Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Go-Go Going Down Looking

Through twenty-seven plate appearance in 2009, Carlos Gomez has written another chapter on offensive futility.  With a minimum of 20 plate appearances to qualify, the Twins’ center fielder has the seventh highest strikeout percentage (34.6%) among MLB outfielders and a punitive .115 batting average.  This was not the anticipated results for the center fielder who had worked diligently (maybe) with hitting coach Joe Vavra all spring to avoid the increasingly high total of Ks.  To his credit, Gomez is chasing fewer pitches out of the strike zone – he has chased 27% of pitches which is just slightly higher than the league average of 25%.  Even still, with two-strikes on him, Gomez has already mentally selected his seat on the bench.  In thirteen of those twenty-seven plate appearances, Gomez has had the count run to two-strikes and just once was he able to gain first base (through a walk).  On nine other occasions he struck out.  If Gomez is not chasing pitches as he has been in the past, why does he still maintain an inflated strikeout rate?   


There are several factors that have led to this, the first of which is pitch selection.   In efforts to revamp his patience, Gomez has taken a greater portion of pitches then he had last year.  In 2008, Gomez took 45% pitches and this year he has taken 54%.  Superficially this is a good sign but the problem is that Gomez is not taking the right pitches.  A year ago, of the 946 pitches that Gomez took, 302 were strikes (32%).  Fast forward to this year and so far Gomez has taken 50 pitches and of which 20 were in the strike zone (43%).  As such, his aggression when faced with two-strikes has subsided.  In six of his nine strikeouts in 2009, Gomez has gone down looking.   This is a huge difference from 2008 when just 30 of his 142 strikeouts were of the watching variety.    





Pitches Taken 



Pitches Taken for a Strike 




When Gomez does swing, he makes contact only 64.5% of the time which is well-below the league average of 80% contact.  In addition to that, his ability to make contact on anything thrown outside of the zone is minimal.  As noted above, Gomez is chasing fewer pitches out of the zone (27%) however when he does swing, his contact likelihood is minuscule.  Just 30% of his swings on pitches outside the zone result in the ball being put into play.  This total is the smallest contact among outfielders other than the Indians’ Grady Sizemore, who has made contact on just 27.3% during swings on balls out of the zone.  It might not be a prime pitch selection to swing at but the bottom-line is that Gomez is simply failing to make contact, resulting in the inevitable strikeout.   









OOZ Contact% 




Strikeouts aside, Gomez is enjoying far less success because of the ingrained doctrine to “take more pitches”.  In 2008, Gomez swung at the first pitch in 44% of his plate appearances.  In those 105 PA’s, Gomez produced a .426/.433/.554 batting line that resulted in 11 of his 48 extra base hits.  These were far better consequences than the league average split which was .336/.342/.554 on the first pitch.   If Gomez sunk to two strikes, his ability to hit vanished.  Under all conditions in which Gomez had two strikes on him, he wilted to a .132/.195/.375 hitter.  Even the proverbial league average hitter managed to hit a meager .196/.267/.292 with those circumstances.  In 2009, Gomez has swung at 30% of the first offerings in a plate appearance yet opposing pitchers have peppered the strike zone – throwing Gomez a strike 70% of the time.  Because of his More often than not, Gomez has allowed the count to wander into two strike territory that has given unfavorable results (0-for-12). 


Despite belief to the contrary, Gomez should be looking to pounce on a pitch early in the count, particularly the first one.   His two extra base hits have come when he was aggressive:  He hit his double on the first pitch from Carlos Silva and his triple on the third pitch from Erik Bedard.  Avoiding getting Gomez to two strikes will pay dividends for the Twins.