In any other year, the baseball season would be beyond the midseason mark. This year, however, the calendar may say August, but the season is just getting started, and there’s only one Brewers’ position player who looks in midseason form. His name is Ben Gamel.
In an offense that has sputtered out of the gate, it might be easy to pick Gamel out amongst the crowd. But Gamel hasn’t just outpaced his teammates, he’s performing above anything we’ve seen from him up to this point in his career.
And it couldn’t have come at a better time for he and the Brewers. Since Lorenzo Cain opted out of the remainder of the season, the oft-platooned Gamel is due for a greater role.
Gamel’s hot streak started in Summer Camp, when the Brewers resumed play after the COVID-19 caused, four-month hiatus. If you can believe it, he was batting just .207 in Spring Training when play was suspended.
Since then, he’s been a Cadillac in a, generally speaking, parking lot full of lemons so far.
On a team that has scored just 31 runs this season, Gamel has driven in seven of them. The Brewers own a paltry .324 team slugging percentage. Gamel’s sits at Ruthian .652 currently. And though his 0-for-3 showing Wednesday night dropped his batting average to .261, he’s still far ahead of the team’s overall .206 BA.
If you’re particular to obscure stats, allow this gem to satiate your needs:
Ben Gamel has produced a single (2), double, triple and home run through his first 5 games of 2020. Gamel is just the seventh player in franchise history to “hit for the cycle” through his first 5 games of a season. #ThisIsMyCrew pic.twitter.com/vr0eqkQ2r1
— Mike Vassallo (@MikeVassallo13) August 4, 2020
Some fans have taken to calling him “The Great Gambino.”
That’s quite a big turnaround for a guy who was generally seen as a role player after arriving in Milwaukee.
When the Brewers landed Gamel from Seattle in the Domingo Santana trade, fans certainly recognized the last name.
Ben’s brother Mat was one of the Brewers’ top prospects back in 2008, following closely behind the likes of Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks, et al as they rose up the ranks. Mat was similarly viewed as a potential franchise player, a power hitting corner infielder that would fit perfectly with that group.
However, consecutive ACL tears effectively ended Mat’s career after only 269 plate appearances.
Now, the younger Gamel gets to carry the torch with the Brewers. He spent the vast majority of 2019 primarily as a bench player, appearing in 134 games and batting .248 over 356 plate appearances.
Suddenly, Ben is starting to emulate big bro with his power production.
The Christian Yelich Comparison
The credit appears to be due to a new approach at the plate that has drawn comparisons to Christian Yelich. Gamel now stands nearly upright, with his arms outstretched a bit, away from his body, with the bat extended toward the sky, much like Yelich. In previous years, Gamel’s stance was more compact and open, while he rested his bat on his shoulder (see below).
Hitters are almost always making adjustments to account for perceived flaws (adapt or die, right?). Cal Ripken, Jr. was known for changing his stance throughout his career. Perhaps the most notable example in recent years was José Bautista, who altered his career from journeyman bust to one of the most prolific power hitters in the league with only a slight timing adjustment.
Realistically, Ben Gamel isn’t in the midst of some sort of herculean transformation. He won’t become José Bautista. Despite the mimicry of Gamel’s stance to Yelich’s, that’s about where the comparisons end.
The Johnny Damon Comparison
A more apt comparison might be Johnny Damon—and I’m not just referring to their long hair.
The similarity in the upright stance is there—albeit, Damon’s was more open. The short stride is there, along with the slap-hitting, throw-the-bat-at-the-ball swing that somehow generates enough power to clear fences with ease. (There is the question of Gamel’s plate discipline, but I’ll leave that for another discussion.)
Damon batted .284 for his career. He averaged just over 13 homers per season and never hit more than 24 in a single year. These numbers seem well within reach for Gamel if his production persists.
In baseball, we must always leave room for a regression to the mean. Up to this point, Gamel has been a light-hitting bench player with a lifetime .264 average.
But the adjustments he has made have thus far paid dividends, especially in his power numbers. Gamel may very well have thrust himself into a regular role with the Brewers, with or without the absence of Cain. We are, after all, in a new era with a universal DH.
His offensive prowess has been invaluable during a time when both Yelich and Keston Hiura are slumping.
Perhaps it doesn’t end there. The opportunity to carve out a larger role as an everyday player is there. Gamel has, up to this point, seized that opportunity. Fortunately for the Brewers, he doesn’t show signs of letting up.