Just a few weeks ago, this author was greatly concerned about Yan Gomes‘ future with the Indians. After looking like one of the best catchers in baseball when he first came to Cleveland, in the past few years, Gomes has looked like one of the worst.
For those who may be unfamiliar with Gomes’ rise and fall, it goes something like this: an unheralded piece in a trade with Toronto, Gomes came out of nowhere and looked like an All-Star in 2013 and 2014. In those two seasons, Gomes played in 223 games, and slashed a very strong .284/.325/.476. In a world where catchers (min. 250 PA) averaged a .691 OPS in 2016, Gomes’ .801 OPS was incredible. Fittingly, he was awarded a Silver Slugger award for the 2014 season.
All the while, he was excellent defensively: along with throwing out an impressive 35% of baserunners between 2013 and 2014, Baseball Prospectus (BP) also considered Gomes the MLB’s 7th and 13th best pitch framer in those years, respectively.
The Indians recognized how valuable Gomes was, and signed him to a 6 year, $23 million dollar contract extension in March of 2014. At that time, it was considered a very team-friendly deal, and Gomes looked to be a central piece to the franchise going forward.
That is when things began to go wrong.
After going just 3-20 in his first five games of 2015, the Brazilian catcher sprained his MCL when Rajai Davis, then playing for Detroit, slid into home plate on a bang-bang force play.
Gomes would return a little over six weeks later, but was far from the player he was the previous two seasons, finishing 2015 with a mere .231/ .267/ .391 slash line. While he still managed to throw out 33% of baserunners, his pitch framing declined dramatically, rating as 78th-best in baseball, according to BP.
Largely, Gomes’ struggles were attributed to his injury. Observers thought he never fully healed, or the time missed early in the season left him unable to catch up. Regardless, it was Cleveland’s hope and expectation that Gomes would return to his form of 2013 and 2014.
Unfortunately, Gomes’ play only got worse.
Gomes’ 2016 went about as poorly as one could imagine. Even though he was healthy, his swing looked broken. Through July 17, Gomes slashed an anemic .165/ .198/ .313. His .512 OPS ranked dead last among hitters with at least 250 plate appearances, by 20 points. Then, immediately after his teammates tried to help Gomes break out of his slump by putting on a satirical sacrifice to “Jobu” from Major League, Gomes was badly injured again when he fell awkwardly running to first base.
As Gomes was working towards his return, he broke his wrist on a rehab assignment, and wouldn’t make a plate appearance until Oct. 2 – where he did hit a home run. Still, Gomes season was as bad as could be offensively, and his framing skills remained poor, as BP ranked him 91st in MLB.
As good as Gomes looked in 2013-14, he looked equally as bad in 2015-16. When comparing the numbers side-by-side, the contrast is shocking:
So, coming off his recent stretch of terrible play, when Gomes began 2017 by slashing .067/.152/.167 in his first 33 PA with a 30% strikeout rate, it was only natural to wonder if he was no longer a viable MLB player.
But, just as that conclusion was being made, and fans were calling for Gomes to be benched (or cut), something changed: Gomes started hitting again.
Since April 17, the catcher has slashed .367/.486/.467 in 38 plate appearances – even better than the numbers he put up as a Silver Slugger. Though the sample size is very small, it is enormously encouraging for a player who had shown no signs of life at the plate in over a year.
The most intriguing part about Gomes’ recent resurgence has been his plate discipline numbers. He’s put up a 13.2% walk rate during the stretch, compared to a 7.9% strikeout rate. Both marks are stark contrasts from his usual output – he’s only carried a 4.7% walk rate for his career, and has struck out 24.2% of the time.
How has he managed this? Gomes’ O-Swing% for 2017 – the percent of pitches he swings at outside the zone – is sitting at 32.6%, which would be a career-low, and much lower than his 38.3% and 40.6% rates he put up in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
It isn’t coincidence that Gomes’ best seasons have come when he was swinging at the fewest pitches outside the strike zone. But, Gomes isn’t just being more selective at the plate, he’s also making more contact, especially on pitches outside the strike zone. For his career, he’s made contact on 66.5% of swings on such pitches. In 2017, that rate is up over 10%, to 76.6%. And when he is making contact, he’s doing more damage than ever before – his current hard contact rate is 35.4%, compared to a previous career high of 32.2% in 2013.
Even more good news on Gomes? After being a below-average framer in 2015-16, according to BP, the Brazilian currently ranks 18th in the MLB, a huge improvement over his past two seasons.
All things considered, things are certainly looking up for Gomes, especially considering where he stood a few weeks ago. Gomes’ increased plate discipline numbers have happened in a small sample, but it absolutely seems he has been more deliberate about picking his pitches to date in 2017. If Gomes can continue to demonstrate an improved approach and contact ability at the plate, Tribe fans could potentially see the 2013-14 version of Gomes they thought was long gone.