Maybe Jonathan Lucroy was right.
When the Cleveland Indians attempted to trade for the star catcher at last year’s deadline, he claimed he exercised his no-trade clause because he didn’t think he could beat out Yan Gomes, who recently signed a long-term extension, to be Indians’ starting catcher in 2017. And because Lucroy will be a free agent after the season, he obviously has more valuable as a great-hitting catcher than an average designated hitter.
That’s fair if he thinks that. It’s Lucroy’s future, not mine, he has every right to use a no-trade clause that he negotiated into his contract. But considering Yan was historically awful at the plate in 2016 to the tune of a .167/.201/.327 slash and nine home runs, the idea was laughable. No matter how much the Indians were paying Gomes, the team would be better served with a catcher like Lucroy behind the plate.
Now, though, I’m not so sure.
In 24 games this season, Gomes is slashing .246/.350/.406 with two home runs and a walk rate that is nearly double his career-high. You can see why when you dig into his plate discipline numbers. He is not making otherworldly contact at 81.9 percent, but that’s a full four percent higher than his career average. The key to Gomes’ comeback is patience, plain and simple.
Back in 2013 and 2014, when Gomes had a wRC+ of 128 and 117, respectively, he was incredibly patient at the plate. He swung 34 percent of the time on pitches out of the zone and made contact almost 70 percent of the time. Then, when he started to get injured, and struggle, and push, and panic, he swung more and made worse contact. It peaked (or valleyed?) in 2016 when he swung at 40.6 percent of pitches out of the zone and made contact 65.9 percent of the time.
But now, in 2017, he is looking better than ever. Gomes’ 33.5 percent outside-the-zone swing rate is a career-low, his 79.6 percent outside-the-zone contact rate is a career-high 79.6 percent, and his swinging strike rate is a career-low 9.1 percent.
Gomes, historically a low-ball hitter, is also making much harder contact all over the zone, not just where he has always felt comfortable. Using his 2016 chart is almost cheating because he was so bad, but the difference is immediate, especially against left-handed pitchers:
In the final of two at-bats against the Toronto Blue Jays yesterday (before he had to leave due to, ahem, an illness), Yan put everything together for a fantastic at-bat against reviler Dominic Leone. He sat patiently, got ahead 3-0, fought off a couple high pitches, then smacked a ball over 100 miles per hour for a double.
What would the old, pressing Yan Gomes would have done at this at-bat? Swung at one of these three low pitches, knowing he has always been a low-ball hitter and needs to get something to hit right this instant? Probably. But 2017 Gomer is patient, and it paid off yesterday like it has a lot this season.
You don’t run on Yan, and soon you won’t be able to pitch to him, either.