Yan Gomes Emerges
Now that the 2013 season is complete, it’s time to take a look back at the team and how each player performed on the field. Today we’ll take a look at one of the most surprising performances of the 2013 season. As you might have guessed, I’m talking about none other than the “Yanimal,” Yan Gomes.
Yan Gomes 2013 Projection
Heading into the 2013 season there were no projections or expectations for Yan Gomes. As a thrown in piece of the Mike Aviles for Esmil Rogers trade, no one thought we would be seeing much of Yan Gomes in 2013. In fact, one could have assumed that if Gomes was seeing meaningful playing time that something disastrous must have happened.
From 2009 through most of 2012, Gomes had toiled away in the minor league system of the Toronto Blue Jays. Shifting between a number of different positions, but predominantly third base and catcher, Gomes did one thing consistently – hit.
In fact, Gomes was a bit of a hitting machine at each and every level of the Blue Jays minor league system. Combine that with his above average defensive skills behind the plate and one has to wonder why they were so willing to give up on him for a relief pitcher. As we’ve seen with Carlos Santana, above average hitting catchers are hard to come by. Just look at the dramatic difference in the Indians lineup whenever Lou Marson was inserted into the lineup.
Looking at Gomes’ minor league numbers, he achieved a slash line of .280/.338/.594 with 61 home runs and 351 RBI. However, two things stood out about his minor league numbers. First was his slightly below average walk rate of 7% and his poor 22% strikeout rate. Needless to say, patience was not necessarily a virtue for Gomes as he compiled a 3.03 strikeout to walk ratio. So, while Gomes was hitting the ball well in the minors, there were serious questions as to whether or not his lack of plate discipline would derail and chance he had at a successful career.
It was for that reason, combined with Lou Marson being established as the team’s backup catcher, that Yan Gomes was slated to begin the year with the Indians triple-A affiliate in Columbus. Add in the fact that Gomes didn’t exactly wow people during his brief big league debut with the Blue Jays in 2012 and the decision was easy. This would allow him to refine his game and also let the Indians know what they had in him. (click to enlarge chart)
So What Happened?
Lou Marson got hurt. The Indians got desperate. The Yanimal was unleashed.
When Marson got hurt during a collision at the plate in Tampa, Gomes was called upon to be the new back up catcher. After performing admirably during Marson’s stay on the DL, it led many to wonder what might happen if he replaced Marson full-time. Those dreams were realized when Marson went back on the DL soon after returning. Gomes came back to Cleveland and from that point forward began his campaign to become a regular member of the everyday lineup.
Slowly but surely, Gomes began seeing more and more playing time. His defense was a noticeable upgrade over Carlos Santana. Santana, despite his best efforts and the documented work he put into honing his craft, continued to struggle when it came to controlling the running game. Gomes did not. In 49 chances, Gomes threw out 20 attempted base stealers, good enough for 41%. Compare that to the league average of 26% and it’s easy to see the added value defensively.
Gomes also did a remarkable job of throwing behind runners and picking off overzealous base runners leading a bit too far off base. As documented by Wahoo’s on First’s Nick Wheatley-Schaller, the upgrade defensively between Gomes and Santana warranted the conversation as to whether or not Gomes should be the everyday starting catcher.
As an added bonus, Gomes also turned into a hitting machine. His slash line after 322 plate appearances was fantastic, albeit, for a small sample size. Gomes hit .294/.345/.826 and cranked out 11 home runs. He hit so well during his limited time as Santana’s primary back up that by September, he had usurped the Tribe’s everyday catcher and was in the lineup on an almost nightly basis. By season’s end, Gomes was responsible for 3.7 fWAR.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Terry Francona has said small sample size be damned and is going to roll with Yan Gomes as his every day starting catcher. Francona apparently liked what he saw, so much so that he is willing to roll the dice with Gomes. It’s hard to argue the decision based on what we saw from him in 2013, but again, 322 plate appearances is a very limited sample size from which to draw any sort of firm conclusions.
From a logical standpoint, there are two likely scenarios that will play out in 2014. First is that what we saw from Gomes in 2013 will carry over into 2014. He will continue to hit and continue to look like the second coming of Ivan Rodriguez behind the dish. If that happens, the Francona will be vindicated for his decision while Gomes becomes an all-star. That’s how good he was this past year.
The second and more likely scenario is that regression will occur. The only question is, “how much?” It will be virtually impossible for Gomes to maintain a BAbip of .345, 19% line drive rate, and 20% strikeout rate? Does Gomes fall back closer to a league average level of production, or does overexposure, combined with proper scouting reports, make him look like Lou Marson?
We also don’t know how the decision to make Yan Gomes the everyday catcher will affect Carlos Santana. It’s been reported numerous times about how Santana is not pleased with the idea of moving out from behind the plate. He does not want to be a full-time DH. He’s even gone so far as to open himself up to the possibility of playing third base, a decision that could have disastrous consequences on the future of Lonnie Chisenhall.
So, for those of you keeping score at home, Gomes becoming the everyday starting catcher affects not one, but potentially two players from the opening day starting lineup.
It’s hard to talk about a key moment when it comes to Yan Gomes and not point to both his offensive and defensive production. He was so good at both aspects of the game that we have to acknowledge both. Offensively, Gomes’ walk-off home run against the Mariners was huge. It was the moment when we knew we had something in the young catcher. Defensively. Gomes picking off Jonathan Villar… from second base… was just one of several awesome defensive moments that stands out. You can watch both plays below (refresh is video fails to load).