On March 31 2014, the Indians extended a catcher coming off an 11 home run campaign in only 88 games. The catcher would go on to post a 21 home run season and nearly five WAR.1. It appeared that this extension was yet another bargain for a franchise adept at suppressing the costs of highly productive big league contributors.
However, an MCL sprain, an AC joint injury, and a broken hand had the hopes of Yan Gomes returning in 2017 as an above average offensive catcher considered bleak at best. The defensive skills had continued, but the offensive skills had eroded, down to a wRC+ of 33 in 2016, 33!2
Indeed, I will not hide from my lack of optimism. I found no rational basis to believe that after two full seasons Gomes would transform himself back into the above average hitter he once was. So far, I was wrong, and I could not be happier. The reasoning on Gomes decline was clear. He was an undisciplined hitter relying on contact quality which had been sapped by injuries.
The epitaph was simple:
Yan Gomes beloved by many, exciter of crowds was decimated by the cruel realities of injurious fate at the big league level.
Thankfully, you were wrong, they were wrong, and I certainly was wrong. Gomes out of nowhere has found his way to a productive offensive profile and this article is a forensic analysis of why Gomes is productive in 2017. I disagree with Lord Tennyson when he is quoted as having said “Ours not to reason why, ours but to do and die.”
I must reason why. Gomes is rocking both the highest walk rate of his professional career and his lowest strikeout rate. All of the sudden a historically impatient hitter in the formulation of the hubris-laden Napolean is passive and does not chase deceitful opportunities. What has led Yan Gomes to a 120 wRC+ through 24 plus games? A concerted effort to lay off the high strike.
Gomes has essentially stopped chasing pitches which are on the top side of the strike zone or above the strike zone. The GIF below shows Gomes career swing rate on pitches and followed by his 2017 swing rate. The discernible difference? Gomes has crossed out pitches above the strike zone, and at the top of the strike zone which is serving to radically diminish his strikeout rate and improve his walk rate.
While Gomes has cleaned up his overall plate discipline the most significant and obvious gain is an extreme reduction in swings at pitches which are in the top third of the strike zone or above. Gomes was always challenged in terms of succeeding up in the strike zone. By spitting on these offerings in a comprehensive manner he has forced pitchers to throw more pitches down in the zone. This adjustment has reduced Gomes O-Swing%3 by seven percent, which is an enormous gain and completely alters Gomes profile.
Laying off the high strike or pitch above the strike zone is important to Gomes for two speceific reasons:
1) It aides in improving his walk rate to above the league average
2) Gomes is a textbook lowball hitters who has significant success at the middle-bottom of the strike zone.
Gomes is posting a walk rate which is nearly triple his career walk rate. Gomes is posting the highest hard hit rate of his big league career. However, there is a potential downside at the type of contact. Gomes is posting a career high ground ball rate, which in some ways mitigates the exit velocity gains. THe gains have it thus far though as Gomes is limiting his popup rate, sharpening a decline in strikeout rate, increasing his walk rate and hitting the ball really hard. Adjustments so far are giving the Indians an optimal outcome.
The opposing pitcher counter remains to be seen, but Gomes adjustments are a huge step into fixing his offensive profile and deepening a lineup on the precipice of explosion.