Despite some recent signs of improvement, it may be time to admit that Yan Gomes just is not ready to be the full-time catcher for 2015. That is nothing against Gomes personally – injuries are an awful thing and I’m sure he will recover fully in due time. However, with a team hanging so perilously in the balance as the Cleveland Indians, trotting him out there game after game is not doing anyone any good – especially when there is a well-above-average offensive catcher sitting on the bench.
Prior to Gomes returning from his knee injury on May 24, many Indians fans (myself included) pointed to Perez as one of the team’s biggest issues as they slogged through a painful month of April. Come June, when the Tribe went back to struggling and losing multiple games in a row, it is clear that Gomes being back was not the perfect solution after all. In fact, pushing him into the lineup may be doing more harm than good.
In 33 games this year, including the five games pre-injury, Gomes has put up a disappointing .216/.228/.320 slash, good enough for only a 49 wRC+. It is a big drop off from his 2014 Silver Slugging-winning campaign in which he hit for 121 wRC+ in 135 games, and worse even than his 67 wRC+ offensive year in 2012 when he debuted with the Blue Jays backing up J.P Arencibia.
Even if we want to chop parts of his season off (namely his pre-injury struggles and the first few games after he returned), it still paints a disappointing picture. Starting from May 31 – the first time his bat seemed to be finally catching up to opposing pitching – to Sunday night’s loss to the Pirates, Gomes still does not look good, overall. In that span, he is batting .253/.263/.385 (78 wRC+), with three home runs. The homers look encouraging, but two of them came in the same game a month ago on June 9. The issue in this chopped-up sample size and the issue all season long is a lack of walks.
His plate discipline numbers still point to Gomes being a similar hitter compared to his previous years (with a career 4.7% walk rate), but he’s walking half as much this year (2.3%). Equally as concerning, he is striking out in 2015 (27.5%) much more than he has in previous years (20.8% in 2013, 23.2% in 2014).
On the other end of the spectrum is Roberto Perez who, while not hitting lights out at the plate, has done more than enough to be a full-time starter (at least for this year). In his own 147 plate appearances (only 16 more than Gomes), Perez has a much more palatable .218/.340/.412 slash – good for 114 wRC+. If you could not tell that big gap between his average and on-base percentage, Perez has been all-or-nothing in his at-bats. To date he has walked in 15.6% of his PA and struck out in 29.9% of them. The latter total is a little scary, albeit expected, but his walk rate and potential for power makes him desirable behind the plate.
If we want to expand the scope a bit, Perez is also in the upper half of catchers in the league, according to WAR. So far, in 2015 -- again in only 147 PA -- he has been worth one win. That puts him at 15th in the league behind catchers like Wilson Ramos (262 PA) and James McCann (201 PA) yet ahead of catchers like Jason Castro (223 PA), A.J. Pierzynski (217 PA) and Caleb Joseph (204 PA). His 15.6% walk rate also puts him at the top of the league, tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers star Yasmani Grandal, and his .412 SLG has him firmly in 15th in the league.
Perez has also done this with a below average .292 batting average on balls in play, so if you are one who likes to use that as a simple method of determining regression, he could be due to trend upward once his bat finds the ball more often.
It’s not that Gomes has been all bad while Perez has been all great, but one of them (Perez) has been at least consistently above average, while the other (Gomes) has been good for a short streak of games, the goes huge gaps without doing much of anything.
Yet, Perez remains on the bench for the most part. Terry Francona seems to realize this gap in production, as he frequently starts Perez in relief of Gomes after several games in a row, but it may be time to switch roles to give Perez the majority of he starts behind the plate. It is true that Gomes is on a hot streak and hitting the ball hard at the plate again in recent contests (7-for-21 with 1 HR), but he has not taken a single walk in those five producive games. One has to wonder how long of a leash Tito is willing to give Gomes if he spirals into another multi-game black hole while Perez continues to hit coming off the bench. With the Tribe’s season hanging so delicately in the balance and the outcome looking bleaker by the day, I would hope that leash would not be a long one.