On March 31, 2014, after a tremendous 2013 campaign, the Cleveland Indians finalized a deal with catcher Yan Gomes that would keep him in Cleveland through at least 2019 with club options for 2020 and 2021. At the time, this deal looked like an absolute steal for the Indians; at six years and $23 million, Cleveland locked down a catcher who had just slashed .294/.345/.481 on top of some of the best defense in the league. Yan Gomes continued his stellar play in 2014, and he was rewarded with the Silver Slugger award.
However, times have not been kind to Gomes since the 2014 season ended; since then, Yan Gomes has been mired in slump followed by injury followed by slump followed by injury ad nauseam. 2016 saw Gomes play in his fewest number of games (74) since his rookie campaign in 2012. When he was at the plate, it was not pretty; on the season, Gomes slashed a putrid .167/.201/.327, which accounted for a dismal wRC+ of 33.
Injuries have derailed Gomes for two seasons
In 2015, Gomes suffered an injury (MCL sprain) that sidelined him from April 11 until his return on May 24. This past season, he went down with an AC joint separation in his right shoulder on July 17. He was slated to make his way back to Cleveland in mid-September, but he was set back once again thanks to a hit by pitch in Columbus that fractured his hand. Gomes didn't see another plate appearance for the Indians until September 30, and he didn't start a game again until the last day of the regular season. Of course, during that game, this happened:
Many think that if it weren't for this home run, Gomes would not have made the postseason roster. I'm not sure that Tito would have made that move, but I can't say that it would have been uncalled for. Injury or not, Gomes was absolutely dreadful at the plate all season. His K% was right around his 2015 levels (26.1%), he wasn't hitting for any power, he could barely get on base, and he was walking even less than usual (3.4% walk rate).
Yan Gomes needs a new lucky charm, and fast
One thing that would seem to indicate that Gomes is in line for some positive regression would be his unsightly BABIP, which was .189 for 2016. To put that in perspective, his career average is .287, almost 100 points higher than what we saw last season. Obviously his poor season can't be entirely attributed to bad luck, but that is definitely a factor that should (hopefully) correct itself once Gomes is healthy and has some steady playing time. Even in 2015 where Gomes struggled, his BABIP was .285, right around his career average.
Gomes is still a beast behind the plate
Yan has never been an offense-first catcher. In fact, his incredible hitting in 2013 and 2014 were somewhat of a bonus when you considered his amazing defensive abilities. While his offense suffered in 2016, his defense did not. His defensive rating per FanGraphs was 7.0 (just a tick above Roberto Perez at 6.9) and he had a DRS of 3. These numbers seem low compared to otherworldly numbers in 2013 (11.9 defensive rating and 11 DRS), but he also played in far fewer innings (710 as compared to 582.1). Oh yeah, and he still can do this:
All hope is not lost for Yan Gomes
Because of his stellar defense, Yan Gomes needs to be merely adequate at the plate in order to be a key contributor for the Indians in 2017. With the emergence of Roberto Perez as a serviceable starting catcher in Gomes' absence, it remains to be seen exactly how Gomes will fit into Tito's lineup next season. If his offense can rebound to something resembling passable, expect Gomes to resume duties behind home plate as the starting catcher. But if he continues to struggle, he could be relegated to a backup role.
As a fan, you have to decide for yourself whether Gomes' struggles are fueled primarily by a mixture of bad luck and injuries, which are issues that should theoretically sort themselves out in the coming season. If you don't believe that, then the conclusion that you may arrive at is that Gomes is not as good as the Indians believed he was back on March 31, 2014. As with most things, the reality probably lies somewhere in the middle; Gomes may never be as good as he was in 2013 and 2014, but don't expect him to be as awful as he was in 2016. Here's to a fantastic bounce back season in 2017, Yanimal.