Carlos Gomez got his offensive season off to a hot start, knocking the first pitch of the season for a single to left field, and taking second when Justin Upton briefly bobbled the ball. However, he immediately poured water on his hot start by trying to take third and being thrown out by more than a full ten feet. Gomez saw a soft toss from Upton. Gomez saw that New Chipper was standing pretty far off the bag at third. Gomez thought his blazing speed could get past New Chipper before he caught Upton’s lazy throw. Gomez was very wrong, and likely cost the Brewers a run.
This is not a newly minted aggressiveness for Gomez, though the excitement of Opening Day may have made him a bit more brash than usual. He’s always been known as a risk taker on the basepaths, whether it be to his credit or his detriment. His speed has always been a bit of a double edged sword. He has a reputation for making a lot of mistakes.
Perception and reputation are funny things, though. Because cameras on TV broadcasts follow the ball, we always see Gomez cost the team runs when he gets thrown out, but we don’t always see how many runs he creates when he goes from 1st to third on a play where anyone else would have been stayed put. Perception of the common fan is also largely based upon what they hear from the announcers.
Take for instance, the hit and run. On several occasions in this young season, Gomez has attempted to steal second with Jean Segura at the plate, and Jean has fouled off a pitch. Each time, Gomez had a great jump, and would have stolen the base easily. Bill Schroeder and Brian Anderson noticed this and suggested that maybe Segura shouldn’t be swinging while Gomez is running. There may be some truth to this suggestion, but it ignores the benefits of the hit-and-run play.
I tweeted last week that if Gomez and Segura are going to be batting 1-2, we will see a lot of hit and runs. Roenicke loves putting pressure on the defense and creating chaos on the bases, and Gomez-Segura is a great combo for doing just that. Segura is a very good contact hitter (90.3% contact rate with pitches in the zone last year). He’s not elite, like Marco Scutaro (97.1%!), but he’s still a very good contact hitter. In this case a hit-and-run is not about protecting the runner, as Gomez doesn’t need protection. Since joining the Brewers, Gomez has stolen bases at an 86% success rate. In this case, it’s about advancing the runner as far as possible. If Gomez takes off from first, he’s already in scoring position. If Segura gets a single, Gomez is on third base at the very least, with a good chance that he’ll score on the play.
Here’s another aspect. Segura puts the ball on the ground and gets a lot of infield hits. He posted the 2nd highest GB% in MLB last season, behind teammate, Norichika Aoki. Combine that with his speed, and Segura also had the second most infield hits, also behind Aoki. Putting a runner in motion forces the second baseman out of position to cover the bag, likely making Segura even more likely to reach on a ground ball. Segura puts the ball in right field fairly often, so this could potentially help Segura quite a bit (Spray Chart at Fangraphs).
It’s legitimate to question if a hit-and-run with Gomez and Segura is worth it. They’re speedy enough to stay out of the double play, and Gomez doesn’t need the protection to swipe a base. But it’s also legitimate to note that Segura’s speed and contact rates seem to diminish much of the risk involved.
If we know anything about Roenicke, it’s that he loves using speed to create chaos and put the opposing defense into a bind. I think we’ll see quite a bit of the Gomez-Segura-hit-and-run, but I don’t think we should be as quick to write it off as Brian and Bill seem to be, even if it doesn’t always work.