Yan Gomes did some things last year that we haven’t seen him do since 2014. He also showed a skill we’d never seen from him before.
Those of you who’ve taken a look at the Tribe catcher’s 2017 stats on the whole might have seen a player who had his best season since 2014. Those who watched him closely throughout the year may have instead seen an aggravatingly inconsistent player. Make no mistake: he fit both descriptions well. But perspective is everything, so let’s shed some light on the context of analyzing Gomes’ 2017 season in relation to his expected 2018 output.
Yan Gomes Is an Offensive Enigma
You may remember Gomes’ Silver Slugger season as an incredibly exciting sophomore breakout. The backstop hit .278/.313/.472 with 21 home runs en route to being named the American League’s best-hitting catcher, while also providing excellent defense behind the plate. Fangraphs rated his value at 4.4 fWAR, and the six-year, $23MM extension he signed was looking like an absurd bargain.
The next two years, however, were a free fall to rock bottom. His 3.4% walk rate during the 2015-2016 span was laughably low, and his 57 wRC+ was among the game’s worst. Gomes suffered through some awful batted ball luck and freak injuries. His fortune was so bad that it prompted him to sacrifice a chicken to Jobu, with some help from his teammates. The ritual seemed to have the opposite effect, as Gomes suffered an unlikely shoulder injury soon after.
That brings us to 2017, where Gomes seemed to be in a constant state of adjustment at the plate. In the interest of explaining what I mean by that, here’s a monthly breakdown of some of Gomes’ stats…
|2017||Mar/Apr||8.5 %||20.3 %||0.42||.176||.276||.275||.550||.098||.211||4||-3.4||.252||49|
|2017||May||10.1 %||23.2 %||0.44||.279||.362||.525||.887||.246||.333||12||3.2||.376||134|
|2017||Jun||6.7 %||35.0 %||0.19||.200||.267||.236||.503||.036||.324||3||-4.6||.231||35|
|2017||Jul||13.7 %||15.1 %||0.91||.233||.342||.383||.726||.150||.245||9||-0.2||.318||94|
|2017||Aug||5.9 %||36.8 %||0.16||.206||.265||.413||.677||.206||.265||6||-1.8||.289||75|
|2017||Sept/Oct||1.9 %||25.9 %||0.07||.294||.333||.549||.882||.255||.333||9||2.3||.371||131|
The differences are baffling; it’s like we’re looking at a completely different offensive player for every month of the season. While it’s not entirely unusual for players to be streaky, there was enormous variance in both his power output and plate discipline, to the point that those margins make my brain want to short-circuit. Gomes was probably his best self in the month of May, when he walked at a 10.1% clip while slugging .525. But in June his strikeout rate spiked to an alarming level while something zapped his power. He turned his plate discipline completely around in July, when by some witchcraft he learned how to walk nearly as much as he struck out. It took until September for his power to return, but when that happened his walks disappeared entirely.
The sheer whack-a-mole nature of Gomes’ skills last year makes it difficult to predict headed into the 2018 campaign. ZiPS and Steamer both see him declining slightly in defense, while pretty much repeating last year’s offensive numbers, with a slight dip in walk rate and a small uptick in the power department. That seems like a pretty safe bet; 30 seems like a pretty unlikely age for Gomes to finally put everything together.
Still, there’s an exciting best-case scenario present underneath all this cautious optimism, and it lies deep in Gomes’ plate discipline statistics. During the 2015-2016 campaigns, the backstop chased nearly 38% of pitches thrown outside of the strike zone. Last year, he cut that to 34.8%; his lowest since 2013. If everything else had stayed the same, this level of restraint might have resulted in a better batting average and causing a ripple effect through his entire batting line. However, Gomes’ contact rate slipped to a career-low 80.7%, down five full percentage points from the previous season. This, of course, led to an increase in swings and misses. Gomes owned a 14% swinging strike rate for the 2017 campaign; that’s roughly the same figure that a league-average hitter would’ve generated if he’d faced Chris Sale in every at-bat for the past three seasons.
Gomes made good enough contact last year. Granted, it wasn’t quite of the same quality as the contact he made in 2014, but it was close enough. If he can just make more of that contact while maintaining his stellar defense behind the dish, he stands a chance to rebound to something like a 3-4 win player. As a huge fan of the Brazilian god of chiseled chins, I’ll be among those fans rooting heavily for him to reach those heights.
Photo courtesy of Erik Drost, via Flickr.