Carlos Gomez was the Rays’ quick answer in right field after the trade of Steven Souza Jr.: A fireball entertainer who makes fans shake their head one play and “ooohh” and “ahhhh” the next, and an enigma in the spreadsheet.
What exactly can we expect out of Gomez in 2018?
His home/road splits are incredibly confusing
Gomez’s offensive numbers are unusual. Last year with the Texas Rangers, he hit an unbelievable .448 wOBA vs. RHPs at Globe Life Park — one of the more hitter-friendly environments in the game — but .249 wOBA vs. LHPs. On the road, he decided he only appeared to only hit well vs. lefties, slashing .319 wOBA vs. LHPs and .292 wOBA vs. RHPs.
The same goes for 2016 to a lesser extent, where he hit .330 wOBA at home vs. RHPs and .221 wOBA vs. LHPs. On the road, he hit .337 wOBA vs. LHPs and .268 wOBA vs. RHPs.
I would expect his performance at home in 2016 — Minute Maid Park in Houston — provides us a more accurate sample, given their similar dimensions to Tropicana from all parts of the outfield, but it’s hard to know exactly how a ten-year veteran is again at the plate.
His contact rates show nothing wildly unusual — except maybe that he isn’t getting hard contact from lefties — but nothing far from his normal.
The numbers certainly make it hard to analyze what you’re getting from Gomez. The only thing you can take away from his home/road splits the last two seasons is his consistent ability to rake at home.
Perhaps it’s a confidence thing for him and sleeping in his own bed really helps? here’s no clear explanation as to why, that’s about as good as guess as you’ll find from this Rays blogger.
He wants the other team to “hate him”
In addition to being an athletic outfielder who can (hopefully) hit, the Rays got one of baseball’s bigger and more polarizing personalities in Carlos Gomez.
Gomez has been a controversial player throughout his career, involved in and escalated a number of on-field incidents stemming from his intensity.
He knows that he can ruffle a few feathers thanks to the way he plays, but Gomez wouldn’t have it any other way.
“That’s how you want it,” Gomez told Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times earlier this spring. “I don’t want the other team to love me. I want them to hate me. Because if they hate me, it’s because I’m doing my job right.
He plays hard all the time and possesses many of the same qualities and traits of former Rays outfielder and fan favorite Steven Souza Jr.
”Very excited to have that guy in the lineup and the clubhouse,’’ said catcher Wilson Ramos, who teamed with Gomez in Minnesota. “We lost Steven Souza, who was one of the funny guys in the clubhouse, so we have Carlos now. He’s like Souza, he jokes around all the time. And he’s fun to watch play. … You want that guy on your side.”
He’s someone who prides himself on motivating his teammates, a trait he knows is important during the grind of a 162-game season. Gomez commented to MLB Network’s Dan Plesac in a “30 Clubs in 30 Days” interview on Sunday: “You have to find something to motivate you to come to the ballpark and do what you love. If you don’t feel love for the game, it’s going to be hard to play. One of the things that I do — I’m a different guy.”
Playing right field for the first time in his major league career, Gomez can settle in while flanking defensive superstar Kevin Kiermaier in center, compensating for any lost range Gomez experienced in 2016 and 2017 where he accrued -4 DRS each season.
Signs of an ongoing decline
While this isn’t necessarily a new trend, Gomez’s strikeout rate stayed in the thirty percent range in 2017, as it did in his prior campaign, and he was reliant on a .336 BABIP that sits above his career mean.
Gomez has had trouble staying on the field, as well, averaging 112 games per season since 2015. That, and his rising strikeout percentage — which ranked the 23rd-highest in all of baseball last season — played significant factors in Gomez struggling to attract significant interest on the open market this winter despite posting an .802 OPS with 17 home runs.
For the Rays, who gutted the bulk of their established team this offseason and now boast a more defense and contact oriented lineup, they believe the benefits outweigh the negatives with Gomez, knowing they needed to add more pop to compliment a slew of contact-heavy hitters.
Another area Gomez appears to be on the decline in comes on the basepaths, where he’s seen his stolen base numbers drop from 34 to 13 in just three seasons.
Overall a smart decision
Acquiring Gomez allows the Rays to move the speedy Mallex Smith to a reserve role, taking some pressure off of the youngster in what could be his first full season in the big leagues.
Combine that with the veteran presence and playoff experience he’ll bring to the clubhouse along with the intensity he’s going to play with on the field, Gomez looks to be a fine addition to the Rays. He is projected to put up a .239/.311/.406 line and 94wRC+. Because of defense and base running depth charts he is expected to accrue 1.3 fWAR over 560 plate appearances.
As DRaysBay Managing Editor Daniel Russell noted in his 2018 Rays Season Preview, if there’s a time to experiment with veteran role players, it’s during a rebuild, where any aging player not pulling his weight can be easily replaced by a prospect who need to be promoted in 2018.
Best-case scenario: Gomez continues to rake at home, provides solid defense next to Kiermaier in right field, steals roughly 15 bases, and figures out his offensive struggles on the road.
Worst-case scenario: Gomez’s superb offensive numbers at home don’t play well in the more pitching-friendly Trop, he has trouble moving from center to right, and strikeout rate makes him wildly unpopular amongst Rays fans.
While we’re all hoping for the best-case scenario, know one thing: at the VERY least, we are in for quite the show.