Indians

Let’s Argue: The Indians Long Term Catcher Decision

let's argue
Welcome to Let’s Argue, your weekly opportunity to be #MadOnline. The premise is simple: WFNY’s Mike Hattery and Jeff Nomina will present arguments — maybe just a question or a deep stat dive or a good old fashioned hot take. Then, they will either argue with each other or invite you to come argue with us. This week, Mike and Jeff are starting the argument, but don’t let that stop you for joining in the comment section or coming at us 140 characters at a time on Twitter @SnarkyHatman & @SportsNom.

Jeff: Yan Gomes should be given every opportunity to be the Cleveland Indians’ starting catcher in 2017. This shouldn’t even be a debate. In fact, I listened to your recent pod with Jim Pete where you tried to argue against it, and you failed so miserably that it only confirmed these words I’m typing right now.

Roberto Perez is great. His defense is elite. He has great walk skills. He was quietly one of the most important players in the Indians’ World Series run. But, Yan Gomes provides infinitely more upside. The Indians should exhaust their opportunities for him to fulfill that upside. We did this with Carlos Carrasco. We did this with Lonnie Chisenhall. A small market club, especially one that just imposed a fairly sizeable financial burden named Edwin Encarnacion, should absolutely look to fulfill the potential of the internal options. As the saying goes, “No Yan left behind.”

Mike: The Gomes upside argument is a good one. Ultimately, it has to pivot one way or another on what can be derived from his 2015 season. Even with a down year in 2015, 2013-2015 Gomes was sixth among catcher in wOBA and seventh in wRC+.  To go with sterling defense he was a top five catcher during this period. But, his offensive traits are one prone to significant volatility. While Perez has a clear floor because of his plate discipline Gomes is unstable and incredibly reliant on his BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) to be productive.

I suppose this is boring but also necessary in order to create expectations regarding Gomes future. Gomes had high BABIPs in 2013/2014 (.342/.326). Those numbers dropped off in 2015/2016 (.285/.189). Gomes was the only player in Major League Baseball to run a BABIP below .200 with 150+ plate appearances.

Courtesy of Fangraphs

Courtesy of Fangraphs

The reason for the 2016 drop off — while extreme and unsustainable — makes sense in many ways. Gomes has a troubling infield flyball rate where the spike kills BABIP because the conversion rate into outs is above 99 percent. Further, his line drive rate cratered which was a major part of Gomes productive offensive profile.  2016 Gomes only had a relatively limited 264 plate appearances, so we should avoid overreacting to it. 2015 Gomes is worth more consideration. Is a .285 BABIP that far out of line for a catcher who has a good line drive rate? Not particularly when league average BABIP sits just north of .290, .285 really isn’t a bad outcome when hard contact declines. The other positive about Gomes is that he has fairly solid hit distribution; not pull dominant enough for efficient shifting to take place. Assuming the smaller sample of 2016 is noise, there is a good contact profile. The unanswerable question remains whether multiple injuries have broken that hitter.

A final thought on Gomes, the ceiling isn’t what it was. Gomes 2015 season actually makes a lot of sense, and in many ways is similar to what our expectations should be built on if he regains his contact quality. A solid season with a wRC+ of 80-85. The .340 BABIP is likely a thing of the past and, with his limited walk rate, there is an offensive ceiling below 100 wRC+.

I love the argument that the Indians can afford to bet on the guy with the higher ceiling because of the overall talent on this roster. I am not sure that ceiling still exists for Gomes.

With Perez, we have an elite pitch framer, elite game-caller, quality arm, elite walk rate, and he can even run into a fastball every once in awhile.  The floor with Perez simply seems high enough that the diminished ceiling of Gomes is not that tantalizing. They both should get significant time, and if Gomes can put something resembling his old self together, I would be the happiest person around to be wrong. Gomes should be better than 2016, maybe even close to league average. But, Gomes the Silver Slugger Award winner has disappeared into the mist.

Jeff: I know that late at night you sneak downstairs and open that folder on your desktop titled “System Backup 3.20,” and it’s actually just full of Roberto Perez framing GIFs. But, we need to be realistic about his offense. While we look at Yan’s line drive rate, Perez was actually lower there. The guy barely out-ranked Michael Martinez in soft contact, and Collin Cowgill in ground ball rate. His 2015 offense was exciting and fun, but that HR/FB rate is quite the outlier. His .309 BABIP is unlikely to repeat based on the types of contact he’s making. In fact, even with Gomes having just an awful year last year, his combined medium and hard contact rate was 82.6 percent compared to Perez’s 77.8 percent. I struggle to see a scenario where Perez’s defense is so much better than Gomes that it will offset his offense.

perezbattedball

And again, Gomes is due $17,450,000 over the next three seasons. Punting him in favor of a marginal upgrade is just bad asset management. If you want to argue the Indians should showcase Gomes early and flip him if he sustains a high BABIP that is likely unstable? Sure. Fine. But Gomes’ contract is not insignificant or short. The Indians have to make every effort to get value for that contract. Giving a guy who put up back-to-back four WAR seasons every opportunity to work through his issues is a no brainer.

Related: Cleveland Indians 2017 position primer: Catcher

Mike: Fair criticism on Perez, yet Perez and Gomes are reliant on different things for their offensive profiles. Gomes simply doesn’t walk posting around half of the league average walk rate, for Gomes he has to live and die by contact. Perez, however, doesn’t. Here are the top 15 hitters in BB% with at least 350  PA’s over the past two years:

Courtesy of Fangraphs

Courtesy of Fangraphs

Perez’ plate discipline is an elite tool which adds value even when he is rushed back too quickly from injury in 2016. Running a close to league average ISO of .130 and walking at an elite rate is pretty competent production to receive from the catching position, especially when he is setting the table for the top of the order on a contact loaded lineup like Santana, Lindor, Kipnis, Encarnacion and Ramirez.

As to the contract argument, folderol. This is a classic sunk cost argument. The Indians have already committed a sunk cost and must expend playing time (opportunity cost) in order to redeem a sunk cost. I think this honestly should be a time share with each getting significant playing time and specializing with specific pitchers to build comfort. Whenever teams make decisions based on sunk cost the outcomes are rarely positive.

You can throw around four WAR guy and certainly grab peoples attention but what are the odds that guy actually still exists? We have a major knee injury, a separated shoulder and a broken wrist in the two years following four war production, does that body still have four WAR in it?

Jeff: Listen, I don’t know what folderol means, but I do know what hyperbole means. To your own point above, Gomes’ offense is likely to return to league average or a bit below. With his defense, even that level of offensive production would be worth four WAR over the next few years, easily. The guy had a .659 OPS and 75 wRC+ in 2015 and still 0.8 WAR in 95 games. The injuries are scary, but again, I’m not asking for Perez to be put out to pasture. The guy is under control through 2020, let’s see what Gomes has left getting the lion share of the at bats. If he truly is broken, than Perez can step in beautifully.

I think we’ve beat each other over the head enough on this, let’s open it up to everyone reading and see what they think. Take part in our Twitter poll below, yell at us in the comments, or come find us on Twitter and let us know your thoughts.

  • scripty

    My plan would be to start Gomes 100 games and Perez 60, and use each other accordingly in late innings as defensive replacements (after situational pinch hitters). I think it’s likely neither has a huge offensive upside, with Gomes’ one season of being a poor man’s Brook Jacoby a product of that hot stretch.

    Gomes will improve with a little rest and not always being hurt, and Perez will benefit from avoiding too much rust. Put Gomes w/ Kluber, Tomlin, and the one of the others. Perez takes Bauer and the other guy in a logical pattern.

  • mgbode

    A couple notes on what was not discussed in the detailed debate above (adding even more things for consideration). I’m not so sure that Roberto Perez doesn’t have a higher ceiling (since I don’t think that SS hitter is coming back for Gomes).

    Gomes defense has been degrading. He was not anywhere near as good as Roberto (nor has he been) but he also was not nearly as good as his previous self. We are not only hoping on his bat coming around but also his defense (love that pop time he has/had but framing and the rest of his repetoire will need to continue to get back).

    Also, while LD% is great, EV is also an important factor. Perez hits high HR/FB because his swing gives high EV when contact is made.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b0f80e830c6a540b4880fff5b39cd22fc24e3ac83e56cad23675ddd75296ce46.jpg

  • NankirPhelge
  • Jeff Nomina

    A time share probably makes a lot of sense, but my only pushback would be getting Gomes enough games per week that he can work through any rust / issues. My main point is just maximizing him as an asset, and creating a situation where he is most likely to succeed.

  • Jeff Nomina

    I’m very interested to see Gomes’ defense this year. Is he healthy? If his offense rebounds, does he gain confidence behind the plate as well?

  • scripty

    If he starts 2 of every 5, he’ll be still doing a late inning replacement after pinch hitter once ever other 3 games.

    And Gomes will likely get a 15-21 day DL at some point too.

    And I think there’s the 10-day DL this year now? So Gomes could do that multiple times. In terms of games played, Perez will probably hit 85 games at least I imagine.

  • scripty

    If Gomes was playing hurt then his data can lead us astray. I would rely on present data more than anything in the past 2 years.

  • mgbode

    present will be skewed by ST factors of small sample size and weirdness of non-MLBers

    this is where scouting/coaching can pay dividends – they should be able to see what’s what about Yan’s defense and bat speed quicker (still SSS and bias are troublesome)

  • mgbode

    health will be the biggest factor at catcher, no doubt

  • jpftribe

    Giving Gomes any benefit of the doubt, or ‘shaking off rust’ is something I have no more patience for. Guy has had two years to get into form. Last year at the plate, he was horrible, like MLB historic horrible. Bode rightly points out below that his defense was not very good either.

    Perez leveled out (finally) at the end of the season. I think you’ll see a .225 guy with teens HR and some walks. Should be enough to get by if they find an answer in the outfield. If it were my decision, Gomes is going to need to rip the cover off the ball in ST or play 2nd string to Perez.

  • jpftribe

    Was he playing hurt tho? I thought he was healthy all year until the shoulder issue, but i could be wrong about that.

  • CBiscuit

    Average Exit Velocity by Week for Roberto Perez graph.

    This feels like walking into a new bar and seeing everyone dressed like minotaurs about to sacrifice a goat on a golden altar surrounded by candles.

    “Sorry fellas…I have the wrong place!”
    [slowly steps backwards]

  • Garry_Owen

    Hmm. Who got us to the World Series? Yeah. Go with that guy. It ain’t rocket surgery.

    #Baseball

  • mgbode

    Oh, I’m sorry. Would you prefer Launch Angle distribution per handedness of pitcher faced? I have that too thanks to baseballsavant.

  • mgbode

    i don’t think any catcher is ever truly “healthy”

  • CBiscuit

    [Mrs. Bode swoons]

  • mgbode

    Haven’t had the chance to do rocket surgery but have done Blackhawk & F-21 surgery. If a college intern can figure it out, then it must not be too difficult 🙂

  • Garry_Owen
  • mgbode

    She watched every single postseason game, so I definitely would like the Indians to make it back to October to continue such.

    She might hit me over the head if I mentioned EV & LA distributions though.

  • Garry_Owen

    F-21, huh? What are you, Israeli?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j5PG95J5GQ4

  • mgbode

    Just say “That’s My Boy” and vote Roberto Perez for starting catcher of the 2017 Cleveland Indians. Make catching great again. Tippecanoe and Berto too.

    Really, there’s the numbers but they are still in infancy for catcher stats. Who do you think has been better and who do you think will be better this year?

  • Garry_Owen
  • scripty

    I was told he’d been hit on the top of the left hand a few times and was having a hard time gripping the bat. Who knows, could be b.s. That said, given his elasticity on performance, I’d rather go by new data than old.

  • mgbode

    Egyptian models actually. Dang, so F-16. Been awhile, sorry.

    I still wonder if all the SW we installed had a self-destruct mechanism that we could somehow remotely trigger.

  • Hopwin

    Cut both those Amish looking mooks and bring up Francisco Mejia.

  • Garry_Owen

    I’m still gonna go with the Israeli F-21 Kfir.

    Interesting story: We sold the Iranians a handful of F-14s back in the late ’70s(?), but didn’t sell them any software upgrades or parts. Those puppies flew for about 3 years, until they couldn’t fly anymore. I assume we have similarly artistic deals with other countries.

  • Garry_Owen

    And you certainly don’t lose any nerd cred with me! You’re still king. You just wandered into my wheelhouse.

  • Steve

    Bauer and Tomlin on three days rest got us there too. Lets not just default to whatever worked in the crapshoot known as the playoffs.

  • mgbode

    will gladly defer to you here unless my 3 months working on the electrical black boxes of these puppies gets me some type of advanced credit 🙂

  • Garry_Owen

    No, I’ll give you the Egyptian F-16s. That’s all yours.

  • CBiscuit

    They build barns…yet often can’t hit the broad side of one:(

  • CBiscuit

    I don’t know. As for Napoli, they “let him walk” (this is hysterical only to me)…in large part due to him completely wilting in the playoffs. He otherwise had a solid season. Not sure if it’s fair or not in his case with such a small sample size, but players really do rise or sink in the pressure of the playoffs depending on their makeup.

    He had a very subpar reg season, but Perez showed a lot of leadership and played balls out during our playoff run. We can’t and shouldn’t dismiss that as pure crapshoot.

  • mgbode

    Gotta love that the USA warranty program on those things is giving some low-level, short-term intern the keys to debugging the issues.

  • tsm

    Agree that Perez appears to have more upside. A superior defensive catcher, his offense began to improve after shaking off the rust from his injury. If he can avoid chasing the bad pitches he tends to swing at with 2 strikes, and develops more plate discipline, he will be a great asset.

  • Garry_Owen

    Business at the lowest bidder!

  • mgbode

    Napster was wilting before the playoffs came around.

  • NankirPhelge

    Mrs. Bode whispers in his ear: Oh Michael, I love it when you talk nerdy to me.

  • Steve

    I’m not saying to dismiss what happened in the playoffs, even though the SSS of it swamps anything you think you can garner about performing with the pressure on.

    Regarding Napoli, re-signing him would be going with “who got us to the World Series”, not letting him walk.

  • CBiscuit

    Hey, it’s a long season and takes its toll. You try hosting a party at your house all of the time over the summer…

  • NankirPhelge

    Your boy.

  • mgbode

    He is all of ours 🙂

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  • Hopwin

    IIRC it took him almost the entire month of August to get that 30th HR

  • Jeff Nomina

    After I dove into it – I think Gomes’ 2015 was really unlucky and his 2016 was just really awful. I just want to give him one more season to figure it out, at least.

  • Jeff Nomina

    That’s super interesting and would explain why his 2016 was so different than the rest of his career.