The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

 

Wannabe No More

Carlos Gomez, the indy-league sidearmer and sabermetric enthusiast who I interviewed for Baseball Prospectus back in 2004 has hit the big time. According to the Arizona Republic, Gomez has been hired by the Diamondbacks as a major league scout.

Gomez didn't exactly take a tried and true route to the majors. After graduating from Purdue with an engineering degree but an inauspicious college career -- he struggled with injuries and was hampered by "Ankielitis" -- Gomez began experimenting with a sidearm delivery, and he took to it well enough to catch on with the Gateway Grizzlies of the Frontier League in 2002. From there he moved up to the Northeast League, where he enjoyed a solid 2003 but an injury-riddled 2004.

Gomez came to my attention in the winter before the latter season, when he began posting on Baseball Primer under the handle of Chad Bradford Wannabe; he was searching for a way to gauge the level of talent in the Frontier League, something BP's Equivalent Average stat is well suited to do. We struck up a correspondence and I interviewed him in April, noting how "intellectual curiosity has spurred him to incorporate objective research into his pitching approach. His is the story of Moneyball writ small, one player searching for any advantage he can get in order to rise through the professional ranks." From our interview:
BP: You posted a bit of your own research on first-pitch strikes after a teammate told you of a study done by pitching coach Dave Duncan which said that only 8% of first-pitch strikes result in base hits. What did you learn from that study?

Gomez: The main conclusion I drew from that was, "Go after the hitters." Throw that first-pitch strike because I don't get any better odds anywhere else. I'm going out there this year and going to attack the middle of the plate. I've still got to try to throw the ball down so they beat it into the ground. But when I look at those stats, I really don't have much to fear. I don't have to hit a corner to try to make an out is what I drew from that.

BP: You said in that thread the combination of your arm angle and the fact that most hitters want to see at least one pitch before they even bother swinging, if you're throwing a strike you're going to come out ahead a lot of the time.

Gomez: I also looked at (results) after 0-1, and I compared a few sidearmers, Mike Koplove, Bradford, and Kim, and after 0-1 versus after 1-0 is a huge difference. There's no sense for me for me to nibble around at the corners. It makes more sense for me to throw the ball right down the middle of the plate and hope they either take it, foul it off, or put it in play. I want them to put it in play most of the time.

Sometimes I want to throw the ball down the middle and it doesn't happen to go there. But I always knew that because of my arm angle and my funk, that I wanted guys to swing because I'd always think that their mechanics would break down, that their shoulder would fly open or something. My ball sinks pretty well, plus I don't throw very hard, which is another adjustment they have to make. It was always kind of intuitive to me that I wanted guys to swing as early as possible and the research is there to prove it.

Brian Schmack is the one who actually brought it up to me, who really hammered it into my brain. I took it out to the mound for my third and last outing in the Puerto Rican League, and he was amazingly right. I tried to throw the ball in the middle of the plate and down. I faced nine hitters and threw seven first-pitch strikes, and even when I missed, I didn't miss by much, and when I missed a little bit either way it was still a strike. I felt so in control, I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe I was so wrong all these years.
Gomez's playing career ended in 2005, but he remained an active part of the online baseball community via the popular "Bullpen Mechanics" series on Baseball Think Factory. In those articles, he'd analyze a pitcher's delivery, illustrating it with short video clips, often in a side-by-side comparison to highlight something he was doing wrong or to compare the evolution of his delivery (he did a similar piece for The Hardball Times devoted to Philip Hughes that Yankee fans may have seen earlier this summer). In addition to being entertaining and informative, Gomez wrote with the goal of enticing some team to hire him as a scout based on his acumen. Finally, it's paid off:
When he started to actively seek out employment in baseball, he sent his resume and links to his online work to just about every baseball front office. He got a quick reply from an intrigued Jerry Dipoto, the Diamondbacks’ director of player personnel.

“On a weekly basis, a ton of resumes will come across my desk,” Dipoto said. “His was unique. His resume at least threw up the antennas to say this guy is pretty interesting.”

Dipoto and Gomez had several long conversations in recent weeks, and Dipoto gave him assignments, asking him to break down players from watching the World Series on television.

It led to Dipoto feeling comfortable giving Gomez a position as a major league scout, somewhat unusual for someone with no prior experience. Most begin as amateur scouts, patrolling an area for draft coverage. Gomez will be filing reports on major leaguers and high-level minor leaguers as well as taking trips to Latin America. (A native of Puerto Rico, Gomez is bilingual.)

“I’m convinced this guy will do a very good job for us,” Dipoto said. “What I’ve gathered through the conversations I’ve had, he does have a passion. He sees things. To evaluate a player you have to break him down and Carlos is already way ahead of the game in breaking him down to the root of what he does.”
It's nice to see Gomez catch a break, and to see his already fascinating and unorthodox story continue to evolve. Just as he opened his mind to new ways in which he could improve his pitching, so too did a team open its mind to a new voice that could add to their scouting staff. Even if it is the D-Bags, that's pretty cool.

Best of luck, Carlos!

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