“But It’s 2013…” (In Defense of Carlos Gomez)

CarlosGomezVsPirates

Thursday morning on a radio show in the Milwaukee market, one of the show’s hosts posed a question:

“Should I start to worry about Carlos Gomez and the year he’s having?”

This was a question meant to spark conversation about whether Carlos Gomez is only performing as well as he is because he must be taking a performance-enhancer of some kind.

Let me be quite clear with my blunt response and then I’ll go into detail and explanations.

It’s unfair and, frankly, incredibly lazy to have come anywhere near that conclusion.

Now they went out of their way to say that they aren’t making accusations and they aren’t trying to say he’s guilty of anything, but if a question of whether you need to be worried about Gomez’s performance because he can’t be doing this naturally isn’t accusatory…

His co-host said “Can I just say this? I think you think that Go Go is juicing.” After a long pause, his reply was “…….I don’t think Go Go is juicing. But It’s 2013 and the guy’s batting average has jumped 130 points.”

“Is there perhaps something going on with (Gomez)?”

“I’m not accusing him of using but come on…it’s gotta raise an eyebrow.”

“I hope he’s not. I don’t think he is. But it’s 2013.”

“I think you have to be (suspicious of him)!”

He then tries to justify his doubt which lends itself more toward the accusatory tone of the entire thing. His batting average is really high and way higher than his career mark. His on-base percentage is really high and way higher than his career mark. His slugging percentage is really high and…

You get the point.

The one thing that he said that is smart is that it is, in fact, 2013. The problem is that he misapplied what that means. To me it doesn’t mean that every player who does well must be subjected to the cloud of doubt. To me, it means that there is plenty of available statistical analysis to couple with other evidence to actually understand some legitimate reasons behind what appears to be a significant breakout.

First of all, let’s tackle the OBP. Gomez’s on-base percentage entering play on May 10th is 45 points higher than his batting average (which is, of course, a part of OBP to begin with). This isn’t some outlandish event. Last season, Gomez finished with an on-base percentage which was, drum roll please, 45 points higher than his batting average. His career mark is 47 points north. Doesn’t seem that wildly out of line to me given his higher batting average.

As for the increase in slugging percentage. Reaching base safely via hit increases your slugging percentage, even for singles. With Gomez, he’s gotten more than a couple of additional fortuitous bases on some plays which increase the slugging that much more. Here are two examples from just-completed series against the Rangers. Gomez swung very hard at a pitch but made contact off the end of the bat, fooling the left-fielder David Murphy. Murphy couldn’t make the catch. That’s fortunate enough on its own as it increases all three parts of a slash line. But then, based on the angle the outfielders were taking, the ball somehow got by both Murphy and centerfielder Leonys Martin. Gomez got a double, which gets the extra boost to slugging percentage. The second example is the play where Texas right fielder Nelson Cruz seemed to be in position to make a catch, bailed at the last second, and when the ball (for whatever reason ruled a hit instead of an error) got to Cruz, the catch wasn’t made. Gomez was hustling the whole way, ended up at third base, and was credited with a triple. Average up. OBP up. Slugging up with a bump via extra-base hit. Speed guys occasionally take extra bases which also helps their slugging percentage normalize a touch to the powerful, slow gentlemen who must occasionally settle for a long single. More over, Gomez has always had power in his game but it’s the increase in fly ball and line drive rates to begin with that is boosting his home run numbers, the biggest booster of a high SLG.

And for the average itself, it’s an exercise in unsustainability. Carlos Gomez is currently sporting a .447 BAbip, which is batting average on balls in play. For the record and in case you didn’t know, home runs are not counted as “in play” for the purposes of this calculation. So what that means is that for every ball hit into the field of play that ends an at-bat for Carlos Gomez, damn near half of them are landing on the grass. Baseball players average right around a .300 BAbip which means that Gomez is having an abundance of good fortune on where he’s hitting the baseball right now. Some of that is luck, sure, but there’s more to it that I’ll get into momentarily. The point here though is that this number will come down and with it Gomez’s batting average will deflate a bit.

Now regarding that “more to it” from a moment ago, it’s been documented that Gomez changed a few things this off-season in both his preparation (including training) and his approach at the plate. Gomez has done new hitting drills to refine bat control. There is also talk of how he worked with pitchers during the off-season to get increased exposure to game-situation pitching by guys trying to “get him out”. The idea there is that if he sees more live pitching that’s trying to get him to fail and not just batting practice, he’d be more prepared.

Then there is his approach. Gomez has said that he decided to stop trying to be the hitter that people have told him to be throughout his career and to be more natural at the plate. He’s always been told to try to hit ground balls and do other things that “speed guys” do. Last season saw the first bit of that as Gomez’s ratio of home runs to fly balls increased. This season though he’s been putting it all together to another level though.

The combination of better preparation and improved approach has resulted in better contact and that has resulted in more consistently beneficial outcomes.

And here are a couple of general concepts that can’t be ignored when it comes to thinking about why Carlos Gomez is breaking out to the level that he has so far this season.

  • He’s in his age 27 season which is widely regarded as the beginning of the peak for hitters, where the intersection of physical skills and mental acumen are crossing at their highest points.
  • He’s always been considered to be a “toolsy” player in so much as it relates to the five tools of baseball but he just hadn’t yet put it all together and realized his potential but that potential was massive.

And finally, let’s not forget why many players traditionally have said that they’ve used performance-enhancers: To get paid. Carlos Gomez already got paid. He signed his lucrative contract extension over the off-season so why would he all of a sudden start something that would risk his legacy? To know Gomez is to know that while he’s having great fun playing a kid’s game, he considers himself to have elite talent. That’s conceptually just not the kind of guy who’d need to take something.

So, sorry for rambling, but thank you for reading. My ultimate point is that there is just so much to consider as possible and probable reasons for Gomez’s current level of play that it’s just lazy and ridiculous to throw out PEDs first or really at all with zero evidence to that end. I get that the media’s job is to question things and that perhaps if they’d done a better job of that back in the late 90s we maybe wouldn’t be subjected to this cloud of doubt. Then again, isn’t it inherent upon us as fans to simply enjoy success for what it is? Why jump out to conclusions that are damaging to a player’s reputation and introduce doubt into the minds of those who want to be happy that a guy like Gomez is finally realizing his potential?

I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be questions when questions are warranted but other than a lack of understanding as to why a batting average can be so high on May 9th (not “getting to be Memorial Day” as was also mentioned on the radio, because two and a half weeks is still two and a half weeks) and an apparent lack of desire to analyze instead of rumormonger, what could possibly be there to have warranted this?

Cynicism be damned. How about a glass-half-full approach once in a while?

After all, that’s the side on which the evidence currently lies.

1 Comment

Thanks for writing this. The reporter (Wickett) HAD to know before bringing this up on-air that it could negatively affect Gomez’ image. With no evidence to suggest any truth in the statement other than its 2013.(and a 5 week spike in #’s) I’M here to say that Go-Go is one of the most entertaining baseball players to watch play the game, and I am glad he’s a Brewer. I wish Carlos Gomez continued success…and my Brewers MORE success. Mark-Tosa

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