The Astros Gave the Rangers a Quality Outfielder

I don’t know how else to begin, so let’s begin like this: Over 126 games spent with the Astros, Carlos Gomez was worth 0.6 WAR. Over 25 games spent with the Rangers, Carlos Gomez has been worth 0.7 WAR. Now you know the story — there are characters, there’s a plot. When the Astros acquired Gomez in the first place, they figured he could be a real difference-maker. He’s making a difference now, just for a division rival instead.

I want to make it clear: I don’t blame the Astros for the decision they made when they let Gomez go. They had run out of patience, and pretty much literally every single number backed them up. I wrote about Gomez at the time, and I just couldn’t find much of any reason for hope. The lone positive was Gomez’s longer track record. But everything more recent had sucked. Gomez looked like a bad player. Bad players don’t start for contenders.

After the Astros made their initial decision, I remember reading a report suggesting the Astros were looking to trade Gomez, getting a real return. That was never going to happen, and Gomez was simply released. The Rangers plucked him up and made an immediate commitment to keeping him in the lineup. He’s played like someone who would’ve warranted a trade return, though. He wasn’t directly handed off from one Texas team to the other, but that’s how things have played out, and in the weeks since Gomez returned, he’s re-discovered his power stroke.

Gomez has gone from a 60 wRC+ to 138. He’s gone from slugging .322 to .529. He already has more homers with the Rangers than he had with the Astros this year, and it shouldn’t surprise you that all this productivity is backed up by the Statcast stuff. Using information from Baseball Savant, check out how some of Gomez’s averages have moved:

gomez-averages

Twenty-five games. Gomez has played with the Rangers for 25 games, and from an analytical perspective, sometimes 25 games might as well be zero games. But those rolling averages reveal progress, in particular in the launch-angle department. The batted-ball speed really has improved, though. It’s a simple story: Gomez is hitting the ball hard more often, and he’s hitting the ball in the air more often. That’s Gomez getting back to his roots, and that’s why he’s doing such a good job of helping the Rangers today.

As a different way of examining the same data, here’s another plot. This one makes the differences look awfully dramatic.

gomez-ranks

As an Astro this year, Gomez’s exit velocity through the date of his last game ranked in the 20th percentile. Since he returned with the Rangers around the end of August, his exit velocity ranks in the 83rd percentile. Meanwhile, as an Astro this year, Gomez’s launch angle ranked in the seventh percentile. With the Rangers, he’s up to the 91st. Gomez, weirdly, was a ground-ball machine. He was rolling over on way too many pitches. Now he has his better balance, and balls are being hit into the air again. Far, far more than the average. Gomez is still striking out pretty often, but his profile looks far more disciplined, and he’s generating the batted balls that he needs to in order to be a successful player.

Gomez has chased less often out of the zone. He’s swung at fewer first pitches. I wouldn’t say we’re seeing prime Carlos Gomez — he’s in an outfield corner now, and he’s stolen four bases. But this has been an absolutely massive turnaround, after Gomez was dumped by a team that could’ve badly used him. Most of the time, change-of-scenery transactions don’t work out so well for the player. If a player is no longer good enough, it doesn’t really matter which uniform he’s wearing. But Gomez now looks rejuvenated. Or just healthy; I don’t know. He’s found a more comfortable setting with the Rangers, and he’s thriving just in time for the start of the playoffs.

There was one reason to believe in Gomez when he was dropped: He still projected to be pretty good, on account of his history. Maybe that’s the most important thing. Maybe that should be the takeaway. But remember, the Astros are smart — at least as smart as any other ballclub — and they knew more about Gomez than anyone, and they let him go. Jeff Luhnow said they’d tried everything, and he never accused Gomez of a lack of effort. They just gave up on trying to find a solution. The Rangers willingly assumed the risk. None of the indicators pointed to this happening, with Gomez sort of challenging the limits of modern baseball analysis.

It’s enough to make you wonder. Maybe the Rangers really do just have a more suitable team environment. Maybe Gomez is responding far better to the clubhouse and dugout tone set by Adrian Beltre. Maybe, with Houston, he didn’t feel like he could be himself. Alternatively, maybe the struggles in Houston got psychological. Maybe Gomez got to the point where he felt buried, and maybe he just needed the time off and the fresh statistical slate. Numbers can’t accurately capture health, nor can they accurately capture emotion. I don’t know why Gomez is better, now. He just is. It’s just another thing that’s gone right for the Rangers. Regardless of whether they’re actually a special team, you can see why people would believe that.

For Gomez, it’s all better late than never — if he maintains something like this the rest of the way, he might not have to settle for a one-year pillow contract as a free agent. Maybe he’s showing enough now that his perception can be salvaged. For the Rangers, they were up 6.5 games when Gomez debuted, and they’re up 9.5 now. They were already going to make the playoffs. Gomez just stands to make them better when they’re there. Turns out, not a bad move to pull off for free.





Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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ab03
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ab03

Two things

1) Beltran is apparently Gomez’s idol/guru (which makes sense given playing style) so that worked out pretty well.

2) Not sure how accurate it is but the Rangers broadcast has talked about Gomez shortening his swing significantly. I think the credit for this goes to Iopace. But someone should probably get video evidence of that to confirm.