photo © 2011 Steve Paluch | more info (via: Wylio)
The Brewers have made a few web gems already this season, but I’m a sucker for robbing home runs — that’s why Carlos Gomez robbing Juan Uribe in the second inning of Monday night’s game might be one of my favorite plays of the year. If you haven’t seen the video already, it’s worth checking out just to see Ryan Braun‘s reaction to seeing the catch happen a few feet in front of him. I can only describe it as the normally cool-and-collected Braun geeking out.
The catch also gives me an excuse to write about just how good Gomez has been defensively this year.
It’s easy to complain about Gomez’s bat. Despite some improvements this year — He’s managed to raise his BB% from 5.3% last year to what would be a career-high 7.5% this year — he’s still a subpar offensive player that has no business batting second in the Brewers’ order, but that’s more an issue with Ron Roenicke’s lineup construction than it is a problem with Gomez himself. If Roenicke would put him in the 7th or 8th spot, it would be a lot easier to watch Gomez’s at-bats.
As bad as Gomez’s bat can be, it’s important that the Brewers keep him in the lineup as much as possible, because his glove has just been that good. According to FanGraphs, Gomez has already racked up 1.2 WAR this year, making him the 4th-most valuable position player on the team and 5th-most valuable overall, behind Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, and Shaun Marcum. That’s entirely due to his defense thus far, and if there was any value in his bat, he’d probably be pushing for one of the top spots on the team.
Gomez leads the team in Out of Zone (OOZ) plays with 28, two ahead of Yuniesky Betancourt (it should be noted that infield OOZ plays will probably be inflated this year due to Roenicke’s use of shifts on every batter). Those 28 OOZ plays rank Gomez third among centerfielders, behind only Minnesota’s Denard Span (29) and San Diego’s Cameron Maybin (33). He’s only 5 OOZ plays off the lead despite playing in 36 less innings than Maybin.
When it comes to Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), Gomez has been the best centerfielder in the game, saving 10 runs. That number is even more impressive when you consider the second-best Brewer in that category is Mark Kotsay, who has saved 3 runs this year. As a team, the Brewers are only +5 runs overall — Gomez is basically keeping the team out of the negatives by himself.
The same is true when it comes to UZR. To this point, Gomez has a UZR of 7.3, ranking second in the league behind Span (and those two are far and away the best CFers when it comes to UZR — Florida’s Chris Coghlan is a distant third at 3.7). Despite Gomez’s UZR, the Brewers’ UZR as a team is only 7. Again, without Gomez, the Brewers’ defense as a whole would be below average. No one else on the Brewers even comes close to Gomez’s UZR — Nyjer Morgan and Craig Counsell are 2nd and 3rd while playing RF and SS, respectively, but both have only logged 43 innings at those positions. Ryan Braun (-3.8) and Rickie Weeks (-2.6) have been the biggest drags on the team’s UZR, if you’re wondering.
So, yes, we can all agree that it’s painful to watch Gomez swing the bat. He will probably never be the 5-tool stud that most scouts thought he would be when he was the centerpiece of the Mets’ deal for Johan Santana. The one tool that has been as good as advertised — the defense — is the tool that’s keeping Gomez in the lineup as an average major league player. This year, he may be taking that step from good MLB centerfielder to one of the game’s best.