There are certain players whose struggles at the plate are understandable. It’s clear that some players are in the major leagues for their gloves, not their bats. Some of them make it incredibly obvious:
Then, there are players like Carlos Gomez. Clearly, Gomez’s glove is the reason he has become a valuable member of Milwaukee’s roster. It isn’t difficult to find fault with his hitting. There’s the .291 career on-base percentage, or the 22.5% of career plate appearances ending in strikeouts, or the 76 career wRC+. Either way, it’s not pretty.
But it’s not like Gomez has never shown flashes. It’s not like he is just incapable of hitting the ball hard. No, when Gomez squares one up, he connects with the best of them:
Note the location of the pitch: low and inside. Gomez has shown for some time the ability to pull the ball with big time power, but it hasn’t manifested itself in big-time power numbers. Improvement was shown in 2011, as Gomez slugged .403 and hit eight home runs in just 258 plate appearances — a pace for 19 over a typical 600-plate appearance full season. Although he has shown very little in other areas of the game — discipline and contact, in particular — Gomez’s pull power make his bat palatable for the platoon.
Gomez’s pull power is even more exaggerated when we look at his incredible success with pitches like those in the videos above — off the plate inside. Observe:
Image from ESPN Stats & Information. Click to embiggen.
This heatmap shows Carlos Gomez’s slugging percentage on all balls hit into play based on pitch location over his two seasons as a Milwaukee Brewer. Inside the strike zone, Gomez has a somewhat typical profile, showing decent power on balls down the middle of the plate. But, as is highlighted, Gomez has shown incredible power on pitches inside — and well inside — off the plate.
Unsurprisingly, as in the video, Gomez is hitting these pitches to left field.
Overall, Gomez sports a .308/.341/.692 line on these pitches as a Brewer (which includes pitches which resulted in a strikeout or walk) and a .375/.375/.844(!) line on pitches hit in play. It’s a small sample overall — 138 pitches, 31 balls in play — but it certainly appears that this is a “hot zone” for Gomez where we wouldn’t typically expect to see one.
All of which leads to the question — if Gomez is hitting four home runs and three doubles on 31 balls in play on pitches inside and sometimes far inside, would it help him to stand closer to the plate? He struggles to make contact on pitches on the outer third of the plate, sporting a 20.7% whiff rate on these pitches as opposed to 14.9% over the rest of the zone (and just 10.1% off the inside corner). And it appears he has room to make at least a slight move:
A number of Gomez’s issues at the plate stem from his inability to make contact. His discipline issues are only compounded when he cannot make contact on pitches inside the zone as well. Although there is much more to hitting than simply altering stances — mentality and mechanics chief among them — the data presented here suggests to me that the Brewers may be able to use Gomez’s ability to turn on pitches to his advantage by moving him in closer to the plate. He could cover the outside half of the plate better — a key weakness — and turn his mere good performance on the inside part of the plate (where more pitches are thrown than off the plate inside) into great performance.
This isn’t something I necessarily expect to happen, nor should it necessarily happen. Maybe the Brewers’ coaching staff know something about Gomez that suggests he wouldn’t be able to make the switch as a hitter. Maybe it would compromise his ability to hit up-and-in. But Gomez most certainly has a skill with regards to hitting the very inside pitch, and it seems like he could get even more use out of it if he could get more pitches inside that wheelhouse.