Brad Rempel/USA Today Sports

Under the C: Let's Talk About Yan Gomes

Yan Gomes delivered the Cleveland Indians' first walk-off hit Wednesday in a 5-4, 11-inning win over the Texas Rangers, but his overall struggles at the plate remain a concern.

It’s gotta be the specs! After Cleveland Indians catcher Yan Gomes managed to punch a game-winning, three-hop grounder through the middle on Wednesday night—giving the Indians their first walk-off of the year—some observers were quick to point out the obvious. The Yanimal, recent convert to stylish athletic eyewear, had beaten the Rangers with a seeing-eye single… [crickets]. Gomes is probably already getting sick of the Clark Kent and Chris Sabo jokes at this point, but he didn’t particularly mind his teammates piling on last night—even when they literally piled on top of him in a postgame celebration near first base. With a .171 batting average coming into the night, it’s safe to say this was a much-needed pick-me-up for the Cleveland catcher. Back in March, I was among the many Tribe scribes singling out Yan Gomes as a clear X-factor in Cleveland’s postseason chances. After his Silver Slugger season in 2014, an MCL sprain suffered in the second week of the 2015 campaign led to a long DL stint and some miserable numbers upon his return. Given the circumstances, it was all too easy to sweep this performance under the rug and proclaim a friendly do-over. After all, despite his struggles at the plate, Gomes had become an unquestioned team leader, defensive stalwart, and foundational component. Cleveland was 52-42 when he started in 2015, 29-38 when he didn’t. If the Brazilian could produce anything remotely close to his 2014 output, as a right-handed stick near the middle of the order, it could mean the difference between a pennant race and another “pretty good” season for Tito and Co.

Gomes only stirred up more enthusiastic chatter by raking all spring in Arizona; hitting .300 with a 1.077 OPS and a team-best six homers. He seemed ready to return to his rightful place as one of the top five offensive catchers in the game.

Even through the month of April, there were no glaring red flags to indicate a deviation from that plan, save for a slightly longer looking, more upper-cutty, Jason-Day-esque swing. Gomes had perhaps become a little too enamored with his own power display in the desert, and was getting a bit pull happy again—a flaw that had been the bane of his existence a year ago. Still, on the stat sheet, he was producing at a pace nearer his 2014 output than 2015. On April 25, Gomes was hitting .245 with a .740 OPS, 3 HR, and 11 RBI.

From that point through the end of May, however, things took a dark, disturbing turn—so much so that even showing these numbers feels morally wrong somehow.

Yan Gomes: April 26 to May 31, 2016

  • 24 Games
  • 100 Plate Appearances
  • .129 BA
  • .180 OBP
  • .280 SLG
  • 26 K
  • 5 BB

Maybe the most remarkable part of that stretch, however, is that Gomes somehow managed to remain very effective in run production situations. He had only 12 hits in 93 at-bats, but drove in 14 runs. For the year, he’s hitting .351 with runners in scoring position and an eye-popping .118 with nobody on base or a man on first. What could explain that insane discrepancy? Well, a wild guess says he mentally changes his approach and looks to make contact with RISP, while in all other instances, he is trying to break the new Progressive Field video board. I could be wrong, however.

Even after last night’s heroics, Gomes remains on pace to have one of the worst first halves of a season in franchise history, in terms of on-base percentage. Unlike his teammate Carlos Santana, who once entered June with a season average of .159—but a shockingly respectable .327 OBP—Yan simply does NOT believe in the free pass. In 156 plate appearances coming into Wednesday, he had only even managed to reach a three-ball count on 23 occasions. Even the notoriously free-swinging Juan Uribe has seen more three-ball counts that that (28).

Now it’s possible—even likely—that Gomes will finally string a few multi-hit games together in the next week or two, thus burying much of this negative narrative. But, looking at his rough start as a total aberration might be wishful thinking.

Yes, Yan Gomes was coming back from a serious injury when he posted that .234 OBP in the first half of 2015. But, it’s still hard to ignore the fact that—through a nearly identical number of ABs in 2016 and 2015—he has managed to post two of the Top 5 worst starts to a season, OBP-wise, in club history. It’s no wonder the guy has turned to the ultimate desperation move—trying to see better through the witchcraft of prescription lenses.

Now, for a dose of semi-optimism to go with last night’s walkoff,  here is another statistical category in which Gomes is threatening the Cleveland record books: BAbip, the luck test.

Sometimes players have a low BAbip because they’re hitting weak-ass pop-ups and/or chopping the ball into the ground all the time. And yeah, Yan is doing both of those things. But, a .188 BAbip is still super-crazy low and does suggest an inevitable turnaround is upcoming. By comparison, Gomes had a .282 BAbip in is his awful first half of 2015, which explains why his batting average then (.218) was nearly 50 points higher than it is now.

Long story short, Yan might never be the elite-level player we hoped he might be. He doesn’t get on base enough, and, even defensively, his gunning down of base runners is roughly league average and his handling of the pitching staff is a topic of some controversy. For reasons of pure respect and fandom, however, I still have an unwavering faith in the guy. His BAbip offers the hope of a turn-around, and his excellent hitting with runners in scoring position provides a hint at what he can do when his mind’s in the right place. With talented backup catcher Roberto Perez on the disabled list for the long haul, and journeyman Chris Gimenez not posing a real threat to Yan's job security, patience remains a virtue. Getting Yan right—and confident again—is a huge goal for the next month ahead, because as I’ve said many times: as Yan Gomes, so gomes the Tribe.

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