Carlos Gomez has been called the fastest player in baseball. His defense is outstanding; his plate discipline needs work. However you want to view Gomez, there is no denying his unbelievable upside as an outfielder in Major League Baseball. Lately, though, we’ve been reminded of his current struggles at the plate.
In yesterday’s laugher over the White Sox, Gomez relieved Jason Kubel during the game. He had two official plate appearances and singled and scored in one of them. His season line is brought up to .230/.301/.311. Uffda.
There are many different views of Carlos Gomez, our Gold-Glove center fielder. Some may say that Gomez’s offensive deficiency makes him a liability to the team, who is in desperate need of quality at-bats. Others say that the remarkable range Gomez has in center field is too valuable to surrender to the bench. Still others claim that a month in Rochester would give the 23-year old the time he needs to clear his head.
The struggling starting pitching the Twins have had to deal with is in dire need of all the defensive help they can get, yet they also need sufficient offensive support. There is a fine balance between the former and latter and the Twins need to find it. Either Gomez plays most days in center field or he doesn’t. Simply benching the youngster is not a popular option because it deprives the potential All-Star of the one thing he needs most: at-bats.
How is that said balance found? At what point does a player become too offensively detrimental to warrant a starting position? How valuable is great defense or poor offense?
According to the ever-valuable StatCorner, Gomez has a run value of -0.057 per plate appearance below average. That may not seem like much, but when stretched out over 600 plate appearances (Gomez had 617 last year) his run value per PA falls to -34. Theoretically, Gomez’s offensive ineptitude costs the Twins 34 runs a year; which can mean the difference between at least a handful of games. In a division as competitive as the AL Central, every win matters.
Last year Gomez struck out looking 4.9 percent of his plate appearances, and he struck out swinging 18.2 percent. Clearly, Gomez was a hacker. So Gomez ended up walking back to the dugout 23.1 percent of the times he stepped to the plate in 2008. Through yesterday’s game, Gomez has only struck out 21 percent of his plate appearances; 9.9 percent looking and 11.1 swinging. Although the total number is still ridiculously high, Gomez has become more patient at the plate and is taking more pitches. (Another interesting note is that Gomez swung at 55 percent of the pitches he saw in 2008. So far in 2009 that number is down to 48.5.)
But that doesn’t mean he is a solid bat to have in the batting order.
Defensively, there are a number of statistics to measure an outfielder’s production. Here are four of the most popular, with the definitions courtesy of FanGraphs.
ARM (outfield arm runs): Outfielder’s get credit (plus or minus) depending on what the runners do on a hit or a fly ball out. A runner can stay put, advance, or get thrown out. A fielder will get credit not only if he throws out more than his share of runners, but also if he keeps more than his share of runners from advancing extra bases.
DPR (double play runs): The number of runs above or below average a fielder is, based on the number of double plays versus the number of forces at second they get, as compared to an average fielder at that position, given the speed and location of the ball and the handedness of the batter.
RngR (range runs): The number of runs above or below average a fielder is, determined by how the fielder is able to get to balls hit in his vicinity.
ErrR (error runs): The number of runs above or below average a fielder is, determined by the number of errors he makes as compared to an average fielder at that position given the same distribution of balls in play.
Instead of giving you Gomez’s ranking for all of the above, I will use another handy statistic that combines all four of the above statistics:
UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating). This statistic can be read as runs above/below average; the same as the offensive value I used above. Gomez has a UZR of 2.8, which comes out to 27.3 over the course of 150 games. (Interestingly, were Gomez qualified he would rank fourth in all of baseball in that department. He would rank second in the American League, second only to a player by the name of Joe Crede.)
We now have two statistics — one offensive, one defensive — that can help us measure Gomez’s overall contribution to the team. (I’m assuming that 150 games and 600 plate appearances are roughly the same.) Offensively, Gomez is worth -34 runs. Defensively, Gomez is worth 27.3 runs. If 2009 plays out without any major surprises Gomez will bring the Twins a total value of -6.7.
6.7 runs can mean the difference between a few wins. In the tough division we are in could mean the difference between a playoff appearance and another year of watching from home.
Does this mean that Gomez should be sent down to Rochester as soon as possible? Not necessarily. These statistics are based upon the league average. Should the Twins find a perfectly average outfielder to play in the place of Gomez they would have a total of 6.7 extra runs this year. The thing is, though, the Twins don’t have an average outfielder. Were Gomez to be sent down Jason Kubel and Delmon Young would both receive significant playing time in the outfield. Kubel is better at the plate than in the field, while Young is struggling in both areas.
What do you think? Would Gomez benefit from a month or two in Rochester? What do you take from these statistics; what are they missing in regard to the human element?