat also increased in the second half.

2013 PA HR HR%
1st Half 362 14 3.9%
2nd Half 228 10 4.4%

Meaning, Gomez could have been going balls-to-the-wall on more pitches, which would account for his increased HR% and for falling over himself when missing. So, though no Brewers fan wants to see Gomez continue to K at a 27% clip, even that cloud had a silver lining.

In the end, the majority of Gomez’s stats show that he turned a corner during the second half of the 2012 season. Personally, I think that some projections still undervalue Gomez because they can’t factor in that his approach at the plate has changed for the better. But it’s not a bad thing that some folks think Gomez may hit .255 this year. It’s definitely better than having a Boris binder inflating expectations to unattainable heights.

For the 2014 season, even if Gomez regresses to the range of a .270 AVG/ .810 OPS, his speed, power, and defense will make him an extremely valuable player. A player worthy of every cent of the $7 M that the Brewers’ will pay him.

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