by Tim Muma
Complaining about one of the top statistical offenses in baseball may seem picky, but the Milwaukee Brewers' inconsistency in scoring runs has contributed to the team's overall struggles in 2010. With a number of boppers in the lineup - which can lead to some famine-like outcomes - the Brewers were hoping a couple of young pups could pick up the slack with base hits and speed on the diamond.
After 57 games this season, Carlos Gomez and Alcides Escobar have failed to be solid contributors at the dish or on the bases.
No reasonable fan or 'expert' believed these speedsters would be tearing the cover off the ball and swiping 50 bases apiece, but most people were expecting more than this.
Gomez - .257 AVG, .294 OBP, .397 SLG, .691 OPS, 87 OPS+, 22 R, 7 SB, 27 SO and 6 BB
Escobar - .247 AVG, .295 OBP, .361 SLG, .656 OPS, 77 OPS+, 22 R, 2 SB, 24 SO and 12 BB
Gomez continues to show flashes of his magnificent raw tools though he still can't find a way to bring everything together. His strikeout to walk rate is extremely frightening and the .294 OBP seems nearly impossible for a guy with his speed and potential power.
The Brewers' speedy center fielder missed a couple of weeks with a knee injury, so you have to wonder how much that is affecting him. At the same time, Gomez's numbers this year match his previous campaigns with slightly more pop.
What hurts the Brewers the most, however, is that Gomez has hit in the 2nd spot 24 times - a prime position with Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder behind him - and he is failing to get on base for those two. When hitting 2nd, Gomez has an even lower OBP (.288) thanks to just 4 walks and a stunning 22 knockouts.
At this point, there is no reason to put him near the top of the order with a sub-.300 OBP. Even against left-handed starters Gomez has shown nothing, putting up his worst numbers of any split - .204 AVG, .246 OBP, .315 SLG and .560 OPS - absolutely disastrous.
I do believe Gomez still needs to start 6 out of every 7 games to give him a chance to find a groove, but he should only bat in the lower third of the order until he proves to be a capable hitter.
Escobar, meanwhile, has mainly hit in the unenviable spot in front of the pitcher. Batting ahead of the 'easy out' in the order is a tough task best suited for a veteran batter. Considering the difficulty of that spot in the lineup, he hasn't been horrific when batting 8th - his worst stats actually come from the 7-hole.
I haven't heard any complaints from the current shortstop about hitting in front of the pitcher (unlike his predecessor J.J. Hardy), but Escobar clearly is battling the
necessary adjustments to the position's intricacies.
As a free-swinging youngster, the league already knew Escobar could be had with pitches outside of the zone. Now in at-bats with the pitcher in the on-deck circle, enemy hurlers have little motivation to hit too much of the plate. That puts Escobar in a tight spot, especially as he is naturally fighting his urge to swing at just about everything.
Interestingly - and I'm not sure manager Ken Macha has seen the numbers - Escobar has succeeded in the 2-hole (though it's only in 5 starts). In 23 plate appearances batting 2nd, Escobar has a .333 AVG, .364 OBP, .476 SLG and .840 OPS. Perhaps the sample size is small, but there could definitely be something to the stats.
No one will argue that hitting before the pitcher is the toughest spot to handle, but the discussion over hitting in front of the best hitters is an old one - after all, Gomez has done little in that spot. Having played and coached, however, I firmly believe that some hitters are simply better in different lineup slots, though it's probably 95% mental for each player.
I'm not entirely sold on batting Escobar 2nd (though 1250 WSSP's Sparky Fifer has been yelling for such a decision all season), but he should be there before Gomez. While Escobar hasn't been given the best of circumstances to deal with, he hasn't shown enough to earn a guaranteed spot near the top either.
When it comes down to it, the Brewers need steady play from Gomez and Escobar in order to be a top-flight offensive machine on a nightly basis. They aren't going to solve the pitching woes, but they could bump the offense up a notch, allowing the pitchers to work with early and/or large leads.
Unfortunately, regardless of other factors (injury, lineup position), production is the name of the game, and these two have not delivered. However, there really isn't a good reason to bench either one - they need to play every day to give them experience and an opportunity to 'find themselves.'
At worst, the Brewers will find out if their up-the-middle future is bright or partly cloudy - of course, Rickie Weeks and Jonathan Lucroy will affect that forecast as well.
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