It wasn’t that long ago that Carlos Gomez was one of the best position players in baseball. From 2013 to 2014, Gomez’s 130 wRC+ and excellent center-field defense put him in some very elite company:
But since the start of 2015, Gomez’s offensive production has cratered. A look at his 150-game rolling wRC+ paints the picture quite clearly. He starts to put it together in late 2011, turns himself into a star, and then comes crashing back to Earth.
He missed time with injuries last April and September, and of course there was that whole business with the Mets backing out of a trade for him, reportedly due to concerns about his hip. There’s no way to know exactly how the injuries affected his game last year, but he hasn’t done anything to alleviate concerns during the first month of 2016. He’s striking out a ton and isn’t hitting for any power. Gomez has delivered a 41 wRC+ with a 34.2 K% and .074 ISO so far this year.
In fact, going back to August 1, 2014, Gomez has recorded just a 96 wRC+. That’s perfectly fine for a good defensive center fielder, but it’s a far cry from the level he had established for himself over the previous few seasons. You can connect his current lack of production with two key indicators. First, his strikeout rate:
Look all the way to the right of that chart. Gomez is no stranger to the punch out, but he’s stuck in one of the worst 30-game stretches of his career. Combine that with the loss of power, and you have trouble:
That graph does a nice job illustrating the moment in 2011 Gomez figured out he could succeed as a power hitter, but then also documents his decline over the last couple of seasons. He was never someone known for controlling the strike zone, but he became a good player when he started to do damage on contact. He’s doing neither at the moment.
Anytime you observe something like this, it’s always good to take a step back and investigate other indicators. Hitters can go through bad stretches without losing their skills. But Gomez, who was already on the lower end of the contact spectrum, does look overmatched:
|2007||87.5 %||83.3 %||85.7 %||71.4 %||100.0 %||83.3 %||42.9 %||24.7|
|2008||38.5 %||66.1 %||51.8 %||62.6 %||88.3 %||78.4 %||48.1 %||20.9|
|2009||33.7 %||62.9 %||48.7 %||59.0 %||87.8 %||78.0 %||51.2 %||20.1|
|2010||37.1 %||64.3 %||50.1 %||63.5 %||83.9 %||76.0 %||47.8 %||21.4|
|2011||33.7 %||67.3 %||50.8 %||55.0 %||85.3 %||75.4 %||50.8 %||21.3|
|2012||36.7 %||75.0 %||54.8 %||60.3 %||84.0 %||75.7 %||47.4 %||21.7|
|2013||36.5 %||76.0 %||54.7 %||53.8 %||85.4 %||74.0 %||46.1 %||22.5|
|2014||38.8 %||80.0 %||56.5 %||59.1 %||84.6 %||74.6 %||43.0 %||22.4|
|2015||37.1 %||77.2 %||54.9 %||63.4 %||84.4 %||76.5 %||44.5 %||21.5|
|2016||39.2 %||74.9 %||56.6 %||45.7 %||75.5 %||64.9 %||48.7 %||22.2|
Not only is Gomez making dramatically less contact so far this season, but pitchers are challenging him in the zone a lot more. This isn’t one of those cases where pitchers are getting him to chase outside the zone and it’s causing him to whiff a little more. Gomez is struggling to make contact in the zone while facing more pitches in the zone. That’s a big red flag.
Pitchers are having a lot of success attacking him inside, particularly inside, to induce swinging strikes:
When he puts the ball in play, he’s also hitting the ball on the ground much more often in the early goings this year:
And these aren’t necessarily well-hit grounders. Via Statcast, Gomez’s overall exit velocity is down from 88.5 mph in 2015 to 85.0 mph in 2016. His ground ball average is down 5 mph to 81.2. Gomez didn’t have a great year last year and he’s hitting even more weak grounders this year.
It’s a small test, but we can bring some non-hitting Statcast data into the conversation. In 2015, when making a max-effort throw, Gomez averaged 98.3 mph from the outfield. In 2016, that number is just 92.5 mph. Granted, 92.5 mph is a good number, but that is a substantial decline and might give us reason to worry about Gomez’s overall health.
Hitting major-league pitching is a very difficult task and there are all sorts of reasons why you might go through difficult stretches, but the strength with which you throw a ball in from the outfield doesn’t seem like it should fluctuate that much once you lop off non-competitive throws. We don’t have enough data to know for sure when it comes to outfielders, but given that pitcher velocity “stabilizes” quickly, we can assume that a 6-mph drop is probably a legitimate change year over year. And if that’s the case, I’m betting Gomez is dealing with one or more injuries.
Obviously, we’re going to wonder if Gomez is hurt. He’s missed a couple days with a rib-cage injury and while it didn’t seem serious, stack that on top of his injuries last season and you have wear and tear relating to nearly all of the important baseball muscles. You can read that as a positive or a negative. Either Gomez is hurt and will get back to normal when he heals, or this is a sign of a player whose age is starting to show as he heads into his 30s.
I have no idea which it is, but I do know that baseball is more fun when Carlos Gomez is hitting home runs and making highlight reel catches. Pitchers seem confident that Gomez is diminished given how much they’re challenging him and so far and he hasn’t demonstrated any reason for them to stop. The Astros are off to a rough start, and while it’s too early for them to give up on the 2016 season, it might be worth considering a DL stint for Gomez so that he can get healthy for a stretch run or late July showcase.
Neil Weinberg is the Site Educator at FanGraphs and can be found writing enthusiastically about the Detroit Tigers at New English D. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @NeilWeinberg44.