The Yan Gomes and Lou Marson dynamic
January 26, 2013
With about three weeks left until spring training one of the more interesting battles to watch will be the backup catcher position. For the last three years that’s a role that has been held by Lou Marson, but after the November trade that brought Yan Gomes into the fold it’s clear that the Indians intend to create competition for the job this spring.
Gomes, 25, is an interesting player who found himself buried in the Blue Jays organization. While he’s been a catcher the majority of his career, he has the ability to play first and third and even got his feet wet in the outfield for the Blue Jays in 2012. Comments from Chris Antonetti after the trade seemed to indicate that they see Gomes as a catcher long-term. Antonetti also wouldn’t rule out keeping three catchers on the roster, giving Gomes the ability to make the team even if he can’t unseat Lou Marson.
For now, let’s simply compare the two players.
At this point we all know what we get with Marson. He’s a good defensive player but has significant offensive shortcomings. Marson has no power to speak of; posting futile 0.66 and 0.62 isolated slugging percentages over the last two years. His career .220 batting average doesn’t earn him any favor either. On the brighter side, Marson’s plate discipline improved greatly last year. As a minor leaguer Marson consistently posted high walk rates but it’s something that never translated to Cleveland until last year. The one thing Marson has done well offensively over his career is hit left-handed pitching (.264 AVG, .722 OPS). Despite a drop-off in 2012, I would expect that to continue.
Yan Gomes has a different skill set entirely as even his approach at the plate is in stark contrast to Marson. Marson is a patient hitter whereas Gomes is an aggressive free-swinger. In his first exposure to the majors last year Gomes managed only six free passes and struck out 32 times in 111 plate appearances. While Marson is a well-regarded defensive player, scouting reports suggest that Gomes is average at best.
However, Gomes has some of the offensive skills that Marson lacks. He’s posted solid slugging numbers throughout his minor league career (.484 career SLG) and solid numbers overall. He followed up a great season at Double-A in 2011 with a .328/.388/.577 slash line at Triple-A in 2012. It should be noted, though, that those numbers last year were aided by a .396 BABIP and the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League.
Nevertheless, this is your standard case of offense versus defense. These are two drastically different players.
Replacing Marson with Gomes presents an opportunity for the team to rest or DH Carlos Santana more, and not have to insert Marson’s bat into the lineup to do so. Even in days in which Santana is catching, Gomes' bat may play better at third, first, or DH if the starters at those positions are in need of rest. That’s flexibility that Lou Marson doesn’t afford them. It’s tough to give 200-250 at-bats to a player like Marson, but at the end of the day I suspect that’s exactly what they’ll end up doing.
First, the obvious, Marson and the team just settled on a one million dollar contract for 2013, so it's highly doubtful the team plans to eat that money. More than that, Marson’s ability to hit left-handed pitching, draw walks, and play solid defense seems to be more in line with the teams needs at backup catcher. Yan Gomes has options and can be stashed at Triple-A if the team sees fit so they’re in no danger of losing him. Without spring training performance to judge, it just seems the odds are stacked against Gomes winning the backup catcher spot outright.
A more reasonable question might be whether or not Gomes could replace Marson in future years.
Assuming he is on the team all year, it’s not out of the question that this could be Marson’s last year with the club. While Marson’s salary isn’t an exorbitant amount of money to spend on a backup catcher, he hasn’t proved he’s worth much more than that. His salary is only going to rise over the next two years as an arbitration eligible player. Gomes may very well make the team as a utility player, earning some playing time not only at catcher, but as a backup third basemen, first basemen, outfielder, and DH. Or, and this is my preference, he may be shuttled to Columbus to refine his catching skills with an eye on the future where he could replace Marson as the backup for good later this season or next season.
As it stands right now, the Indians don’t have a lot of major league ready depth at catcher. Giving Gomes time to play every day behind the plate at Columbus might be in the best interest of the club moving forward. If he can improve his K/BB rate and defense behind the plate he’ll become a much more enticing replacement to Marson.
That time just isn’t right now.
But if he shows them in Columbus that he can be at least average defensively, I'm all for him replacing Marson.
But again, at this point, you can't (shouldn't) go into the season with your #2 catcher being a defensive liability - esecially not knowing if his bat is ML caliber.
So what is the better stat, on base % or slugging %
sabremetrics are great but dont assume that all your website readers are conversant with this esoteric stuff is errant.
put a glossary on IBI site with every stat imaginable with explanation. or put an addendum to your book dedicated to these statistics. or write a book ...sabremetrics for dummies