Gomes Settling In Behind Plate
Bob Toth | On 29, Jun 2014
Cleveland Indians starting catcher Yan Gomes looks as though he has settled in behind the plate, which was not quite the case through the early portion of this season. Players around the league are getting a harsh reminder:
You don’t run on Yan.
The Indians signed the relatively unknown Gomes to a six-year, $23 million contract extension just prior to the season in a deal that would keep the catcher in Cleveland through 2021 if club options were picked up. The deal seemed a surprise at the time for a player who had yet to even make a Major League roster to start a season and came on the heels of the five-year pact the club tendered to outfielder Michael Brantley. The long-term extension was questioned by some with the small sample size of games logged by Gomes and criticized even more by some when Gomes struggled behind the plate within a week of the season’s start.
Gomes was acquired in November of 2012 in what looks to be a steal by Indians general manager Chris Antonetti. The club sent reliever Esmil Rogers, coming off of a resurgent second half in his lone months with Cleveland, to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for utility infielder Mike Aviles and Gomes.
The Indians knew what they were getting in Aviles. The veteran had played against Cleveland for four years while a member of the Kansas City Royals and played 38 games for manager Terry Francona in his last year at the helm of the Boston Red Sox.
Gomes was much more the unknown piece of the trade. At 24, he debuted with the Blue Jays in 2012, appearing in 43 games. He hit just .204 with four home runs, four doubles, and 13 RBI while bouncing all over the field. Over the course of his quarter-season of action, he saw time at catcher, first base, third base, left field, and designated hitter.
Gomes did not make the Opening Day roster for the Indians last season, even after skipping a chance to play in the World Baseball Classic to focus on his preparation for the coming season. His opportunity arrived quickly, however, as an injury to backup catcher Lou Marson in a game against Tampa Bay lingered and opened the door for Gomes.
Gomes made the best of it, hitting .294 on the season with eleven home runs and 38 RBI. He launched a pair of home runs, including the walk-off shot in the tenth inning, on May 20th against the Seattle Mariners to catapult himself into the attention of Indians fans. His consistent bat and strong play in relief of Carlos Santana behind the plate earned him regular playing time down the stretch last season.
He was recognized as a sound game caller and seemed to limit both the number of wild pitches and passed balls that had been occurring with a lesser defender like Santana behind the plate. His ability to throw out base runners with a laser arm had him ranked first amongst American League catchers who caught at least 700 innings at eliminating would-be base stealers (40.8% caught-stealing percentage).
All of this is what made his slow start behind the plate all the more surprising.
At the start of the second week of play, he committed three errors in the span of five days between April 6th and 10th. He replicated the feat in a six-day run between April 17th and April 22nd. On top of that, through his first 17 games up until April 22nd, he had also been charged with three passed balls and nine wild pitches had occurred with him as the game caller.
He was charged with just four passed balls in 85 games and 710 innings of work last season.
Gomes was placed on the paternity list on May 3rd. At the time, he had already more than doubled his number of errors from last season. Base runners were successful 16 times in 22 attempts against him (27.3% caught-stealing percentage).
He returned on May 5th for a series with the Minnesota Twins and made another pair of errors, allowed two more stolen bases in as many attempts, and saw a wild pitch in all three games. His fielding percentage dropped to .965 and runners were now successful in 75% of their attempts to steal against him.
Part of the problem was thought to be Gomes’ footwork behind the plate. He continued to work with former Indians All-Star catcher and current first base and catching coach Sandy Alomar to better sync his mechanics between his arm and feet.
Santana started behind the plate on May 8th. Since returning to the lineup on May 9th, Gomes has been nearly perfect.
He has appeared in 39 games including Saturday night’s contest with Seattle. In 330 chances prior to Saturday’s game, he had not committed an error. His error on Saturday night on a rushed throw to second after a wild pitch ended his longest errorless streak of the season at 38 straight games. He has not been charged with another passed ball. He has thrown out 12 of 29 potential base stealers, a caught-stealing percentage of 41.4%, back near the pace he threw out base runners last season.
He still leads all catchers in baseball with his ten errors, despite the 38-game errorless streak. His fielding percentage has climbed back to a more-respectable .985 entering Saturday’s action. He is tied for the AL lead in double plays turned with six and leads the AL with 38 assists. His caught-stealing percentage is up to 33.9% on the season, still better than the MLB-average of 27%.
At the plate, Gomes entered action on Saturday night hitting .267 with a .312 on-base percentage. His averages, as well as his power and RBI production, are down, but he is now just two home runs short of his career high of eleven and eleven RBI short of his 38 from last season. The strikeout has plagued him a bit more this season, as he has averaged nearly one per game played, three and a half percent more frequently than last season.
Maybe it was the pressure of fulfilling the expectations of being the every day Major League catcher for the first time in his career. Maybe it was the faith that the organization had placed in him by giving him the six-year extension before the season started without even registering a full season’s worth of games under his belt. Maybe it was the pending birth of his first child with wife, Jenna.
Whatever the reason for Gomes’s early season defensive struggles, it appears to be a thing of the past.
Photo: Mike Carlson/Getty Images