Cleveland Indians catcher Yan Gomes wasn’t just bad in 2016. For a legitimate major leaguer, which Gomes had long established him as by that point, bad is something like half a win and a wRC+ around 75. But for Gomes, that would have been a dream season compared to what he actually went through.
Much digital ink has been spilled over it, but Gomes was, bar none, the worst regular hitter in baseball last season. It wasn’t even particularly close. His plate discipline was awful, he hit for little power, and his BABIP was a cruel .189. And to compound matters, his wrist was broken during a September rehab game, which proceeded a lengthy DL stint for a shoulder injury.
Gomes returned for the Indians playoff but spent most of the postseason backing up Roberto Perez. In his four World Series plate appearances, Gomes went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. Needless to say, it was a season from hell.
Through nearly two months of 2017, however, Gomes has completely flipped the script, putting together a slash line of .255/.346/.436 in 108 plate appearances. His plate discipline has improved dramatically — in fact, those numbers are better than they’ve ever been — as he’s compiled a 9.3 percent walk rate (his career high was 5.6 percent) and a 16.7 percent strikeout rate (his career low was 20.8 percent). He hasn’t just bounced back to his previous levels; he’s better than he’s ever been.
The most intriguing part about Gomes’ renaissance is the fact that it doesn’t appear to be fluky. His BABIP is a modest .288, and he’s not carrying some outrageous home run per fly ball ratio. In fact, that latter figure is the lowest it's been at any point in Gomes’ career, at 9.1 percent.
Instead, it just appears that he’s fixed his swing while becoming much more selective. Last year you could find Gomes pulling off the ball a lot, like he does here:
See how his hips kind of bail out as he swings? That led to a lot of nubbers like this one, even if it did snap an 0-for-27 streak and get scored as a double.
Contrast that swing with the one Gomes has displayed this season and the difference is clear:
He’s driving through the ball much more often, just as he does there, and he’s hitting the ball harder on a regular basis. His average exit velocity is up 0.7 miles per hour, and while that may not seem like much but when you consider Gomes has had a regression to the mean in terms of his BABIP, that extra little bit of velocity can make a big difference.
Of course, that’s only a part of Gomes resurgence. The other major portion has been his much-improved selectiveness. Even at his peak back in 2013 and 2014, Gomes was not particularly patient. He was always pretty willing to go outside the zone, as seen in his career 36.4 O-Swing%. This year, he’s swinging at less than a third of the pitches he’s seeing out of the zone, down from 38 percent last season. Meanwhile, his Z-Swing% is back down to about 68 percent, a drop of over seven percentage points.
That selectivity has shown through in Gomes’ walk and strikeout numbers, both career figures as we already mentioned. In total, pitchers aren’t really pitching him much differently. A few more changeups, and a few fewer sliders, but overall it’s stuff he’s familiar with.
But unlike last season, when he couldn’t buy a hit, Gomes is actually doing damage. 2016 was a combination of bad luck and poor play. One of those Gomes could control, the other he could not. Give him credit for making legitimate improvements while simultaneously allowing the universe to balance itself out.