Carlos Gomez: robbing homers and stealing hearts
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Though not fully indicative in the team’s record, the first two months of Milwaukee Brewers baseball has been chock-full of pleasant surprises.
Yuniesky Betancourt has made steps to amend the various lists featuring him among the league’s worst defenders with solid leather early on and an amazing play or two along the way. Shaun Marcum has wasted little time in making the transition from being the great pitcher most Brewers fans had never heard of to being the still-great pitcher they now know. Nyjer Morgan went from Nationals clubhouse carcinogen to Milwaukee fan favorite and both real and fake Twitter legend in a matter of weeks. But perhaps the most notable, yet the quietest, positive anomaly of the first 40-plus contests lies in the play of one Carlos Argelis Pena Gomez.
For those who don’t know—or for those who willed themselves to forget through extensive therapy or self-medication—Gomez has been steadily disappointing Midwesterners since being the primary piece in a package the New York Mets sent the Minnesota Twins to nab Johan Santana before the 2008 season. Following two rather unimpressive campaigns in Minneapolis, the young outfielder and the cloud of unmet expectations looming above him were sent east of the Mississippi River in exchange for beloved former All-Star and Brewers heartthrob J.J. Hardy. That particular move also signaled the end of tremendous centerfielder Mike Cameron’s two-season Milwaukee tenure.
Before Gomez had even so much as taken his first Brewers at-bat, it seemed the deck was stacked against him. Of course, Gomez proved exactly none of his doubters wrong by 2010’s end, managing only a .247 batting average, 72 hits, and 24 RBI in a mere 97 games. As the season wore on, the likes of Jim Edmonds, minor league call-up Lorenzo Cain and, eventually, Chris Dickerson (whom Edmonds was traded to get) each chipped away at the playing time of the ineffective CF. At one point, the fine people at Hardware Hank were reportedly this close to trying to build a cyborg out of two-by-fours, duct tape, and mailbox reflectors to patrol the position Gomez had all but relinquished.
During this past offseason, even the most casual Brewers fan had to think Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin had something up his sleeve that would both solidify the suddenly unstable centerfield position and address the now-glaring Gomez situation. And Melvin did just that, trading away Lorenzo Cain (part of the Zack Greinke haul) and Chris Dickerson (quite impressively, netting Milwaukee Sergio Mitre). Discounting the addition of Morgan with nanoseconds left in spring training, the job was clearly still Gomez’s to lose. Forget, for a second, that Gomez went undrafted by most fantasy baseball teams. He was the Brewers’ guy.
Which brings us to now. Discounting the towering home run he hit in his first at-bat of the season and the respectable six-game hit streak he brought with him to Los Angeles this week, CarGo’s bat has maintained its usual silence. However, the sub-.300 OBP owner has made the most of his time on base, trading time with Ryan Braun for the team lead in stolen bases. Also encouraging, the Gomez is well on pace to double his career high of 25 walks this season.
But there’s no denying Gomez’s true value comes with his glove, his formidable throwing arm, and his crazy defensive range. Realizing that he does things like this, this, THIS!!!, and the literally dozens of other difficult plays he makes appear effortless, makes it much easier to swallow Gomez’s offensive absence (though not in the two-hole, Mr. Roenicke). Think about it; every time he’s responsible for tracking down a ball that would be a double over the head of 90 percent of his counterparts, each time he guns down a runner seeking an extra base or takes back a home run, Gomez is adding to the Brewers offense through defensive subtraction. He’s directly taking people off the bases and scoreboard, while indirectly limiting pitch counts and opponent at-bats (and opportunities).
Sure, even a hint of offensive ability would sweeten the deal, but at just 25 years old, that ship hasn’t quite sailed yet. The eggheads at Disciples Of Uecker have calculated Gomez to be on pace for a 4.4 WAR (wins above replacement) season, even with his lacking offense. Essentially, this means Gomez would be worth 4.4 more wins to Milwaukee than would a minor league or bench replacement. Come playoff time, those 4.4 hypothetical wins Gomez is projected to carry in his glove throughout the season could come in handy.
It may not be apparent when he’s taking a called third strike or getting caught in a rundown, but Carlos Gomez helps the Brewers. If he’s paired right with Morgan and can manage more than 97 games this season, he’s sure to remain a deceivingly valuable component in the success of the 2011 Milwaukee Brewers. And if he fails, he’ll just remain the bust whom most armchair GMs have already declared him to be.