(Editor's note: Please enjoy this guest post by Michael Pina, who writes about basketball for ESPN's TrueHoop Network and has been published elsewhere; he has been particularly interested in the 2013 campaign of Carlos Gomez.)
Can and should someone who wins Most Valuable Player be on a losing team? It’s a debate had every year, across every sport.
Last season we saw Anaheim Angels phenom Mike Trout lose the award to Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera, with a deciding factor in the race coming down to their team’s record—a little silly considering only one of them batted in front of Prince Fielder and took the field with Justin Verlander on the mound once every five days.
If the rest of Carlos Gomez’s season looks anything like what he’s already done, we might be in for a similar debate in the National League this year. Right now the Milwaukee Brewers trail the St. Louis Cardinals by 15 games in the National League Central, and at one point earlier in the year found themselves 17 back.
How much of that team-wide disappointment should be allocated to Gomez, who’s literally done all he can. To encapsulate his dominance with one figure this season: right now he leads all players in baseball (pitchers and positional players) in Wins Above Replacement (4.9).
Among other hitters in the National League, he’s ninth in batting average (.313), fourth in slugging percentage (.570), sixth in OPS (.925), fifth in total bases (155), tied for first in triples (eight), tied for sixth in stolen bases (15)—with the eighth-best stolen base percentage (83.3%)—and third in extra base hits (38).
All obviously impressive figures. And being that there are two sides to the game, when Gomez puts a glove on his hand his value to Milwaukee only expands. This year he leads all NL outfielders in putouts, with 192, and is the NL leader in range factor per game as an outfielder (2.75).
In March, Gomez signed a three-year, $24 million contract extension through 2016, which was viewed as a slight risk given his questionable career at the plate. Including this season, Gomez is a career .255 hitter who before a breakout 2012 campaign in which he hit 19 homeruns, had smacked the ball over the wall just 25 times in the previous five seasons.
His career slugging and on-base percentages were less than desirable, even last year, but obviously this season he’s turned things around. In 2012 he hit 19 doubles in the entire season. Right now he’s already at 18.
It’s difficult to directly attribute reasons for Gomez’s noticeable turnaround, which doesn’t bode well for him to maintain such positive offensive production the rest of the way. His numbers regarding discipline at the plate this season are about in line with his career averages.
Where would the Brewers be without Gomez? Obviously worse off than where they are now. And historically it’s almost unheard of for any player from a losing team to win MVP (remember, Mike Trout’s Angels didn’t make the playoffs, but they still went 89-73).
Only four players in history have won the award on a losing team: Cal Ripken, Alex Rodriguez, Ernie Banks (twice), and Andre Dawson. Three of those players are in the Hall of Fame and one could (steroid use permitting) go down as an all-time great.
Gomez will most likely be placed beside the National League’s heavyweights—Joey Votto, David Wright, Buster Posey, Troy Tulowitzki (if healthy), etc.—and the combination of relatively low power numbers and a consistent refusal of voters to acknowledge defense as a humongous part of every player’s value doesn’t weigh in his favor. But it’s still early, and an ankle tweak or pulled groin could be had by any of his competitors. Right now an argument for Gomez is as strong as an argument for anybody else.