The first two games of the series could have been won by either team. They were tough, one-run games where the Kansas City Royals bested the Cleveland Indians in mirror fashion to how the Tribe deposed of the defending champs at Progressive Field earlier in June. Wednesday's game, however, did not continue the string of close games. The Royals dominated the Indians who did not have the best version of starting pitcher Corey Kluber (5 IP, 8 ER) and whose offense continued to struggle during the 9-4 sweep-clinching loss. The Indians and Royals now sit tied in first in the AL Central Division with identical 35-30 records.
As previously discussed by WFNY's Clayman, among those hitters struggling for the Indians is catcher Yan Gomes. Gomes hit into his fourth double play of the series on Wednesday along with his 0-for-4 day. Over his past 14 games, he is hitting .111/.149/.222, which has dropped him overall to a .167/.204.339 with a putrid 39 OPS+ on the year. Gomes now has the worst wRC+ (40), OBP (.204), and batting average (.167) in all of MLB (minimum 190 PA). There is a legitimate argument to be made that he is the worst hitter in all of baseball, which is insane to think about considering his 2013 and 2014 seasons, the latter of which he won the Silver Slugger Award as the best hitting catcher in the AL. Gomes remains among the best at framing pitches and catching would-be base stealers, but his black hole position in the lineup is killing the offense.
So, what has gone wrong?1
Hitter Controllable BAbip?
Yan Gomes has a BAbip of .180, while his career BAbip is .296. Obviously, the worse average done on batted balls in play, the worse the overall statistical profile is going to appear. And, there could be some bad luck involved with such a low number. However, while a pitcher's BAbip tends to normalize around .300 given a large enough sample size, hitters have a bit more control. Exit velocities and launch angles have demonstrated that there are specific types of batted balls that lend themselves to higher BAbip.
A closer look at Gomes batting profile shows that his line drive rate has plummeted with a large portion of those batted balls ending up as pop flies. However, unlike Jason Kipnis, Gomes is not getting pull-happy with his swing, but his opposite field batted ball rate has significantly dropped (more balls hit up the middle). With his hard hit rate also dropping, the 2016 batted ball profile shows that Gomes is simply giving the defense too many easy outs when he makes contact.
Swing batta-batta Swing
As can be seen from the above charts, Yan Gomes is swinging away at most pitches in the strike zone, which is also indicated in his career-high Z-swing% (72.8%, career 66.7%). He is also making contact on those "in the zone" pitches at a relatively normal rate (86%, career 84.4%). However, a weakness in his plate discipline emerges when four-seam and two-seam fastballs are separated from offspeed and breaking pitches. While Gomes has done well to lay off fastballs low and outside out of the zone, he is still swinging away at the offspeed and breaking pitches as long as they are belly high or lower even if they are outside the strike zone. He is actually making contact at a good rate on pitches outside the zone (63.9%, career 65.8%), so that is why we are seeing many more easy outs from him and a death spiral on his BAbip.
Francisco Lindor recently said that the best way to hit a breaking pitch was to not miss the fastballs. Perhaps, to simplify things Gomes should sit on fastballs for awhile to bust out of his epic slump. Whether it is over-aggressiveness with the slower pitches or plain bad pitch recognition, if Gomes is going to rebound from the worst hitter in MLB to a player who doesn't hurt the Indians offense (let alone someone capable of winning the Silver Slugger Award), then he is going to need to lay off these pitches.
And, as seen from the chart below, it is not as if swinging at the breaking pitches has been giving Gomes any success in getting on base in 2016 anyway.
Giving the last word to hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo as reported by mlb.com's Jordan Bastian.
1: Hat tip to Kevin Dean who began the Yan Gomes discussion with me Wednesday.