Counting on Carlos Gomez

Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

The Brewers' center fielder walks a thin line between usefulness and replacement level. Where is he going to come down in 2013 and beyond?

After two seasons in Milwaukee, eureka! Carlos Gomez provided above-average offense for the first time in his career, posting career highs in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, homers, and stolen bases. There's no doubt that, in a season that saw the Brewers fall tantalizingly close to the playoffs, he was one of their bright spots. This was the Carlos Gomez that the Twins thought they had acquired in 2008.

The first time I watched Carlos Gomez play a game of baseball, he went 2-for-3 with a double, a walk, a bunt hit, two stolen bases, and two runs scored. I was amazed at this dynamic player who showed an ability to control the game on offense and defense. This was on opening day in 2008, and I immediately fell in love with the unbelievable talent he displayed.

Because Gomez utterly took over his Minnesota Twins debut, I didn't realize how out of control his game really was. In the field, Gomez was a master, but at the plate had no idea what he was doing. He would bunt at least once a game, regardless of where the infield was positioned, he would try to steal with reckless abandon, and he'd swing at any pitch he could see, let alone reach. The Twins finally dropped him out of the leadoff spot on July 22, when his OBP was just .282. He finished the season hitting .258/.296/.360 with a 75 percent steal rate, and 142 strikeouts (against just 25 walks) in 614 plate appearances.

And so began the frustrating career of Carlos Gomez, prize acquisition of the Johan Santana deal with the Mets. He would flounder on offense, but contribute enough value on defense to at least remain above replacement level. It was a pattern he'd continue in 2009 and 2010 after being shipped to Milwaukee, before finally breaking through this year at 26. But let's face it: it's a lot easier to trust Gomez's 1678 pre-2012 plate appearances than his 452 this year. Is he bound to disappoint you as he once disappointed me? Well, yes and no.

Aside from the ridiculous increase in power, Gomez basically remains the same player he's always been. He refuses to walk and he makes far too little contact for someone who is always swinging away (indeed, he finished fifth in baseball in swing percentage among batters with more than 400 plate appearances, and finished in the top 20 in both balls swung at outside the strike zone and swinging strikes overall). The only difference was that he hit a few more balls in the air, and a few more of those cleared the fence.

It is at least somewhat likely that Gomez’s power will sustain itself, making him a more acceptable option at the plate. But as Gomez's offense is improving, he's also reaching an age where his stellar defense is going to begin to decline. Take your pick of the advanced defensive metrics: Total Zone, Ultimate Zone Rating, Fielding Runs Above Average -- all of them saw Gomez decline from 2011 to 2012. While that could be a blip, it's also potentially a sign that he's starting to slow. Any slip in Gomez's value on defense is going to have a huge impact on his overall value going forward, especially as he takes up more of Milwaukee's payroll.

There’s a good chance that the Brewers have already seen Gomez’s best, and that he’ll be in line for a significant decline. That said, a player like Gomez will probably be worth the risk next year, as he finishes out his serfdom and goes through the arbitration process one final time. Beyond that, buyer beware: a team with limited payroll space like Milwaukee should let him go.

Michael Bates is one of SBN's Designated Columnists.

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