Player Background

In 2012, Gomez had a breakout second half. In 2013, he proved he could do it for a whole season. In 2014, he done did it again. After disappointing for many years as a prospect, post-hype Gomez had finally cemented his place in fantasy baseball’s elite class. Coming into 2015, we all knew what to expect from the consensus fantasy baseball first-rounder: 20-plus home runs, 30-plus stolen bases, 85-plus runs, and 70-plus RBI, to go with an AVG that would be average to slightly above average. Even with the 15-25 games he missed each year with injury, Gomez was one of the top fantasy producers over the past three years and figured to be one again in 2015, his age-29 season.

The interesting part about Gomez’s history with fantasy-baseball valuation is that we have always been chasing past production and have never really gotten the forecast right. After years of being unproductive and disappointing on account of trying to hide his flaws (trying to be a contact-first, speedster of a leadoff hitter), Gomez was finally on everyone’s radars by embracing his strengths (he can hit the ball hard) and not worrying too much about his weaknesses (he strikes out a bunch and doesn’t walk much). The results were great, but again, we had zero idea what they held for the future.

Before we knew that his new approach likely led to increased exit velocity (before exit velocity was something we associated with baseball), all we saw was a player who swung more and whiffed more—and that somehow that led to a spike in HR:FB ratio and batting average. This seemed unsustainable to many of our velocity-data-ignorant eyes. Even after showing that his 2012 second half was no fluke in 2013, many of us were still skeptical of Gomez continuing to provide first-round production. But as offense continued to decline in 2014 and Gomez continued to rake and steal bases, we almost all became converts heading into 2015 and seemingly rightfully so. This year, however, the story has been different—and, therefore, the same.

2015 Thus Far

It has not been terrible, but those using his statistics on their fantasy baseball teams will need a huge second half from Gomes if they are going to recoup the cost of acquisition paid on draft or auction day. For starters, Gomez has not been on the field. While he almost always seems to miss games with minor injuries, he has already missed more games (28) in 2015 than he had in any year since 2010 and 2011.

Even when Gomez has been on the field, he has produced less than he had over the past two-and-a-half seasons. While the unconstrained approach is still there, it has not unleashed his usual power. Gomez has instead been trading flyballs and hard contact for groundballs and soft contact. These data types are far from perfect, but they can point us in the right direction. That said, Gomez has posted his highest GB% since 2011, lowest FB% since 2010, highest soft% since 2011, and lowest hard% since 2011. The consequences of this are a lower BABIP, fewer flyballs, and fewer flyballs leaving the yard. The consequences of these consequences are a lower AVG, OBP, and SLG, the last of those depressed by the decrease in home runs and extra-base hits.

Gomez’s increase in grounders (with the corresponding decrease in flies) and increase in soft contact (with the associated decrease in hard contact) do not appear to be derived from the variability inherent in the game we love. For starters, Gomez is swinging at more balls out of the zone than ever before. Additionally, he is making more contact outside of the zone than ever before, sans his 96 games played in 2010. Swinging more at pitches out of the zone while making more contact with those pitches seems like a pretty good recipe for making poor contact.

Moreover, pitchers seem to have a plan to get to this poor contact. They are throwing hard stuff earlier in the count to get ahead, and then going to breaking and offspeed stuff later. While this seems like standard operating procedure for facing any batter, this signifies a change in how Gomez is swinging the bat. Whereas he used to do serious damage to first-pitch fastballs in 2013 and 2014, slugging .643 and .725, respectively, he is only slugging .438 on such pitches this season. This means pitchers are more willing (and correct in their willingness) to see what Gomez does with their early strikes in order to get ahead in the count.

Lastly, after attempting 43-plus steals each of the last three seasons (while stealing a minimum of 34), Gomez has only attempted 12 steals thus far and has only been successful seven times. Injuries to his hamstring and hip certainly have not helped, but this seems like a continuation of a downward trend. After stealing bases at an 86% and 85% clip in 2012 and 2013, respectively, Gomez was only successful on 74% of his attempts last season.

All in all, it’s not a pretty picture thus far.

What to Expect for the Rest of 2015

Please find Gomez’s rest-of-season 50th-percentile PECOTA projection below (as well as PECOTA’s preseason forecast):

























As we can see, the rest-of-season forecast is pretty much half the preseason forecast minus a little. Because the Brewers only have 77 games left, it appears that PECOTA is sticking with its preseason outlook. We should also note that PECOTA was already forecasting some decline in AVG for Gomez. Beyond the already predicted decline, PECOTA sees a full return to his past norms, especially in runs, RBI, and stolen bases.

As for me, I am a little more concerned than PECOTA is about Gomez. If Gomez’s first half was really only down because of his injuries (making him less able to do damage with the bat at the plate and with his legs on the bases), then PECOTA’s rest-of-season forecast seems perfectly reasonable. However, if this poor production was a result of a decline in abilities, then this forecast seems overly opportunistic. So which is it, injury or decline?

There is no way to know (obviously), but I am sadly betting on a little bit more of a decline than PECOTA has anticipated. I am not a big first-half versus second-half splits person, but just as Gomez’s second half of 2012 was telling us something, his second half of 2014 might be, too. All the negatives that we have observed in Gomez’s game this season—decreased power, BABIP, hard contact, and base stealing success, to go with an increased groundball rate—seemed to already have showed themselves in the second half of last season. I think he regains some of his form in the power department as he recovers from these injuries, but I think his days as an elite base-stealing threat are over. This probably means that he will continue to stay in the middle of the order as opposed to the top of the order (not necessarily a bad thing), but we should his RBI increase at the expense of runs scored. Consequently, if I were considering trading away or trading for Gomez, I would probably have his roto slash forecasted at .260/10/31/38/10 with six times caught stealing, which is not a huge decrease from PECOTA’s forecast, but is not an insignificant decrease—and is certainly not the production of an elite fantasy contributor.

The Great Beyond

Just because Gomez has fallen out of elite status as soon as the fantasy community was willing to consider him as such does not mean that Gomez’s fall will need to be drastic or even linear. While he may no longer be a 20/30 threat, a 20/20 threat with an average AVG and plus counting stats is still incredibly helpful. Add in the fact that many will avoid Gomez in following years if his lessened performance continues this season, and he might end up being a discount going forward. While he has been around forever, he is still only 29 and probably has a handful of years left being a perfectly flawed player. As long as we are finally comfortable valuing him as such.

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