MILWAUKEE — Carlos Gomez ignited quite the conversation when he put pen to paper in March to ink his three-year contract extension. Some said the Milwaukee Brewers were foolish for paying Gomez what they did, while others looked at what he could become rather than what he had done.
Six months, a full season and an All-Star appearance later, Gomez has rewarded the Brewers for their faith. In a year in which not much went right for Milwaukee, Gomez’s dazzling play in center field and breakout campaign at the plate was something fans could get behind.
Though he’s suffered from a second-half decline and a rough month of August, Gomez will blow past career highs in every major offensive category. Gomez is focusing on that rather than the fact his numbers have dropped from where they were earlier this year.
“I’m not frustrated like people think or upset,” Gomez said. “It’s part of the game. I’m still hitting .280. What’s my career-high average? .260? I’m still way over.”
Gomez’s batting average currently sits at .282, which would be a career high. He also has career-highs in home runs at 21 and RBI at 69. His on-base percentage is .336, over 30 points higher than his previous season high. Gomez stole his 37th base Sunday, matching his career high, while his 76 runs scored is a new career high.
The 27-year-old is the only player in baseball this season with more than 20 home runs and more than 35 stolen bases. Angels star Mike Trout is just two stolen bases away from joining Gomez, leaving Milwaukee’s center fielder in company with one of the top players in the game.
“Everything is higher,” Gomez said. “With everything we’ve been through this year, we didn’t win (a lot of) games. But personally I’ve been better. I know I can do better but we have more years to continue to make progress. This year, I made progress. Next year, I want to do better personally.”
Gomez was hitting .319 as late as July 5 and took a .295 average, 14 home runs and 45 RBI into the All-Star Game. Nobody expected the torrid pace to be kept up, especially since he plays the game in a way susceptible to injury.
Between crashing into the wall multiple times and just going all out on every play, Gomez suffered a couple of serious injuries but a few other minor ailments that impacted his performance.
“Overall, his season has been good,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “It’s hard when you look at the first half and then you look at the second half, but at the end of the year you’ll look at the numbers and say, ‘Pretty nice year.’
“Is he a .330 hitter? When you look at what leads the league every year, that’s a pretty elite group. A guy usually doesn’t have just a freak year when he hits that high.”
Even through August when Gomez hit .197 with just one home run and three RBI, Roenicke has seen better at-bats from his center fielder. There’s still the occasional swing where Gomez corkscrews himself into the ground, but he picks his spots much better.
Between his injuries and a simple regression to the mean, Gomez was bound to have a slump sometime during the season. The question was how he would react to struggles, and he has handled things well.
“He still goes through his little streaks where he’s chasing (pitches),” Roenicke said. “But I think his overall at-bats are better. I think he’s learned a lot. He still swings hard, which is fine. But they’re different at-bats.
“Just signing him up has made a difference in what’s happened this year. Can you imagine the frustration when you’re emotional like he is and you’re trying to have a big year as a free agent? I don’t think that would be fun for any of us.”
Offense is just one aspect of his game, however. There’s a very good chance Gomez could be Milwaukee’s first Gold Glove winner since Robin Yount in 1982. Nobody in baseball has played a better center field this season than Gomez, but winning a Gold Glove is not guaranteed.
Gomez will have to beat out last year’s winner Andrew McCutchen, an MVP candidate playing for a contending team. While offensive numbers shouldn’t matter for a defensive awards, managers vote high profile players to win Gold Gloves and offense helps.
The All-Star Game selection, his solid numbers at the plate and the fact he has gotten so much national attention for his defense should help Gomez’s case. While he hasn’t put too much thought into it, Gomez has had winning a Gold Glove cross his mind lately.
“I would think I’m one of the best center fielders in the game, and I’ve worked really hard to get to this point,” Gomez said. “If you see my six years, I’ve been solid in center field — even when I wasn’t playing every day. I’ve saved a lot of runs, and that’s really important for a team defensively. I had a really good season defensively in 2008 and I didn’t get it because somebody hit good. I think Gold Glove should be no matter what you hit, if you’re saving runs, how you’re making things happen and winning games (defensively) is how you’re supposed to get it.”
Gomez wondered how many runs he had saved this season. His face lit up when told he was at 34 at the time, the most by a center fielder since the stat began being tracked 11 seasons ago. Gomez’s five home-run robbing catches are the most in a single season since that stat began being kept 10 years ago.
“That’s a really good number,” Gomez said with a big smile. “That makes me feel better. It’s really cool when you know you’re in the top three in your position. It makes you work harder. Like this year, I was hitting .340, .320, .300 and now I’m at .280 but it doesn’t mean anything to me because we’re not winning like we expect and I can’t enjoy my good season.”
Winning a Gold Glove would mean a lot to Gomez, a player who was given up on by two teams by the age of 24. While range is hard to calculate with a single statistic, Gomez covers as much or more ground than any outfielder in baseball. His 10 assists place him second among National League center fielders, trailing New York’s Juan Lagares by one assist.
“When you get to this point, the last 15-20 games, you start thinking about some things you want to reach,” Gomez said. “In the middle of the season, early in the season, I don’t like to think about goals – ‘I’m going to try to hit .300 with 20 home runs, 40 stolen bases.’ But when you get to this point, now you put a number in your mind.
“For right now, in the clubhouse, when I’m home I’m thinking I have a chance. I know we have good competition for Gold Glove in center field, and other guys deserve it, too. But I’m not the one who makes the decision. I can only do my best trying to save runs for my team and help my team win games. Whatever happens, happens.”
Winning a major award for the Brewers is also important to Gomez. He feels a tremendous amount of gratitude toward the organization for not only acquiring him in the first place but for placing faith in him with the contract extension.
Sixto Lezcano (1979) is the only outfielder in franchise history to win a Gold Glove, as George Scott , Cecil Cooper, Lezcano and Yount (SS) are the only four to win as Brewers.
“It’ll really mean more to me,” Gomez said. “I give it up to the Brewers organization, because they gave me the opportunity to be the player that I am right now. That really means a lot to me and is a really good feeling. I appreciate what’s happened here. They waited, continued to give me opportunities the first three years and me and my family, when I’m retired 10 years later, every time I talk about the Brewers I’m going to take my hat off for this organization.”
With a Wins Above Replacement of 7.9 according to Baseball Reference, Gomez was the fourth-most valuable player in baseball behind Trout, Josh Donaldson and Clayton Kershaw.
What does Gomez have in store for an encore to his breakout performance as one of baseball’s best all-around players?
“Every year, you want to get better,” Gomez said. “If one year you hit 50 home runs, the next year you want to hit 51. That’s what people expect, and that’s what you work for. Next year, I want to do better. I give everything I have every day. That’s why I don’t get angry or frustrated.
“Next year I’ll come and try to get better in all the stuff – defensively, offensively and being a professional, too. This year I proved myself as one of the best players in the game.”