Coming into the 2009 season, there was a lot of chatter about Carlos Gomez's new approach at the plate. Gomez himself told the media that he had dedicated himself in the off-season to taking more pitches. This was a change that I, and many others, were excited about, as one of Gomez's biggest problems at the plate last season was his over-eagerness and unwillingness to take pitches. His O-Swing % (the percentage of pitches out of the strike zone swung at) was 36.8 %, 11.4 percentage points above the league average. It was also the 7th highest in the majors of the 213 players with at least 400 plate appearances. His walk rate of 4.2% in 2008 was the 13th lowest in the majors, and only Kevin Kouzmanoff had a worse BB:K ratio than Gomez's 0.18 last season. And, of course, his .296 OBP, part of an underwhelming overall line of .258/.296/.360, ranked in the bottom ten.
However, Gomez's talk over the off-season of starting off batting practice sessions by just watching 50 pitches go by brought hope that the 2009 season would bring a new approach. Nearly three weeks into the season, though, it seems on the surface that nothing has changed: his O-Swing% is 34.5, walk rate 5.0%, BB:K ratio 0.20, and OBP .250. All in all, an overall line of .211/.250/.316 does not show any improvement from last season. However, underneath these similarities, there is a difference in Gomez's approach--it's just not clear whether it's a good one. Previous to this season, his overall Swing % (the percentage of pitches swung at) was well above the league average, but thus far in 2009 it has fallen 8 percentage points to right around league average. Obviously, since he's been swinging at only marginally fewer balls, he must be swinging at significantly fewer strikes. Sure enough, his Z-Swing% (the percentage of pitches in strike zone swung at), which in 2007 and 2008 was around the league average of 66%, is at 55.4% so far.
Last year, Gomez's approach was to swing at everything. This year, it seems that his new approach is to swing at nothing. It doesn't seem that he's had any measurable increase in ability to recognize pitches, as he's swinging at just as many balls and actually making contact 15% less of the time on them. What's really changed about his approach is that's he's indiscriminately letting pitches go by, even though many of these new takes are on pitches within the zone. Of course, this could just be noise in a small sample size, but it's not exactly encouraging data to start the season. Gomez is one of my favorite Twins and his defense gives him at least one valuable skill (unlike swing-happy teammate Delmon Young), but so far this season he has not shown the much-talked about improvement at the plate.