2013 in Review: Yan Gomes goes from throw-in to stud

Jason Miller

Yan Gomes had one of the most-surprising seasons in recent Tribe history.

Yan Gomes

Catcher

Bats: Right Throws: Right

Age: 26

Acquired: Traded by Toronto on 11/3/2012 (with Mike Aviles for Esmil Rogers)

2014 Salary: ~$500,000 (2nd year of pre-arbitration eligibility)

Yan Gomes was a 10th round draft pick of Toronto's in 2009. He was never listed among their top 20 prospects by Baseball America and while he did post strong hitting numbers in 2012, it was with the Las Vegas 51s, who play in one of the best parks for hitters in the Pacific Coast League, probably the hitters' league in American professional baseball. He'd gotten 111 plate appearances with the Blue Jays, and hit just .204, with a wRC+ of 68 (that was worse than Casey Kotchman, to give you some Tribe-related context). When the Indians acquired him in a trade last November, Mike Aviles was viewed as the key piece of the deal. It was only after an ugly collision at the plate knocked backup catcher Lou Marson onto the disabled list that Gomes was brought up to Cleveland.

2013 in Review Hub: Your destination for Let's Go Tribe's look at key prospects and players from the Indians in 2013

Gomes made his Indians debut on April 9, starting four games while Carlos Santana dealt with a bruised thumb. Through May 8, Gomes had appeared in 12 games, and carried a .212 batting average with only one walk. He had hit 2 home runs, so there was that, but he didn't seem like a long-term solution, even as a backup. The next day though, Gomes began a 7-game hitting streak, which included another 3 HR. May 22 was the 5th of those 7 games. Gomes hit a home run off eventual Cy Young finalist Hisashi Iwakuma in his first AB, later singled, threw out two attempted base-stealers, and in the bottom of the 10th, with the Tribe down a run, he won the game with another home run.

All told, he posted a 1.010 OPS in 13 games during May. His bat cooled a bit over the rest of the first half, but he was still doing enough to start behind the plate for close to half the Tribe's games. Shortly after the All-Star break, he heated back up, with multiple hits in six straight starts between late July and early August. From that point on, he was the Indians' regular catcher, starting there in 38 of the team's final 52 games (and appearing in 4 more), and 22 of 27 in September. His second-half batting line was .319/.383/.485. Among the nine Indians with 150+ PA over that time, he led the team in all three of those rate stats, and his wRC+ of 147 was tied for 7th in the American League.

Here are Gomes' overall hitting numbers for 2013:

Year Age Tm G PA H 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
2013 25 CLE 88 322 86 18 2 11 18 67 .294 .345 .481 .826 133

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table

It must be pointed out that Gomes' BABIP on the year was .342, which is unsustainable (Joe Mauer is the only catcher of the 2000s who's shown an ability to post something like that even semi-regularly). His 5.6 BB% was also in the bottom 20% of all MLB hitters with 300+ PA. Point being, going forward, Gomes is not going to be the hitter he looked like in 2013. If you drop his BABIP to something like .300, he loses 10 hits. If you take away those 10 hits, his batting average would have been ,259 (which is what Steamer projects him for in 2014). I think that's a reasonable projection for him going forward, and it still leaves him an above-average hitter, just not a great one.

Even as only a mildly-above-average hitter though, Gomes could be a great player, because for all the value he provided with his bat, his glove (and arm) were every bit as good:

Gomes threw out 20 of 49 attempted base thieves in 2013, which is 41%, well-above the league average of 26% and ranked second in the American League this season. Compare that to Santana (who caught 2.2 extra innings on the season, meaning their playing time behind the plate was almost identical), who threw out just 11 of 62 runners, which is 18%, 3rd-worst in the AL.

Gomes was also behind the plate for 17 fewer wild pitches than Santana, and while those are credited to the pitcher, that's a large enough difference to show Gomes is blocking pitches Santana doesn't. Gomes made 65 assists, the most per-inning by any AL backstop (min 600 innings).

Looking at more advanced metrics, Gomes also led the AL in Stolen Base Runs Saved and Total Defensive Runs Saved, and on a per-inning basis, led AL catchers in the defensive component of WAR (both the FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference versions).

As you can see, there's a strong argument that Gomes was the best defensive catcher in the American League (he was snubbed in Gold Glove balloting but did recently pick up a lesser-known defensive honor). Even if his bat regresses to only a bit above average, defense like Gomes played in 2013 is incredibly valuable.

The Indians have some decisions about the lineup to make this offseason, but at this point it's clear that Gomes is the team's primary catcher.

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