Ben Gamel has played well so far this season. In fact he has played so well, it begs a question — is he turning a corner in his career?
To this point, the 28-year old has demonstrated an offensive profile of a fourth outfielder. With a career slash line of .263/.333/.392, he is the type of player that provides depth on the grass. He is also the type of player that won’t hurt you too much, but really does not move the needle if he is playing everyday.
Over Gamel’s career, he has been a slightly below-average offensive player. He has a career 97 wRC+. His defensive prowess passes the eye test, but his defensive numbers are not that great as he has -15 Defensive Runs Saved as a big leaguer. So far, he’s been just a guy that fills in when and where needed with competence. And that is a type of player that every team needs, especially if he is good in the clubhouse.
Circumstances have changed things a lot all over baseball, and for the Milwaukee Brewers specifically with the loss of Lorenzo Cain due to COVID-19 concerns. That means Mr. Gamel will see his name penciled into the lineup a great deal more in 2020 than what was initially expected.
Coming out of the Blue/Gold Series prior to the season’s starting, Gamel was crushing the ball. That seems to have translated to the 2020 regular season. Taking what amounts to a very small sample size, Gamel is currently slashing .261/.320/.652. He has a wRC+ of 161. Those are not fourth outfielder numbers.
Ben Gamel - Milwaukee Brewers (2) pic.twitter.com/Ao0tjlYAQ5— MLB HR Videos (@MLBHRVideos) August 5, 2020
Again this is very small sample we are talking about, but there is a lot to be encouraged with regarding what amounted to the Brewers’ fifth outfielder coming into the season. With success comes a search for reasons to “why.” Most attribute a change in stance and approach. Many are even suggesting that Gamel has adopted Christian Yelich’s approach.
There are similarities in approach. He is placing his hands further away from his body, he is a little less open, and he is standing more upright. You will see the difference between the next two clips: the first from 2019 and second from 2020. In the first clip, he will hit an inside the park home run.
Ben Gamel had an inside-the-park homer against his old team pic.twitter.com/jef7Qp2XSf— Baseball Bros (@BaseballBros) June 27, 2019
While a good outcome, his overall utilization of this approach led to below average results in 2019. The next clip is from this season. It is the home run against the White Sox that took Luis Robert’s glove over the wall with it.
Again there are some significant differences in the approaches. First the hands are more separated from the body and maybe even more importantly not as high. What this seems to be doing for Gamel is allowing the ball to travel deeper into the zone. That gives him more time to react, and thus he is able to drive the ball with much more authority. In 2019 it looks like he has to get everything going a bit sooner because of this hand placement.
Secondly he is also standing more upright with a slightly less closed stance. That results in a slightly different finish with his front foot. The 2020 finish allows for Gamel to strike the ball with more authority. His timing seems to be much more effective, and the finish as well as the new found ability to let the ball travel further into the zone are probably the primary reasons for this.
Once again, the sample size is just too small to truly trend out that Ben Gamel will go from a below average hitting fourth or fifth outfielder to a borderline All-Star with power. He’s made an adjustment that is working out for him right now. Opposing pitchers, their coaches, and other teams’ analytical teams are on this and will look to neutralize it.
Nonetheless, what we are seeing out of Gamel early in the season is very encouraging especially with no LoCain and Yelich struggling. Whether he has turned a corner or not is still an open question. Early signs point to him having a high quality 2020. And even if he returns to his old level of performance, that isn’t terrible. Whatever the case, I imagine we will continue to get moments like this one.
Baseball statistics courtesy of Fangraphs