Friday, June 14, 2013

Gomez Getting No Love

Gomez belongs in the discussion of baseball's best players
According to Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs, Carlos Gomez has been the most valuable player in baseball this year. More valuable than Miguel Cabrera, Chris Davis, and Joey Votto. A five tool stud, Gomez leads the majors in triples, plays excellent defense in center field, and runs the bases well. In fact, he's on his way to posting almost identical numbers to the ones another great centerfielder--a young man by the name of Mike Trout--compiled last year:

Trout's 2012:   129 runs  182 hits  27 doubles  30 home runs  83 RBI  49 steals .326/.399/.564
Gomez's pace: 103 runs  191 hits  37 doubles  27 home runs  88 RBI  32 steals .326/.366/.594

But even with Gomez doing his best Trout impersonation, the Milwaukee Brewers have been terrible. Poor pitching has sunk them 11 games below .500 with only half a game separating them from the Chicago Cubs and last place in the NL Central.

Because of their struggles (and, to some degree, his unimpressive track record) Gomez isn't getting the attention his stellar first half deserves. Accordingly, he's getting shafted in the All-Star voting. Among National League outfielders he ranks twelfth (!) behind guys like Hunter Pence (6th), Angel Pagan (9th), Matt Holliday (10th) and, worst of all, Gregor Blanco (11th).

Pence (2.7 bWAR) has been good this year--much better than he was last year--but not better than Gomez. Angel Pagan should change his name to "Average" Pagan with his 99 OPS+ and 0.0 bWAR. Holliday's having the worst season of his career. And then there's Blanco, who has yet to hit a home run this season and slugging a pitiful .358.

Give me a break. Gomez will make the team as a reserve, but he deserves to start. Instead, he's going to have to settle for being the other Brewers outfielder (the one not named Ryan Braun) at this year's Midsummer Classic.

But after playing six seasons in relative obscurity, the 27 year-old should be used to flying under the radar. Signed out of the Dominican Republic at 16 and promoted to the Show at 21, Gomez stalled out in the majors when his power failed to develop. His speed was evident from day one, when he outraced Jose Reyes in spring training, but he frustrated the Mets, Twins, and Brewers by producing just 30 home runs and a sub-.300 OBP in his first 1,875 big league plate appearances.

Then, halfway through last year, something clicked. From July 23rd onward, he mashed 14 homers and stole 22 bases (getting caught just three times). He also struck out six times as often as he walked over the same stretch; hardly a recipe for success. Gomez appeared to be another B.J. Upton in the making, but instead he's elevated himself into baseball's elite.

So what's driving his MVP-level performance? The first thing that jumps out his is BABiP, which has skyrocketed 80 points from .296 last year to .376 this season. The rest of his peripherals haven't changed much from 2012 His walk rate has remained the same, and he's striking out a little less.  His contact rate and line drive rate are up a bit, and he's not popping up as much.

What we're seeing is an excellent all-around player finally putting it all together, like Matt Kemp did in 2011 and Andrew McCutchen did last year. He's taking the leap to stardom, even if few people outside Milwaukee seem to notice or care.

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