On Thursday, Mat Latos was dealing. The Reds pitcher was off-setting his mediocre velocity with good movement on his pitches and an arm action that gives him some deception. This is nothing new, and is the reason that the Reds paid a lot (in players) to acquire him from the Padres. Latos threw another good moving fastball away from a right-handed hitter, only to watch it been put over the right field fence. The Reds’ ballpark is a hitter’s friendly park, but it was hard not to be impressed with the athlete that was rounding the bases. That athlete is Brewers’ outfielder Carlos Gomez.
Carlos Gomez has been a frustrating player to evaluate. He was signed by the Mets out of the Dominican Republic in 2002, and was the 60th best prospect according to Baseball America in 2007, and then the 52nd best in 2008 (Kevin Goldstein, recently hired as the Astros’ Pro Scouting Director, had him as high as 34 when he was 21 years old). The Mets traded him to the Twins in the infamous Johan Santana deal before the 2008 season along with Philip Humber and 2 other players that haven’t panned out (to say the least). With 58 (poorly played, at least statistically) MLB games already under his belt with the Mets, Gomez would play 290 games with the Minnesota Twins. He really struggled at the plate, with a 73 OPS + (.3 O-WAR according to Baseball Reference). One thing Gomez did have though was defensive value, as Baseball Reference had him saving 24 runs in that period of time.
Gomez is usually considered as a talented player that makes a lot of mistakes both offensively (his K/BB ratio is awful) and defensively (an ill advised dive against the Astros earlier this year comes to mind). He simply isn’t an OBP guy and never will be. He swings at pitches outside of the zone 36.7% of the time (league average is about 30%) and has a career walk rate of 5% (league average is over 8%) and it is actually lower this year. The Baseball Prospectus hitter profiles give us a better view, as you are able to see how much he swings (especially on pitches low and out of the zone) compared to other right-handed hitters:
Since 2010, his OBP is sandwiched between Adam Lind and Adam Rosales. It is notably below Clint Barmes, Gerald Laird, and Tyler Greene. The “hitting for average” tool, or simply the ability to get on base, is his worst trait and is probably a 25-30 on the 20-80 scouting scale. However, it is really easy to argue that he has 4 out of the 5 major tools.
He is an above average runner, as I have timed him at 4.04 to first base, when league average is around 4.20. His “speed score” over the last two years has been an 8.8. That is best in the Majors out of players with a minimum of 400 plate appearances this year. The Baseball Cube rates his speed at 97 out of 100 and according to Baseball Prospectus, he has been worth 10 runs on the bases in his career and Fangraphs has him at 5.7 runs above average for his career (1.5 this year). This is the most underwhelming metric measuring Gomez’ speed, as he isn’t even in the top 30 this year. It isn’t as if he is being dinged for being caught stealing a lot, as he has a very good stolen base percentage this year (he has been successful 35 times and unsuccessful 6 times). So Gomez is a really good runner, perhaps even an 80 runner (using the 20-80 scouting scale) and at least a 70 runner. For convenience, we will call him a 75 runner, one of the best in baseball.
How about with the glove? He has played almost exclusively centerfield, which is much more valuable (because it is harder to play) than corner outfield. According to both major defensive metrics (DRS and UZR) he is excellent, saving anywhere from 50-59 runs in 669 career games. According to Fangraphs’ UZR, he is the 32nd best defender in all of baseball since 2010 (defensive metrics are usually thought to be best when used in 3 year increments, as that is considered a quality sample). Considering 432 players have had at least 400 plate appearances this year, that puts Gomez in the top 7.5% of baseball in defense. Defensive metrics are not the only way to measure defensive value, but Gomez is fast, meaning he should cover plenty of ground in center, and appears to be a quality defender to me according to the eye test. I think you could call him a 60 defender conservatively, and a 70 defender liberally. Here I will call him a 65 defender. According to the Fans’ Scouting Report (which has him at 89 speed out of 100), he has 70 arm strength out of 100 and 39 arm accuracy out of 100. So he has a strong arm, but an inaccurate arm according to the report (which seems to match with highlights I have seen of Gomez along with games I have seen him play). So perhaps labelling him as an average arm (or a 50 out of either 80 or 100) would be the best course of action.
What about power? In the minors, Gomez never had a SLG over .427 and was under .400 for his entire minor league career. He had a similar start in the Majors, but has seen it steadily uptick and is now at a career high and over .400 for the 2nd straight year. His career ISO (SLG-BA, probably the best simple way to measure power outside of home runs) is .129 versus a 2012 league average of .151. However, he has developed into an above average power hitter, with a .177 ISO last year, and .188 ISO this year. He is only 26 (he will turn 27 before the beginning of the 2013 season). He is getting into his physical prime. Power is hard to project, but it is something scouts seemed to believe he was going to add, even if he didn’t have it throughout his time in the minors and early Major League career. He went from maybe a 30-35 (out of 80) power guy to a 60-65 power guy. The friendly ballpark in Milwaukee helps, and who doesn’t like to watch the Brewers mascot slide, but it seems that Gomez is legitimately developing into more of a power hitter. If the anecdotal example against Mat Latos doesn’t convince you, perhaps some data will. From 2007-2009, the average ball Gomez hit (not counting bunts) went 254.801 feet, which is pretty low. Since the start of 2011, Gomez is hitting the ball 268.251 on average, which is solid. Perhaps a couple pictures will give us a better look. Here is 2007-2009:
Here is 2010-2011:
In the earlier years, Gomez had a lot of infield hits and all of his power was pull power. He still doesn’t have great other way power, but it is clearly better than before, and he has shown some to deep center. It is really hard to dispute that he has gotten stronger or at least is hitting the ball harder.
When you put all of Gomez tools together, Gomez is about a 55 player, meaning he is an above league average player. Add to this his young age and the fact that he plays a premium position, and he is one pretty valuable player. He is a free agent in 2014, and it will be interesting to see what happens then if the Brewers are unable to extend him.