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Did The Tribe Win Last Night? | October 24, 2016

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Chris Gimenez Is Heating Up In The Second Half

Chris Gimenez Is Heating Up In The Second Half

| On 16, Aug 2016

When Chris Gimenez was signed by the Indians and added to the roster in May, he was expected to be a backup catcher – the catcher who plays every so often, only needed to give the starter (in this case, Yan Gomes) an occasional rest. He only needed to be average at the plate and behind the dish, exactly like the guy he was replacing, Roberto Perez, who managed exactly eight at bats in April.

However, Gimenez soon became much more than that. He developed into Trevor Bauer’s personal catcher, suiting up every fifth day. And with Gomes’s April slump extending into May and June, he was penciled into the starting lineup more and more, but still at irregular intervals. By the time Perez hastily returned from injury due to an injury to Gomes, Gimenez had appeared in 34 of the Tribe’s 69 games (49%), with 23 of those times being starts (33%).

He played a bit more than one would expect from a backup catcher, mostly because he was the best hitter at that position this year. Despite his paltry slash line in the first half (.185/.230/.272), the 33-year-old journeyman was hitting better than Gomes (.165/.198/.313), the former Silver Slugger Award winner. He didn’t fill in for Gomes well defensively, as Gimenez was below average in catching runners stealing, which was why his playing time was still limited and erratic. When Gomes went down on July 17, Gimenez was going to be called upon even more, especially with Perez not fully recovered from injury. And he’s responded in a big way.

Ever since he was called into more than a part-time role, Gimenez has thrived. He’s slashed .310/.333/.448 in 32 plate appearances, raising his overall numbers to .214/.252/.313. He’s finally hitting over the Mendoza line, something the other Tribe catchers can’t claim. With consistent at bats, Gimenez has been thriving. He’s played in 15 of the team’s 25 games (60%) since Gomes went down, starting in nine (36%) of those. Since he knows he’s starting every other day (or at least was), he can prepare himself better on a day-to-day basis. And that preparation has led to his success.

That effort has led to Gimenez hitting the ball harder. He’s increased his hard hit rate from 32% in the first half to 37% in the second half. In addition, his average exit velocity has risen a whole mile per hour from the first to second half, according to data from Baseball Savant. And when you hit the ball hard, good things happen. Unlike in the first half of the year (.218 BABIP), Gimenez is getting hits to drop in because he’s hitting the ball hard. His .381 BABIP since Gomes’s injury, much higher than his career rate of .273, tells us that.

Of course, all of these stats come in the sample size of part-time play in about a month, so it is necessary to take them with a large grain of salt. However, there has been a positive trend for Gimenez, something not seen all season from any Tribe backstop. Though it could just be plain old luck, there is also a strong possibility he made an adjustment at the plate.

In his recent hot stretch, Gimenez has been more selective at the plate. And though it hasn’t resulted in any walks yet, his probable change in approach is still helping him out. As the normal number nine hitter, pitchers like to attack Gimenez in the zone. Thus, he needs to take advantage of the times they miss their spots by not chasing balls out of the zone. During the past month, he’s done a great job of not swinging away and will look to carry on this practice for the rest of the season.

With the Tribe receiving a black hole at the catcher’s spot in the lineup, Gimenez’s hot stretch is something to be appreciated. It could even help him out, too. When (if?) Gomes returns from injury in September, the Tribe are going to need to make a decision at backup catcher for the rest of the year, including a potential playoff run. Because Gimenez has hit a whole lot better, it might be the veteran joining the club in the postseason instead of the guy he was signed to replace.

Photo: AP Photo/Seth Wenig