At 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, Carlos Gomez has always looked like a power hitter. Yet the former Mets prospect, the centerpiece of the 2008 Johan Santana swap, slugged under .400 in the minor leagues and rarely punched the ball out of the infield during his early twenties with New York, Minnesota and Milwaukee. Gomez finally added power to his Gold Glove-caliber defense last season, and the Brewers have now rewarded him with a four-year, $28.3 million contract extension. GM Doug Melvin thinks the 27-year-old Gomez is just getting started:
"He has always had the physical skills, and his recent performance has given us the confidence that he will take the next step in becoming one of the top center fielders in the game," Melvin said. "His energy, speed and aggressive style of play is a perfect fit for Ron Roenicke's style of managing." (Associated Press)
Gomez's home run total has spiked from just five in 2010 to eight in 2011 and 19 last year. His slugging percentage has climbed 100-plus points over the same time frame, from .357 to .463. With those 19 bombs and 37 stolen bases, Gomez joined Ryan Braun, Mike Trout, B.J. Upton and Jimmy Rollins in the 15 homer, 30 SB club.
Gomez has emerged as a power threat by making huge strides against curveballs and sliders. Once a liability when pitchers tossed him a breaking ball, Gomez now makes them pay.
Back in 2010, Gomez was a banjo hitter versus curves and sliders. He often chopped breaking pitches into the turf (his 57% ground ball rate on curves and sliders was way above the 45% MLB average), and he had all of two extra-base knocks the entire year:
Gomez's slugging percentage vs. curveballs and sliders, 2010
Gomez slugged .200 against breaking balls, about 150 points below the MLB average and the sixth-worst mark among hitters seeing at least 300 curves and sliders that season. In 2011, Gomez made some strides. He put the ball in the air more often (47% ground ball rate vs. breaking pitches) and made louder contact, particularly on the edges of the strike zone:
Gomez's slugging percentage vs. curveballs and sliders, 2011
Gomez slugged .385 vs. curves and sliders. Last year, he progressed from a so-so breaking ball hitter to a slugger. Gomez's ground ball rate dropped another tick (46%) and he pulverized curves and sliders thrown down and inside:
Gomez's slugging percentage vs. curveballs and sliders, 2012
With a .461 slugging percentage against curves and sliders, Gomez ranked third behind Josh Hamilton (.563) and Mike Trout (.521) among center fielders, and his nine homers trailed just Hamilton (18) and Adam Jones (10).
Gomez's power surge has transformed him from an easy out (76 OPS+ in 2010) into a quality MLB hitter (102 OPS+ in 2012), free-swinging style be damned. His new deal could turn out to be a bargain for Milwaukee, now that he's got pop to go along with his base running and fielding prowess.