Welcome to Rounding the Bases, a weekly discussion between Ryan Topp and Steve Garczynski. This week they discuss the All-Star first halves for Jean Segura and Carlos Gomez. Join the discussion by following @SteveGarczynski and @RyanTopp on Twitter.
The All-Star game is upon us and the Milwaukee Brewers have two deserving representatives in Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura. Showing and advanced approach at the plate and solid defense at short, Segura rides a .320/.356/.487 triple slash into the break. Gomez has been spectacular in centerfield, already racking up 22 defensive runs saved, and hitting .305/.346/.547. He’s been arguably* the best player in the National League.
It depends on how much stock is given to defensive numbers. Gomez still has an aggressive approach, he’s just been hitting for a much higher average and slugging percentage.
This season for both players has been at least a little bit surprising. Segura has shown the ability to hit for average throughout the minors, but there weren’t many people who thought he’d hit out of the gate in the majors, possibly because he’s hit with some unexpected power.
Carlos Gomez is making a case for teams to stop coaching players with elite speed to hit the ball on the ground. Once Gomez was allowed to let it fly, his slugging and productivity increased. He’s still walking and striking out around the same percentages as he always has, it’s just coming with swings that cause more damage.
Ryan, is there anything else about Gomez and Segura that you’ve taken away from the first half?
They’ve both certainly outplayed my expectations for this year, that’s for sure. Coming into the year, I viewed both as complimentary players, guys capable of maybe being positive contributors based on their positional value, but not the kinds of guys to lead a lineup like they have. With any breakout performance, especially those that come as something of a surprise, it’s legitimate to ask how sustainable it is.
I guess I figured that Segura might be capable of something like this down the line, when he’d gained a few years of experience and was in the general prime years of his career. Instead, he’s arrived well ahead of schedule, leaving us to wonder just how much better he might get, or if we’re seeing one of those early peak years that some players put up and then try to live up to the rest of their careers.
Segura was a legitimate top 50 prospect, so it’s not like this is coming out of the blue, but there are a few signs of caution that should be thrown before buying in that we’re looking at a budding superstar. First off, a decent amount of his value is tied to the fact that it’s coming from a shortstop, and there is some pretty big disagreement between advanced metrics on how good Segura is defensively at short. FRAA absolutely loves him, UZR has him well below average. If Segura ends up needing to move off short, that will decrease his value, at least offensively.
Perhaps the larger issue with Segura is how he’s doing it offensively. His Infield hit percentage is second to Mike Trout in all of baseball, and that has him second in baseball in IF hits behind only his own teammate Nori Aoki, who hits more ground balls. That’s a big part of why he’s hitting .319, and that makes his 3.9% walk rate tolerable, at least for now. He covers the plate fairly well and does damage against most types of pitches, so making hard contact isn’t exactly shocking. Still, he’s almost certainly going to need to walk more in the future to sustain this sort of offensive value as his speed and perhaps a little luck decline.
Is that an unfair assessment, Steve?
For the rest of the season, ZiPS projects Segura to hit .293/.335/.431 versus the Baseball Prospectus projection of .274/.309/.407. They both seem to have Segura increasing his walk rate from 3.9% to around 5%. He isn’t going to make some drastic improvement at the plate where he becomes a walking machine. Segura’s value at the plate is likely to remain tied closely to his batting average. Both of those projections are fair and I wouldn’t be surprised to see his second half numbers settle somewhere in the middle. If you said at the beginning of the season that he’d hit .309/.347/.431 with 16 home runs, no one would be disappointed.
The second half projection for Gomez is similar to Segura where ZiPS is kinder (.270/.317/.466) than Baseball Prospectus (.253/.298/.415). ZiPS buys into Gomez’s power spike with a .198 ISO in the second half, close to his .202 ISO in 2012. It will be interesting to watch his defensive numbers because Gomez posted a 13.9 UZR, helping to boost his WAR to the lofty top spot in the NL. That may be more difficult to replicate than the batting numbers and Fangraphs has him only producing a third of that value from here on out. What’s crazy is that if Gomez produces a .291/.335/.515 batting line with 6.4 WAR on the season, the Brewer will have already come out ahead on his contract extension.
Maybe these two are a couple of the elite players in the National League by the end of the season, but it’s encouraging that even the in-season projection don’t have them falling off a cliff. Do you think those numbers look about right for the rest of the season?
Both make sense as sort of middle-of-the-road projections, though I won’t be at all surprised if either keeps up their first half pace or if they have legitimate slumps that really drag the overall numbers down from very good to decent.
Gomez is really more of a concern from a massive regression standpoint, just because we so often see guys put it together for a season or two around this age and then never again come close to that level of play. Of course Carlos Gomez was a much more highly regarded prospect than guys like Scott Podsednik and Casey McGehee, and his near-future floor is probably considerably higher than the regressions they suffered, if for no other reason than his defense doesn’t figure to disappear anytime soon. Still, it’s something to be aware of.
Ultimately, I think there is a pretty decent chance we’ll end up looking back on Gomez’s current value and wish the team had cashed it in this year for some top flight prospects. Not that I’m saying they should do that, because I’m neither convinced he’s going to suffer a massive falloff, or that the team can’t compete for something meaningful before the end of the 2016 season when this contract runs out. It’s more that I think that both of those things are possible enough that if someone were to offer multiple top flight prospects for Gomez, there would be a pretty good chance that it would be the best possible use of the asset the way things look at this moment. It’s not remotely practical, as it would be a sure-fire sign of the sort of complete firesale that makes a pariah out of owners, and that just isn’t going to happen.
I guess I’m just not 100% sold that we’re seeing a totally new Gomez here, one that’s capable of sustaining something significantly closer to his last 162 MLB games than to his first 600. I know a lot of smart people like ESPN’s Keith Law think he’s turned a corner and this is legit, but I’m still wary. Perhaps because of the approach? What do you think, Steve?
I’m buying the Gomez “power approach” for two reasons; 1) Scouts projected that he would add power as he matured. The power was always in his swing and now he’s able to use it. 2) As long as he’s driving the ball, he’s eliminating some of the luck that comes along with hoping ground balls clear the infield. The Willie Mays Hayes approach was funny in Major League, but not for guys with some legit pop.
Even though I don’t expect a major fall off in Gomez’s production, I’d be on board with shopping him while his value is high. He’s 27 years old, right in the heart of his prime and is likely producing as well as he ever will in the majors.
Also, his contract running through 2016 is another consideration. If the Brewers trade any combination of Kyle Lohse, Yovani Gallardo, Rickie Weeks and Nori Aoki, they’re going to struggle in 2014. You’re then hoping the front office gets everything rebuilt by 2015, which is tough to do. If the team isn’t going to be competitive during Gomez’s prime, it would be a good idea to get as much value as possible.