If you look at the numbers for Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez separately, the first reaction may not be a very good one. Neither stands out on their own. However, when looking at Cleveland’s catching duo, they must be looked at together.
Combined, Gomes and Perez make for one impressive catcher, at the plate and behind it. They make up one of the better catching combos in the game.
Each player, from an offensive standpoint, does not stand out. Last season, Gomes played the majority of games at backstop for the Tribe. He hit 14 home runs, with 56 RBI and a .232 batting average in 105 games – steady, but nothing special there. Perez, meanwhile, played 73 games, smacking eight homers, driving in 38, and hitting .207. That is even less awe-inspiring. Yet, when you combine the two, you have 22 bombs and 94 RBI from the catching position. Combined, the homers would have tied for fourth among major league catchers and led all single catchers in RBI total. Those tallies in all make for a nice offensive production from the catcher position. The lone downfall was the combined .210 batting average. Still, the pair produced runs at a solid rate.
It was a far cry from 2016 when the catcher spot in the batting order was, indeed, a wasteland. Part of that was injuries to both Gomes and Perez. Part of it was a prolonged slump by Gomes in the middle of the summer that saw his teammates go so far as to tease him with fake chickens – a nod to the movie, Major League, and its live chicken sacrificing reference. It was a bad year that season at the plate for Cleveland’s two-headed catcher as they combined to hit a mere .173 with 12 homers and 51 RBI. A third catcher, Chris Gimenez, played a lot that season and did not add much to the totals. In his 67 games, the veteran his four homers with 11 RBI and hit .216. Gimenez was long gone by the time the Tribe was playing in Game 7 of that season’s World Series.
It seems, at times, that some fans are living in 2016 still. While it is fun to remember the Indians getting so close to their first World Series title since 1948, the catching position is not the mess that it was that season. If you need further evidence, in 2015, the pair combined for 19 jacks and 67 RBI. In 2014, the last time either played almost exclusively behind the plate, Gomes won a Silver Slugger award with 21 home runs and 74 RBI that season.
Cleveland’s catching position is more than capable of providing offense and driving in runs. That, however, is not what even makes Gomes and Perez so valuable to the team. Yes, 22 homers and 94 RBI are excellent. However, their work behind the plate is simply great. They are two of the better defensive catchers in baseball. Gomes was actually a finalist for an American League Gold Glove in 2017. His biggest downfall was only playing about two-thirds of Cleveland’s catching games. That is not going to change as manager Terry Francona likes having two catchers that he trusts as that saves wear and tear on either one and prevents one catching 140 games or more per season.
Having multiple catchers is really not a new thing. Only four catchers (out of the 30 MLB teams) had enough at bats last season to qualify in the league batting average race. Few teams play the same catcher on an everyday basis. Gary Sanchez, of the Yankees, has the benefit of sliding to designated hitter at times. In the National League, J.T. Realmuto, Yadier Molina and Buster Posey are three of the game’s best at the position and their teams just cannot live without them in their lineups. Many catchers, like former Indians Carlos Santana or Victor Martinez, who start their careers playing the position every day will often end up with a position change to save their knees and keep their bats strong.
In the cases of Gomes and Perez, it is not all about their bats. Gomes was third among qualified catchers in MLB in 2017 with 42 percent of base stealers caught. Perez actually had a 43 percent success rate of throwing out would-be base thieves, but he did not play enough to qualify among league leaders. Gomes had a .991 fielding percentage, which is not great, but not horrible. Perez had a strong .997 fielding percentage. To put those numbers into perspective, A.L. Gold Glove winning catcher Martin Maldonado (of the Angels) threw out 39 percent of base stealers, but had an excellent .998 fielding percentage. The Reds Tucker Barnhart, the NL Gold Glove winning backstop, had a 44 percent caught stealing rate and was at .999 field percentage. Perez and Gomes are right there with the cream of the crop when it comes to defensive catchers.
Keep in mind Cleveland’s catchers also deserve a ton of credit for handling arguably the game’s best pitching staff. They do a great job calling a game and helping the pitchers be all the more successful. Being so good and throwing out base stealers allows a pitcher to focus more on getting the hitter out than worrying about picking off a guy on first base. The two affect the game in many ways.
Cleveland’s catchers drove in runs last year and surely helped to prevent many more. Too many people in Cleveland think the position is a weakness for the Indians. To the contrary, it is actually a strength. Cleveland’s behind-the-plate duties are in great hands with Gomes and Perez. At the plate, the duo is just fine as well. It is time to give the two the credit that they deserve as one of the league’s stronger catching tandems.
Photo: The Medina Gazette