Entering 2013, Milwaukee Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez was a career .247 hitter in more than 2,000 major league plate appearances. But going into Wednesday's game, he's hitting .326 and showing that the power he displayed for the first time last season wasn't a fluke, as he has 10 home runs and 13 doubles, ranking third in the National League in extra-base hits.
Gomez's improvement has been attributed to several things, most notably that he's finally been given free reign to cut loose at the plate, instead of using his speed and slapping the ball around, as both the Twins and Brewers had him do earlier in his career. At 27, he's also at the age when many players peak, and maybe he has just matured as a hitter.
But has he?
In some ways, it's still the same Gomez, with a very aggressive approach at the plate that results in few walks and a fairly high number of strikeouts. His strikeout rate of 22.1 percent is right at his career mark of 22.3 percent and his walk rate of 4.6 is below his career mark of 5.0 percent. So based on that admittedly simple examination, he hasn't matured at the plate, although you could argue that can be measured in other ways. What he's doing is hitting the ball harder and hitting more line drives. That's resulted in a .380 average on balls in play, well above the .296 mark of a year ago, when Gomez hit .260.
While it's rare for a player to sustain a .380 BABIP over an entire season, Gomez might be that rare player who combines speed with hard contact. Aside from how lucky he has been or hasn't been, what I'm mostly interested in is whether a player with his strikeout-to-walk ratio can sustain this level of performance.
I looked at three previous seasons and found 32 instances (including two by Gomez) in which a player batted at least 300 times, struck out in at least 20 percent of his PAs and struck out at least four times as often as he walked. The only player to hit .300 was Chris Johnson, who did it in 2010 with the Astros. Only six of the 32 hit above .275.
Most of these players were low-average, high-power guys -- if they weren't, they wouldn't be able to keep their place in the lineup -- but it's not the most impressive list of hitters, with Johnson, Chris Heisey, Miguel Olivo and Aaron Rowand appearing more than once, along with others such as Dayan Viciedo, J.P. Arencibia, Danny Espinosa, Ronny Cedeno and Jayson Nix. That's Gomez's peer group, at least when it comes to plate discipline and approach.
OK, Chris Davis. Last year he struck out 30.1 percent of the time and walked 6.6. He hit .270 thanks to a .335 BABIP. This year, of course, he's doing even better, with the best wRC+ in the majors (better than Miguel Cabrera's). But this isn't the same Chris Davis. His strikeout is down to 22.3 percent and his walk rate up to 13.5 percent. That's amazing improvement, from a 4.6 ratio to 1.7 in one year (no doubt driven at least a little bit by added respect from pitchers).
All this is to suggest that it is unlikely Gomez will keep this up, especially in the batting-average department. He's a fun player who also adds great value with his glove, so he doesn't have to hit .300 to be extremely valuable. Still, if he settles in as a .270 hitter with 30/30 potential and Gold Glove-caliber defense, that's a terrific player.