We’ve all grown accustomed to seeing ol’ number one at first base now. When Gamel went down, putting Corey Hart into the infield seemed like a fun experiment that would stop the team’s headaches when a ball reached the corner in right, and allow Norichika Aoki to take up regular time in the outfield.
Then Corey Hart got real comfortable in the position. So comfortable, in fact, that nobody has any plans to move him any time soon.
So what does this mean for one Mr. Mat Gamel – the man who was supposed to take over that position?
The ‘problem’ surrounding Mat Gamel’s future is truthfully not as complex as the average fan would like to believe, or as difficult as members in the sports media would like to play it up.
The real problem is one of perception. We have looked at Mat Gamel as ‘the answer’ for so long, it’s hard to view him as anything else, even with a mountain of evidence to the contrary. He has been set up as the replacement for Prince Fielder, the future offensive juggernaut of Milwaukee, and everyday player waiting for his shot.
In truth, I’m not so sure that is his best fit. He performed in line with expectations defensively at first base (though defensive expectations for a first basemen are admittedly a low bar to clear) and was getting comfortable at the plate in 2012. Unfortunately, though, he still didn’t have the consistency that you would hope from an everyday player. Though the statistics may be skewed due to the fact that his only everyday play came during the first month of the season, his fluctuating batting average and low slugging percentage should call into question the fan’s expectations.
I’m not saying that Mat Gamel doesn’t have a future as a Major League Ballplayer, I’m simply stating that an everyday first baseman might not be the final destination. Which isn’t a bad position to be in if you’re the Milwaukee Brewers, or indeed even Gamel himself.
Mat Gamel is only 26 years old, so if history holds true Gamel will be running into his most productive stride in the next few seasons. Corey Hart is thirty, and has been fairly consistent throughout his career, though his most productive years came as a 27 and 28 year-old. Both players can play multiple positions on the field, though here is where Gamel has the edge. Corey Hart, as is obvious to most fans to analysts, is regressing from an athletic standpoint. After about 2008, we see a stark difference in his ability to runt he bases, as noted by the decrease in stolen bases and increase in the number of times he has been caught stealing relative to those numbers. His Range Factor in right field – the closest approximation one can make as to how effectively he can perform in the outfield, has seen a general decreasing trend throughout his career, specifically in right field. So while he may be effective on offense, he is actually quite limited with what he can do on the field.
With Gamel four years younger, and used to being moved around the infield (remember he was
switched mid-season at Nashville in 2011 from third base to first base) the Brewers find themselves with a true utility player in Mat Gamel. I have no doubts that the rumors of Gamel being worked out as an outfielder in 2013 are true, but I suspect that he won’t come to rest there. He’s too valuable everywhere else. Aramis Ramirez has been a great addition to the team offensively, but he is also getting up in age. More rest time for him is likely to only benefit and extend the offensive output he can provide, not to mention Gamel’s place on the team ensures a proper fill-in when nagging injuries catch up to Ramy during the long season. And with an increase to 20 interleague games every season from here on out, having Gamel in the line-up in the field and using Ramy as a DH sure sounds like a good plan to increase production. Likewise, moving Gamel to first or right field for a series, and having either Hart of Aoki take swings as the designated hitter during the away series is also an option. And there’s always the chance that Gamel himself fills that role as part of his position on the bench.
The point I’m making is this – Gamel is going to do well as a Major League player, there’s little question about that. As an everyday player, I’m not so sure that his time is now to begin with. Working off the bench as a member of the active roster will allow him to become more flexible, more patient, and hopefully more effective when he does take over everyday in the near future. There is no need for a trade, and there’s certainly no need to force him into a spot everyday in 2013. If we do want to call this a rebuilding process, then we need to take the time to make sure players like Gamel are built to be effective in the long haul.