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Catchers hold the key to the Indians’ World Series chances

How important is the much-improved backstop unit?

Detroit Tigers v Cleveland Indians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

For a little more than a month now, the Indians have won about ten games for each game that they’ve lost. Such a streak is impossible without consistent excellence from the entire roster. As we begin to take a look at the team’s chances of winning the World Series this season, I think it’s important to note one of the major differences in production this year’s team enjoys over last year’s — actual hitting from the catcher’s position.

For the full season in 2016, here is the production the Indians received from Yan Gomes: .167/.201/.327, -.6 fWAR, 32 wRC+. I’m not used to seeing on-base percentages hover at the Mendoza line. While Gomes may be an elite defensive catcher, futility at the plate will always undermine any value added behind it. And this is very futile. To put it mildly, it’s “shoot me in the face” bad.

The other Indians catcher, Roberto Perez, provided the following line: .183/.285/.294, .4 fWAR, 57 wRC+. This is somewhat better. It would be an acceptable slashline for someone with the defensive talents of Andrelton Simmons. Is this comparison somewhat ruined by the fact that Simmons is now one of the better hitters in the league? Probably, but you understand the point. Perez also happens to be a fantastic defensive catcher.

Don’t forget that the Indians also featured star relief pitcher Chris Gimenez behind the plate in 68 games in 2016. He hit .216/.272/.331, -.5 fWAR, 59 wRC+. Did he provide any value? Well, there are many people who felt that Gimenez forged a bond with Trevor Bauer that helped the young pitcher finally find success. I think we can all look at Trevor’s numbers from this season and last season while sharing a hearty laugh at that notion.

Adam Moore made five plate appearances. He struck out in four. Thanks, Adam.

The combined line of Indians catchers last season comes out to .182/.242/.316, -.8 fWAR, 45 wRC+. Put another way, Indians catchers hit .333 on bunts in 2016. They also completed nine sacrifices.

Yes, Indians catchers were so bad at the plate last season that they were better bunting than swinging away

I’m willing to gamble that this is the worst offensive output that any World Series team has ever received at any position. The good news is that the Indians aren’t dragging a tremendous liability into every game this year. In 2017, .223/.301/.389, 2.1 fWAR, 81 wRC+ is the full-season line for the Indians backstops. This is a perfectly acceptable slashline and offensive output for an excellent defensive tandem. In fact, they rank 14th out of all MLB teams in fWAR for the season.

Our catchers are average, you guys!

What I want to focus on, though, is the production we’ve gotten in the second half of the season. Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez both made adjustments to their approach. The numbers suggest that these changes led to serious increases in output. Since the midway mark of the season, Indians catchers hit .242/.306/.460, 1.6 fWAR, 98 wRC+. This ranks them as the eighth best catching team in baseball. This isn’t just an illusion, either; the combined BABIP is .284. They have the fourth most home runs in the second half out of any team’s catchers, and the second most RBIs.

What the Indians considered to be its biggest weakness entering the postseason last year may not be it’s biggest strength. It is certainly the most important improvement from last year’s team. Most interesting to me is that it is the one place on the diamond — other than shortstop and starting pitching — where the Indians made absolutely no changes since last year. We’ve spent much of the season celebrating Jose Ramirez, Jose Ramirez, and the unbelievably talented pitching staff. We need to give the backstops their due. We would not be a 100-win team this season without their incredible turnaround.

Also, I can’t finish this article before pointing out that Jonathan Lucroy is still having the worst season of his entire career, and is half as good by fWAR as the tandem of Gomes and Perez.