Will Carlos Gomez Improve?

The community projected Carlos Gomez to hit .255/.314/.373 this year. Currently, he's hitting .229/.282/.356. With Lorenzo Cain tearing up AAA (and AA before that) and having a reputation as a stellar center fielder, the Brewers need to determine if Gomez is capable of hitting at a level to justify long-term playing time. With his current level of hitting, he's just slightly better than a replacement level player. UZR rates his defense as just average this year, and his WAR is at .2, showing that Gomez's line is actually slightly better than a replacement-level center fielder's might be. But a slightly above replacement-level center fielder does the Brewers little good in 2011 and beyond with Cain almost ready to go. 

So what kind of value does Gomez have? I explained earlier in the season how valuable a top-flight defender like Gomez would be if he could just muster up a league average line, or something close to what we projected him at. So the question on my mind is, is there hope that he could hit at that level in the future? That would put the Brewers in a much better situation going forward, giving them two valuable center fielders, which can never really be a bad thing.

Gomez seems to fall into the trap of having just enough power to justify swinging for home runs at the expense of getting a base hit at times. He seems to have a strange approach, I've noted that I can usually tell when he's gunning for a home run or a single. And that approach seems to vary from pitch to pitch.

There are always those who suggest that fast baseball players hit the ball on the ground as often as possible, and I'm not really a fan of that idea. Gomez is actually putting up the highest groundball rate of his career, and he's done a fantastic job of avoiding infield pop-ups, which had been a big problem for him in the past. Unfortunately, his line drives are down per Fangraphs classification.

Digging into some other trends, I noticed that Gomez's strikeouts and walks have held steady since last year. He strikes out in about 22% of his at-bats and walks in about 6%. It would be very helpful if he would show improvement in those two areas soon, because he is leaving himself a lot of room for better offensive production.

I generally subscribe to the idea that a batter can have plenty of influence over their BABIP, and this year, I think I can make a case for Gomez being a bit unlucky. His BABIP currently stands at .271, average is around .300. A speedy guy like Gomez should be able to top that number with ease, and he averaged around .330 in the minors. In his best year by far, with the Twins in 2008, his BABIP was .330, last year it fell to .286 and this year it's at .271. He has put up those last two numbers with the exact same overall batting average, .229. This makes me think that he's been unlucky so far. I would expect his BABIP to rebound up to about the .290 range at least, even if he maintains his current skill level of hitting. That would at least bring his actual batting average up to the .240-.250 range. He should be able to do even better than that if he starts to hit the ball better.

There's nothing really out of the ordinary in Gomez's pitch selection and swinging rates compared to past years, except that he seems to be swinging at a few more pitches outside of the zone.

So if it's time for my evaluation, I don't really know what to say. Gomez has a ton of baseball talent, and if he is able to improve his skills even slightly and that is coupled with a little luck, we could see a nice second half. Gomez needs to be able to hit something like .250/.310/.370. That doesn't seem like much, but when a player is as good at defense is Gomez is, that would at least give him league average production and some value as a starter or a trade chip. The fact that he has 3 years of team control left after this one does little good if he continues to play at replacement level.

I like Gomez as a player and though I questioned the Hardy for Gomez trade at the time, I thought Gomez had a good chance for success. I have a feeling that if he is given consistent playing time he will develop into the player I am talking about here-- a slightly below league average hitter with amazing defense, who is a valuable part of a team. However, I don't know if that potential will be reached this year, and I don't know how long the Brewers will be willing to wait with Lorenzo Cain moving fast.

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