The Carlos Gomez era is finished. He had his moments, but ultimately he struggled to establish himself in Houston. Of course, Gomez's production (or lack thereof) is the primary reason for the toolsy centre fielder being DFA'd. There is, however, another dimension to the end of the Gomez era. The playing time, and the consequential pressure, is now likely to be passed on to Jake Marisnick: the defensive wizard, the plus base runner, and the questionable bat.
Can we justify starting Marisnick in centre field for the remainder of the season?
Marisnick's defense is his biggest selling point as one of the premier defensive center fielders in the game. Whilst his bat has been lacking at the major league level for the majority of his career, his defense has always warranted him a spot on the roster. Using Defensive Runs Saved, Marisnick has saved the Astros sixteen runs, relative to an average player, with his outfield defense this year. Eight from left field, seven in centre field, and one in right field. Plus defense across all three outfield positions.
Of course, defensive metrics are not the most reliable quantifier of defensive excellence. That said, both UZR and DRS agree on Marisnick's defensive eminence, and, over his four years in the major leagues he has accrued 51 runs saved in the outfield, surpassing the three year mark which most point to as the mark for a stronger sense of reliability in the statistic. Gomez, too, though, was considered an elite defensive centre fielder. But, it's clear that Marisnick has been the superior defensive player of late.
On top of what the metrics say, our eyes tell us one thing, and one thing only: Marisnick is an incredible defensive outfielder. His unbelievable running catches, his strong arm, his fantastic first step; irrespective of what the metrics said, I would still wholeheartedly believe Marisnick was a quality defensive player. One of his catches, in particular, stands out to me: a running grab against Miguel Cabrera against the Detroit Tigers.
The reason this catch is so special is because of the following chart:
Courtesy of Baseball Savant, of all of the balls hit with the same exit velocity, with the same launch angle, this is the only one that hasn't fallen for a hit (or a home run). Of course, Comerica Park plays a role in that, but Marisnick still stole extra bases away from Cabrera, and became the first fielder to record an out on such a well hit ball. It's nothing to draw conclusions about, rather a fun titbit on Marisnick's quality defense.
Both Marisnick, and Gomez are strong baserunners. So, the difference in replacing Gomez with Marisnick probably won't be positive, or negative. Gomez is slightly better: he had already stolen 13 bases this season, 17 the season before, and 34 the season before that. Marisnick, on the other hand, has stolen 7 bases this year, 24 the season before, and 11 the season before that. The metrics reiterate that Gomez has been ever so slightly better.
Both have exhibited exceptional speed but have been prone to making mistakes. We have two above average baserunners, and so, in replacing Gomez with Marisnick the Astros don't stand to gain or lose, concerning activity on the bases.
We are dealing with two elite defensive players, two decent baserunners, but, unfortunately two horribly bad hitters. On the year, Marisnick has been one percent better than Gomez: Marisnick owns a wRC+ of 59, Gomez just trails with a wRC+ of 58. Gomez, over his career, has been a much better offensive player, but that includes his heydays in Milwaukee when he was mashing 24 home runs in a single season. However, Marisnick had been turning it up in July:
|Jake Marisnick (July)
Conceded, it is a minute sample size, but perhaps it does give call for some optimism. Thus far, Marisnick has been okay in August (a wRC+ of 72), in another extremely small sample size. The fact is, Marisnick is not a very good hitter. However, he is still young, and should therefore still be improving. Gomez, on the other hand, was on the wrong end of his aging curve. So, whilst we have two abysmal offensive players, Marisnick's relative youth gives more cause for optimism than Gomez.
In his final weeks, perhaps even months in an Astros uniform, Gomez has looked completely lost at the plate. Him swinging so hard at pitches that (pitches that he shouldn't even be swinging at) his helmet falls off has become a trademark for Gomez's tenure in Houston. Marisnick isn't much better right now, but the Astros will be hoping he can pull off some small sample size magic and heat up in the final two months of the season.
Point: Marisnick, just
In conclusion, Marisnick does seem the more logical candidate. He, on the whole, grades out better than Gomez. However, perhaps this move is significant of more than just a Marisnick vs. Gomez decision. Clearing Gomez off of the roster allows a spot for a young player, like, say Tony Kemp, to have a few at bats in the Major League down the stretch. Gomez was likely on his way out at the end of the season anyway, and so, by cutting ties now the Astros simply accelerate that process, and allow room for one of their many young, talented, and up and coming stars from the farm as well as allowing Marisnick more playing time.
I think it's fair to say that we can justify Jake Marisnick in centre field.