Yan Gomes is back.
Or at least the Yan Gomes the Cleveland Indians expected to have when they signed him to a six-year contract extension back in March of 2014.
Coming off a career year in which he slashed .294/.345/.481, Gomes came back down to Earth a bit in 2014, but notched career highs in home runs (21) and RBI (74). Unfortunately, from 2015-17, he averaged less than 100 games per season due to injuries and struggles at the plate that opened the door for split duties at catcher with Roberto Perez.
Gomes bottomed out in 2016, worth a career-low -0.8 WAR by season’s end.
He showed signs of life last season, but finally seemed to climb out of the hole in 2018, although not quite to the potential that he showed from 2013-14. But he didn’t need to reach that high to find himself leading the ranks of his peers in the American League.
Among AL catchers with at least 400 plate appearances in 2018, Gomes ranked first in AVG (.266), SLG (.449), and WAR (2.2) and second in OBP (.313) and wRC+ (101).
And with his selection to the 2018 MLB All-Star Game, he became the first Brazilian player to be feature in an All-Star Game in an American professional sports league.
So how did Gomes turn the corner?
For starters, he elevated his launch angle, averaging a career-high of 18.5 for the Statcast era after hovering around 16 the previous two seasons. Coupled with a career-high average exit velocity (88.9), Gomes was able to put the barrel to the ball 8.5 percent of the time — another career-high, in case you haven’t noticed a pattern here — and produce a, you guessed it, career-high hard hit percentage of 38.3 for the season.
More specifically, Gomes started living on the inside part of the strike zone, and pulled more of his batted balls — 42.9 percent, to be exact — than at any point in his career.
I could show you a number of zone charts that illustrate the night-and-day difference from 2016 to 2018, but few are as demonstrative as his average exit velocity charts.
And from 2018:
His expected batting average on contact for that middle inside part of the zone in 2016? .196.
In 2018? .358.
Defensively, his average pop time from behind home plate to second base was consistent with his career numbers in the Statcast era, but his caught stealing percentage did dip from a career-high .421 in 2017 to a career-low .290 in 2018. Although that percentage was good enough to finish ranked fourth among qualified catchers in the AL.
But as far his offense is concerned: Welcome back, Yan Gomes. We’ve missed you.