A 34-year-old coming off an injury plagued 2016 and a 31-year-old who hasn’t been a fantasy asset since 2014? Yep.
These two are similar so I’m lumping them together. They are both on the down swing of their careers but they can both still have value, potentially significant value. They also both happen to play for Texas in a very good offense park. Owners suffering from recency bias might dismiss both of them based on their full season 2016 lines, but there are plenty of positive signs for these two.
The Texas Rangers were a good offense last year putting up 765 runs (7th overall) and a .755 OPS (T-9th overall). They did most of this without Choo (210 PA) or Gomez (130 PA for Rangers). The leadoff spot in the Rangers order was miserable when Choo or Gomez wasn’t occupying it.
Gomez was the main leadoff hitter after he was acquired and RosterResource is projecting him to maintain that spot moving forward. That leaves Choo as the new two-hole hitter. The Rangers lineup is solid top to bottom and Gomez and Choo batting at the top should give them plenty of R and RBI opportunities.
In 2016, here is how the Rangers stacked up in terms of R and RBI from the first two spots in the order.
|Order||R||MLB Rank||RBI||MLB Rank|
All of that was with a well below average leadoff hitter for 400+ PA. Predicting R and RBI can be a fool’s errand so it’s best to focus on opportunity. Both Gomez and Choo should have plenty of opportunity for both in the current iteration of the Rangers lineup assuming they end up batting 1st and 2nd.
Choo finished an injury-riddled 2016 with a fantasy line of 7 HR, 27 R, 17 RBI, 6 SB and a .242 AVG in 210 PAs. On the surface that seems terrible but if we prorate it to 550 PA, it would be 18 HR, 71 R, 45 RBI, and 16 SB which is essentially what Choo has done throughout his career. I think 16 SB is the one that stands out as non-repeatable but Choo can still be a borderline double digit guy. He hasn’t really run since 2013 (31 attempts) but he did attempt more steals in 210 PA last year than either of the prior two years in which he logged at least 529 PA. As I mentioned, Choo was pacing to 18 HR last but I think that’s probably the best we can reasonably expect. His career high in HR is 22 and anytime he has crossed the 20 mark he’s had at least 640 PA. Betting on a 600+ PA season from Choo isn’t a +EV move these days. If he logs 500 PA though he should get 15+ and I think that’s much more in the realm of reality.
AVG has always been a big part of Choo’s game but he has declined in recent years. Choo was unlucky last year and I’d be confident that he is above .250 this year if not higher. Choo’s .288 BABIP was a career low by about 20 points. He did this while putting up an above average line drive rate compared to his career (22.3% versus 21.5%). Given that Choo has decent speed and hits with the Japanese style, I wouldn’t expect him to ever have a BABIP sub .300. Choo won’t hit .280 in 2017 but high .260s/low .270s seems reasonable. Choo won’t wow in any one particular category but he’s solid five category production at a fraction of the cost. Choo is currently undrafted with an NFBC ADP of 334 as the 80th OF off the board. He does have injury and age related decline risk but at that price he’s 100% worth the flyer.
For Gomez, we are going to focus on distinct parts of Gomez’s career. Gomez became a different player in 2012 so I will be focusing on that time forward. For 2016, I’ll be focusing on pre-Rangers and with the Rangers. Gomez’s 2016 can be broken down into two distinct portions: the shitty portion and the good portion. The good portion is in a small sample size (130 PA) but it coincides with the point where he was traded to Texas.
Like I mentioned, Gomez has some pretty distinct levels of output during his career. It’s hard to completely buy the 130 good PA in 2016 given that he outperformed his peak from 2012-2014 but it’s enough for me to have some of my faith restored. I’m not big on the emotional side of the game but Gomez looked miserable in Houston from the get go and his early struggles only seemed to compound themselves well into last season. After the trade Gomez altered his approach which helped his entire game.
Small sample size caveats apply here but Gomez essentially stopped hacking. He stopped swinging at junk (O-swing%) and started making better contact on pitches both in the zone (Z-contact%) and out of the zone (O-contact%). He significantly dropped his swinging strike rate by lowering it over six points. These improvements directly led to the three point drop in his K rate and the 3.5 point increase in his BB rate. Gomez’s peak more closely resembles the pre-trade Gomez except for one important category: contact. If Gomez can maintain his post-trade contact rates while regressing back his peak numbers in the other categories we are still going to get a vastly improved player. We will never see peak Gomez again but if we get some combination of pre and post trade Gomez, we should get a valuable OF.
This is the last chart showing some of Gomez’s batted ball profile.
Gomez stopped trying to pull everything after the trade and sprayed the ball much more evenly. He also made much more medium contact and even bumped up his hard contact rate some. These numbers resemble his peak much more closely than his pre-trade numbers do which is definitely a positive sign moving forward. The one negative above is that he absolutely benefited from positive luck in his post-trade run with a .347 BABIP and a 22.2 HR/FB. I don’t think he can hit 24 HR nor do I think he’ll ever bat above .280 again, but 15 HR and .260 is reasonable. If we add in a high R total and a decent RBI total with 20+ SBs we suddenly have an asset. Gomez isn’t going to steal 30+ but he has 17 and 18 SB in 2015 and 2016 respectively both coming in seasons with less than 500 PA. Gomez is certainly an injury risk and that hurts his upside but like Choo, I think he’s worth the gamble. Gomez is currently going as the 37th OF and 161 overall. That seems about right if you buy into his Rangers numbers. Not a big discount but certainly a spot in the draft where I’m willing to gamble on upside.
Steamer is way down on Gomez, mostly because it only forecasts 443 PA for him. The projection is 13 HR, 53 R, 50 RBI, 15 SB and a .253 AVG. That line would likely drop Gomez out of the top 50 for OF. I’m obviously more optimistic on Gomez, particularly in the R department. If Gomez can get to 15 HR, 75 R, 68 RBI, 18 SB, and a .260 AVG he’ll be worth the price you pay. I wouldn’t overpay for Gomez given the current cost and risks associated but in the 12th-14th round if Gomez is there I’d pull the trigger.