Raise your hand if you realized that Carlos Gomez, he of the 25 career home runs over 1,539 at-bats heading into 2012, hit 19 long balls this season. Like many young players, the belief was that Gomez would eventually fill out and hit for more power as he reaches his physical maturity. It took until his sixth season (well, technically fifth as you’ll see later) before that power manifested. So this year’s power spike sorta led to a breakout. I say sorta because although this was the first time Gomez has posted a wOBA above .300, he still only mustered a .329 mark, a level you typically wouldn’t describe as a breakout.
Whatever you want to label it, the power surge actually began in May of 2011 when he posted a .214 ISO, and then followed that up with monthly rates that never fell below .160. This is from a hitter who never posted a yearly ISO above .110. He ended up finishing the 2011 season with a .177 ISO, easily a career high. That new found power continued into 2012 and increased further. His HR/FB ratio this season was double his previous pre-2011 career best.
Aside from hitting more of his fly balls over the fence, he is also hitting flies at a higher frequency to begin with. From 2007-2010, his FB% sat between 35% and 39%. But over the last two years, he has hit fly balls at about a 43% rate which is more typical of a true power hitter. Seems to me that he has consciously changed his approach at the plate and his swinging for the fences. Judging by wOBA, it’s working.
The table above shows the progression of his average distance on fly balls and home runs over the last three seasons. In 2010, he was hitting balls at a distance just above the league average. Then, something clearly changed in 2011, and the results match up. He continued hitting the ball further in 2012, suggesting the new power is no fluke. His ESPN Home Run Tracker data also looks solid. His “just enough” home runs were about 32% of his total, which is just about average, while his average standard distance and speed off bat were both above average. Just another data point confirming the power is legit.
The good news is that even with this new power, Gomez hasn’t stopped running. A full season’s worth of at-bats would have likely netted him a 20/40 season, which is typically reserved for some of the top players players. Unfortunately, he loathes the base on balls and will have a tough time hitting for average given his fly ball tendency, lack of line drives and abundance of pop-ups. As a result, his lineup spot is no guarantee and makes it difficult to project his RBI and run totals.
Gomez looks to have a full-time job next year and could be quite the bargain for fantasy owners. I think his power is mostly for real and he could therefore be a nice cheap power/speed combo.