It’s always fun to watch a batter tear the cover off the ball for weeks at a time, or watch a pitcher mow down lineup after lineup over a bunch of starts. But amidst the hype, sometimes the best numbers get lost. In this segment, we’ll attempt to analyze what exactly is behind a player’s hot streak, along with a few impressive statistics you may not have noticed.
Player: Yan Gomes
Breakdown Time Frame: June 24th to August 7th (2014)
Performance: .317/.348/.618 batting line with 9 homers, 13 doubles and 28 RBI in 131 plate appearances.
Below the Surface: Yan Gomes is already providing ridiculous value on his 6-year, $23 million contract; a contract that has 2 team options for 2020 and 2021. He’ll be staying in Cleveland for a long time at a bargain price considering he ranks among the top 5 qualified catchers in all of baseball in nearly every offensive and defensive category this season, including 3rd in batting average, 4th in homers, 3rd in runners caught stealing, 1st in assists and 2nd in slugging percentage (trailing Jonathan Lucroy by only 1 point). However, those numbers have been rising steadily over the past month and a half due to a ridiculous hot streak that seemed to begin in Arizona on June 24th (or perhaps even a bit before). Since that date, Gomes has raised his slugging percentage by a whopping 80 points in 35 games by hitting for 80 total bases.
During the month of July, Yan Gomes led all catchers (min. 75 plate appearances) in homers (5), batting average (.329), slugging percentage (.624), OPS (.990), runs scored (15) and RBI (17). His .294 isolated power mark for July is nearly 70 points higher than second-place Devin Mesoraco‘s at .227, and ranks 8th in all of baseball (right behind Carlos Santana). His .624 slugging percentage ranked 6th in the major leagues, among names like Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu and Jayson Werth.
So the biggest question is, where did this power surge come from? Well, it’s not out of nowhere. Keep in mind that Yan Gomes slugged nearly .500 over 88 games last season, including 12 home runs. But it does seem like he started out slow in comparison, and though this kind of tear isn’t likely to continue (his torrid July included a .383 BABIP, well above the league average), it’s not unlikely that he’s found a groove. His age (27) suggests that we may be just beginning to see his true power potential. However, a possible reason for this increase in power is a sharp incline in his hard contact. His line drive rate spiked by 6% from June to July (20% to 26%), and while his fly ball rate stayed relatively the same (39% to 40%), his homer to fly ball ratio jumped to 20%; about 1.5 times his 13% rate in June.
However, the most powerful piece of evidence is his heatmap. During the month of July, a look at his 5×5 heatmap for slugging percentage per pitch reveals that he slugged over .500 on pitches in the lower, middle outside part of the strike zone. His slugging percentage for the year in that part of the zone is his highest out of any part of the plate at .437, and in July that number spiked to inhuman heights. It may be that he’s seeing more pitches in that part of the zone, but the most likely scenario is that he’s seeing a similar number of those pitches, but taking advantage of them at a far better rate.
In short, Gomes absolutely destroys pitching in the lower, middle-outside part of the strike zone. His streak since late June has certainly been helped by what he’s done to pitches on that part of the plate, but also due to an overall increase in hard contact.
What Can We Expect Moving Forward? Again, the .383 BABIP in July means he’s likely to have some natural regression, but there’s no reason to think that Gomes’ power will simply revert back to what it was at the beginning of the season. I fully expect Gomes to finish with between 23 and 25 home runs this year, with a slugging percentage close to .500 and a batting average around .280. Many players go through a sort of sophomore slump when the league starts figuring them out (see Wil Myers). Yan Gomes went through a bit of that early in the season, but he seems to have proven that he can make adjustments when the league makes adjustments to him. This is a player I think we all can enjoy watching for the next eight years.