2014 Key Players: Yan Gomes
Coming over with Mike Aviles in an offseason trade in 2012 that shipped Esmil Rogers to Toronto; Gomes entered camp last year mostly as an unknown. Reports had been that he struggled defensively behind the plate and there were doubts about his ability to stick at catcher long-term. I remember distinctly wondering why the team wasn’t giving him a look at third base with their uncertainty there. Offensively, we knew that he would bring some power but also that he had significant flaws, mainly in plate discipline.
A year later, Gomes enters the season as the team’s starting catcher and one of its most important players. It’s been a shocking development. Many of us thought that Gomes might be able to become a useful utility player, filling in at the corners, DHing, and catching here and there. Now it’s Carlos Santana that will take that role.
Gomes’ game-calling ability, strong arm, and strong offensive performance helped him supplant Santana as the everyday catcher. The reports about Gomes’ defensive lapses have been replaced with adulation. While questions remain about his plate discipline, his power profile makes him an above league average hitter at his position.
“At his position” is the key phrase.
It’s important to have some context to Gomes’ inclusion on this list. Offensively, I feel he’s going to be merely a league average hitter. His .294/.345/.481 line in 2013 was impressive, especially considering it was his first extended look in the majors; however, his .342 BABIP and low walk rate give me pause about him duplicating or improving upon those numbers.
Gomes struggled in 2012 in Toronto, partially because of a .246 BABIP. The Indians overlooked those numbers when acquiring him, just like they did when signing David Murphy this offseason (.227 BABIP in 2013). These things work both ways. Gomes’ 2013 BABIP likely isn’t sustainable and therefore I don’t expect him to hit anywhere close to .290 again. I think something around .260-.270 is more realistic, and if coupled with a similar walk rate to his 2013 numbers, I think you’re looking at a player who’s likely going to post a sub .750 OPS.
These things don’t make him any less valuable.
His bat is more than fine for a catcher. I’m approaching this season believing that anything he gives the Indians offensively is just icing on the cake. He made some progress with his K-rate last year and certainly he has more room there to grow. With that said, defense is still more important for a catcher. That’s where Gomes' value lies. Even if his numbers take a step back, we’ve seen the effect he has on the staff when he’s behind the dish.
The team’s ERA with Gomes at catcher was 3.35. He threw out over 38% of would be base stealers. His work framing pitches is known to be exceptional. Defensively, he showed the whole package last year. Gomes posted a 3.7 WAR (Fangraphs) in only 88 games last year. Whether you believe in WAR or not, it should still be noted that number was second behind Jason Kipnis on the team. He might not post a similar WAR in 2014, but his value to the pitching staff being behind the plate for 120 games is difficult to measure.
The team’s starting pitching staff enters 2014 with question marks throughout. If that wasn’t enough, relievers like Vinnie Pestano and John Axford will need to rebound to shore up the late innings. As it was last year, the rotation needs to come through in a big way for the team to meet the goals they’ve set. The man that will be guiding them is Yan Gomes, and that alone merits a nod on this list.
I think the argument can be made that Gomes is the most important position player on the Indians this season. He’s what I would call a ‘season pillar.’ His performance affects so many others on the team. If he regresses it will affect the flexibility of the entire infield. If he struggles it could mean that Carlos Santana will come back into the fold behind the plate, limiting the team’s options in using him at other positions and weakening the team’s overall defense.
Gomes’ emergence as the team’s best catching option took everyone by surprise. This year he won’t have that same luxury. He’ll have as much responsibility as anyone else on the team. How he responds to that responsibility will go a long way toward pacing the Indians in their pursuit of an extended postseason run.
I have a feeling how he goes so will the Tribe. If he struggles and they need to move Santana back to catcher you could create major holes at two spots in the lineup. If he is average the team will have a solid shot. If he blows up and hits 24 homers look out here comes the Tribe.
It would be amazing if we could get Gomes, Brantley, Kipnis, Santana, Chisenhall and Lindor all clicking and would form an awesome core for the next 3-4 seasons. Not to mention you have Nick Swisher in the vet leader role for the next 3-4 seasons. Add in Clint Frazier and oh my. Its fun to dream.
This is based on a marriage of power, defensive value.
While pitch framing is a young frontier, Gomes graded out above average which adds immense value to a pitching staff and run prevention. Coupled with his other defensive abilities/value, throw in .245 with 15 home-runs we have an incredibly valuable young player.
His BABIP was on the high side last year but even when you look at his xBABIP and normalize out his numbers he was expected to have an OPS slightly higher than .750. Maybe he gets worse in his 2nd season but think he could easily improve. Sure probably won't put up an .820 OPS next year (and agree a .290 BA is probably not happening) but dont' think a .775-.800 OPS is out of the question either with 16-20 HRs.
Also think another 3.7 fWAR is very doable if for no other reason he should still be solid defensively and more playing time that he should still accumulate that much value (at the pace he was on last year he was looking at a 5-win season at least if he was an everyday player).
Agree with the whole premis of the the article though, Yan Gomes is probably the most important cog in the Tribe lineup. If he falters or gets hurt...the Tribe is in big trouble. There's no Yan Gomes in AAA to bail us out like Gomes did for us last year when Marson went down. Even more critical now with Santana playing positions other than DH/C....
Re; "I’m approaching this season believing that anything he gives the Indians offensively is just icing on the cake." Okay, you may be approaching this season that way, But I seriously doubt that Francona is.
For the Indians to be successful offensively, and a successful as they were last year, they have to get production from every member of the lineup. There's nobody who can be non-producer in this lineup, basically because they don't have any big boppers. They absolutely do need Gomes to be a run producer in this lineup.
That said, you are right in that a tremendous amount of his value to the team is because he's an excellent defensive backstop. And this is an aspect of a players skill set that doesn't vary very much from year-to-year, if anything, we should expect some improvement.