Carlos Gomez is scuffling. This is something we know. This is something we *have* known, and will continue to know. Let's take a look at just how bad things have gotten for the centerfielder, and try to figure out what's going wrong.
Outfielders in the American League are collectively hitting .250/.320/.398 with a .302 BABIP, 22.4% K%, and an 8.4% BB%. That's our baseline here. They are swinging - again, collectively - at 27.0% of pitches outside of the strike zone, 66.6% of pitches inside the strike zone, 45.5% of all pitches. They are making contact with 76.5% of the pitches they see, and have a swinging strike rate of 10.6%.
Let's put these numbers next to Carlos Gomez:
AL OF Slash: .250/.320/.398
Carlos Gomez: .204/.252/.278
AL OF BABIP: .302
Carlos Gomez: .324
AL OF K%: 22.4%
Gomez K%: 34.2%
AL OF O-Swing%: 45.5%
Gomez O-Swing%: 34.2%
AL OF Total Swing%: 45.5%
Gomez Total Swing%: 56.6%
AL OF Contact%: 76.5%
Gomez Contact%: 65.0%
AL OF Swinging Strike%: 10.6%
Gomez Swinging Strike%: 19.7%
So right off the bat (or right past the bat, as the case may be), we see that Gomez is swinging at more pitches, missing more pitches, making less contact, but doing so with an above-average BABIP. This is concerning, because it's not as though you can point to an exceptionally low BABIP and think, "Well Gomez is just getting unlucky," because he's really not unlucky, he's just not good right now.
Gomez is making contact on 40.5% of the pitches he swings at outside the strike zone. That's a 24% drop from his 2015 O-Swing%. When Carlos Gomez was a pretty good-to-great player (2013-2014) in Milwaukee, he was making contact on an average of 84% of the balls he swung at inside the strike zone. That number in 2016? 75.7%.
And when Gomez does make contact, he's not exactly ripping the cover off the ball. Consider his Hard Hit% of 25.7%. He's hitting more balls softly (27.1% according to FanGraphs) than he is hitting balls hard. To subtract the Soft% from the Hard%, in 2016 he's posting a -1.4%. In 2013 he hit the ball hard in 37.0% of his PAs compared to 14.4% softly. His skillset has declined precipitously in the last two-plus seasons.
Gomez has always been susceptible to the fastball. In 2013 Gomez had a .232 AVG and a .336 SLG on four-seam fastballs. He did his damage on breaking pitches. Consider his 2013 numbers on the following pitches:
Sinker: .345 AVG/.566 SLG
Changeup: .250 AVG/.521 SLG
Slider: .283 AVG/.528 SLG
Curve: .297 AVG/.554 SLG
Cutter: .316 AVG/.763 SLG
Now the script has been duly flipped. Gomez is posting a .375 AVG/.500 SLG on four-seam fastballs, but cannot for the life of him pick up the breaking balls. 2016 numbers:
Sinker: .188 AVG/.313 SLG
Changeup: .111 AVG/.222 SLG
Slider: .143 AVG/.191 SLG
Curve: .118 AVG/.118 SLG
Cutter: .133 AVG/.200 SLG
This is bad. There is simply no reason to throw Gomez a fastball, and pitchers know this. He's seen 165 fastballs (again, according to the above-linked Brooks Baseball site) and 303 off-speed/breaking pitches.
Actually, if you look at Gomez's pitch values on FanGraphs, whereas he posted a +16.4 against the fastball in 2014, he dipped to +4.9 in 2015, and is currently sitting at a -1.8 value against fastballs. There isn't a single pitch type that Gomez has turned into a positive value...to this point in the 2016 season.
On the Lima Time Time podcast, Gomez has been an evergreen player. We bring him up constantly, and we bring up the fact that he has put together a good stretch for Houston before. "When!?" you cry. From August 25 until he hurt his oblique on September 12, Gomez hit .306/.362/.565 on a .327 BABIP - a BABIP which is not far off from what he's done to this point in the season.
He just isn't hitting the ball like he used to, and he hasn't hit the ball like he used to over a long stretch for quite a while. Gomez has struck out in 14 straight games. This isn't uncommon - Gomez is the owner of a 22.8% K% for his career. But in those 14 games he has 25 strikeouts, and his 34.2% K% is the highest of his MLB career by almost 10 percentage points.
Maybe he's subscribing to the Swing Your Way Out Of A Slump method. But the fact is that there are 117 outfielders in the majors with at least 50 PAs, and Gomez's 41 wRC+ (100 is average) is 109th. Out of 305 MLB players with at least 50 PAs, Gomez ranks 279th, tied with Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki, slightly worse than Jeff Freaking Francoeur.
Given that Gomez is a free agent after the season and the price tag that comes with him (pro-rated $9m), he's either going to play his way out of what has been a long-coming downward trend, or he's going to play his way out of the lineup. I'm not sure which is more likely.