Let’s Argue: The Indians Long Term Catcher Decision

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.


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.