Gomes Going Forward

Today continues DTTWLN’s three week examination of the Indians’ 2014 season and where it fell short of the playoff expectations established last winter. The staff will examine where the season went wrong and the challenges the front office faces to make the Indians contenders in 2015.

While the Cleveland Indians’ season fell short of the team’s expectations, it has been a great 2014 overall for catcher Yan Gomes.

Strong second half play at the end of 2013 earned him an opportunity to be the Indians starting catcher. It was a role that he looked comfortable in, especially after some early season errors were contained. His defense behind the plate and his ability to eliminate runners on the base paths, combined with his continued development in the batter’s box, made him one of the better catchers in the American League.

The showing last year led to the team signing him to a six-year, $23 million contract extension at the end of Spring Training. The move came as a bit of a surprise for a relative unknown player who the Indians acquired with utility player Mike Aviles from the Toronto Blue Jays in November of 2012 in exchange for reliever Esmil Rogers.

Off the field, Gomes and his wife Jenna, daughter of former Major League All-Star pitcher Atlee Hammaker, welcomed a daughter to the world in May, their first child.

On the field, Gomes was an instant defensive upgrade over the previous starting catcher, Carlos Santana, whose bat had compensated for his high wild pitch and passed ball tendencies behind the dish.

It is no surprise that the presence of Gomes as the signal caller at the plate has led to an improved team ERA over the last season and a half.

He cut down on those wild pitches and passed balls. In 79 games in 2013, he allowed four passed balls and 27 wild pitches, thanks in part to wildness from Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez. In 121 games catching in 2014, just six pitches were ruled passed balls and 39 pitches were wild.

Gomes allowed the fourth-most stolen bases amongst catchers during the 2014 season, which was a bit of a surprise on the surface when recognizing his place near the top of AL catchers in caught stealing percentage in 2013, when he picked off 40.8% of would-be base stealers. That percentage fell back to earth some in 2014, as he nabbed the Indians 32% of runners who tried, but he still caught the second-most base stealers in the league (31).

Defensively, he was second in the league in putouts and first among catchers. His 73 assists behind the plate were second in the league and he was tied for the AL in double plays turned with nine. His 8.93 range factor was best in the Junior Circuit. Thirteen of his 14 errors were throwing errors, most often trying to catch runners stealing, and his error total was the second-highest in all of baseball.

With the lumber, he showed that last year’s power numbers and higher-than-expected batting average were no fluke.

In his 135 games, he hit 21 home runs and drove in 74 runs, both career highs. He added 25 doubles and three triples to his stat sheet. While his season batting average ended at .278, he saved his best work for last again, hitting .303 after the All-Star break with nine home runs and 38 RBI in 55 games.

He put together a 13-game hitting streak starting in the last week of July, hitting .347 during the stretch with three home runs and eleven RBI. He had ten hits on the season that gave the Indians the lead. He owned lefties, batting .331 against them in 67 games.

He hit just .257 at home, but made up for it with a .297 mark on the road, including a .455 average in Arlington, a .409 mark in Minneapolis, .367 in Detroit, and .341 in Kansas City.

He pummeled Minnesota pitching, hitting .333 with six home runs and 19 RBI against them in 15 games. Against other division rivals, he hit .310 with three homers and ten RBI in 18 games against the Royals and hit .371 against the Tigers. He hit .328 in interleague play with another four home runs and eleven runs batted in.

He did not just look good compared to other hitters in the Indians’ lineup. He looked good when compared across all of baseball to other players at his position.

His .278 average and 74 RBI both finished second amongst qualified catchers in the AL and fourth in all of baseball. His 21 home runs trailed just the 23 of New York’s Brian McCann and the 22 of Seattle’s Mike Zunino. He had the second-best slugging percentage of a catcher (.472) in all of the MLB, trailing just Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants (.490).

His .313 on-base percentage was hurt by his 24 walks this season, the second-fewest of qualified catchers, better than just the 22 of Salvador Perez of the Royals.

As the season progressed and Gomes continued to be one of the team’s most valuable players, manager Terry Francona was able to elevate his catcher higher in the batting order to protect an otherwise unproductive offense. He spent the majority of the year in the bottom third of the order, getting a high of 51 starts in the seventh spot, but also seeing 29 games in the eighth spot and 21 games in the sixth spot. He spent the end of the season bouncing back and forth in the fifth and sixth spots in the order.

His power numbers are much more worthy of a spot in the middle of the lineup, likely fifth behind Santana if the team is unable to find ways to bolster the middle of the batting order in the offseason.

The 27-year-old is a key part of building a strong defense up the middle and will need to eliminate the mistakes he made. The Indians will not find the success they need in the win column if he has another nine-error April behind the plate. He seemed to be pressing at times, maybe from the pressure of being the everyday catcher for the first time in the Majors or from being rewarded with a large contract extension just before the season started.

His sometimes over-aggressive mindset behind the plate led to a few unforced errors, trying to pick off runners at first base or trying to overthrow the ball on stolen base attempts. Several members of his pitching staff are not exactly the quickest to home plate, and that knowledge may have led to Gomes trying too hard to reduce the head start given to base runners by the man on the rubber.

Consistency will be the key for him going forward.

The Indians made it well known in giving him the contract obligation prior to the season that Gomes is an integral piece of the team’s success moving forward in the years to come. That success will require each facet of Gomes’ game to be top notch, something he has shown glimpses of, but has not done at a consistent level in a full MLB season yet.

If he can, and it appears to be something he can do entering just his second full season in the Bigs in 2015, the Indians will have a solid squad up the middle of the diamond and a force to be feared and reckoned with behind the plate.

Photo: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

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