Ever since being traded to the Astros last July, outfielder Carlos Gomez has looked lost.
Gomez, an All-Star in back-to-back seasons in 2013 and 2014 with the Brewers, posted just a .670 OPS in 41 games with the Astros last year, hitting only four home runs.
On the season as a whole, Gomez hit just 12 homers, his lowest total since hitting eight in 2011.
Astros fans hoped that Gomez would rebound after an offseason, allowing him to adjust to playing with Houston and figure himself out. If anything, the free-agent-to-be played worse out of the gate, having a .181 batting average with a .545 OPS as late as June 12.
Gomez himself even admitted to his struggles to the Houston Chronicle in May.
“For the last year and this year, I not really do much for this team. The fans be angry. They be disappointed,” Gomez said on May 4.
Since, however, he’s looked more like his old self, hitting .300/.372/.400 in his last 19 games since bottoming out. He added a home run and 11 RBI. Last night, Gomez was good too, going 3-for-4 and finishing just a homer shy of the cycle. It’s a turnaround that the Astros have desperately needed, as they’re 15-4 over those last 19 games and have pulled themselves back into Wild Card contention.
So, how has Gomez found his stroke again all of a sudden?
Well, from the beginning of the season until his turnaround began on June 14, Gomez was overcompensating for his lack of production. He was swinging at everything, quite literally.
Gomez, who has never had the best plate discipline to begin with, was striking out at a rate unheard of even for him. Gomez was seeing 36.3% of his plate appearances end in strikeouts, over 13 percent higher than his career average, already high nonetheless.
He was swinging and missing at almost everything. Gomez had a 19.3 swinging strike percentage, which means that he swung and missed at nearly one in five pitches he saw. If he was still at that rate, he’d be swinging and missing at the most pitches in all of baseball.
As a result, Gomez’s contact rate went down to just 63.7% (percentage of pitches he made contact with), 12 percent off of his career average. And even when he did make contact, it was weak contact. Over 30 percent of his balls put in play were classified as “soft” contact, about 10 percent above career average.
Obviously, something was wrong with Gomez. He was, by all means, a free swinger and couldn’t do anything to stop it. Right when Astros fans were ready to give up hope on him, he began to finally show glimpses of his old self.
Since June 14, Gomez has a swinging strike percentage of 12.3%, actually lower than his career average. He’s making contact at a 75.2% rate, right in line with his career average. And he’s purely hitting the ball harder, seeing his soft contact rate drop by eight percent, leading to twice as many line drives and more hits overall.
Gomez’s strikeout rate, you ask? Still high at 23.1%. But even that is right where he was when he was one of the best position players in the Major Leagues.
It is good to see Gomez break out of a slump that has seemed to define him over the past calendar year. Regardless, it’s still hard to know where he will go from here. His .392 BABIP is uncharacteristically high, but a .300 batting average for Gomez was unrealistic anyway.
Despite all this, Gomez is also playing with the pressure of a contract year. As already mentioned, he’s a free agent at the end of the season, and if he really wants to cash in, he’s going to need to continue to play like this going forward. Just 31 in December, Gomez may finally be righting the ship enough to send him to a big payday this offseason.
“I'm not even thinking about free agency,” Gomez told the Chronicle. “At the end of the year … I'm going to decide what I'm going to do.”
But for the time being, Gomez is leading the Astros’ charge back into contention.