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Pop time anatomy with Yan Gomes

  (Bruce Kluckhohn, Custom)  
In the land of baseball magic, nobody contains more baseball wizardry than a Major League catcher. If you're a good catcher, you can likely do several of the following: build beautiful relationships with 12-or-13 pitchers every day, be a communicative tool between said pitchers and management, call games for each pitcher that attend to their strengths and avoid their weaknesses, know the hitters for the same reason, block pitches in the dirt, throw out runners everywhere, crouch down for 120-130 times a game, 130 or more times a year, and put yourself in the way of runners heading home. Then there's the offense.

Great catchers do it all.

At the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario, we have Yan Gomes:


To set the stage, the Indians were up 5-0, with one out in the second inning, when Danny Salazar walked both left fielder Melky Cabrera and DH Avisail Garcia, putting runners at first and second. With Salazar struggling to find the zone, this is when the best catchers step up and get their pitcher's heads right. Generally, this is with a conversation, or calling the right pitches.

Gomes took it to another level. He decided the best way to shift Salazar was to peg Avisail at first by nearly five-feet. It's a conglomeration of Gomes mysticism that only the great catchers can do regularly, and good ones can do every now and then. While that singular play is certainly not a body of work, Gomes has been building his own school of wizardry over his career.

Why this play makes me giddy is that it's not only Gomes at play here, but a variety of people that played a part in this one rocket throw.

Edit: Via Jordan Bastian, post-script:
As MLB.com's Jordan Bastian noted on Saturday, Napoli and Gomes clearly discussed these situational semantics prior to the season. Napoli put the play in effect, while the talents of Gomes made the rest look like a walk in the park.

Gomes calls for a fastball on the outside of the plate. With Brett Lawrie down 0-1 in the count, both Gomes and Napoli noted that Garcia was cheating at first base while Salazar was busy checking out second. Salazar actually misses his mark here too, but the inside movement of his four-seamer was more than a match for Lawrie.

Inside Fastball
Salazar slowly moves slightly outside after calling the pitch, while Salazar checks second, then, as Salazar springs home, Gomes bounces more outside to prepare to receive the throw.

Lulling Lawrie and Garcia into sleep
Springing outside
The sidenote here is that as Salazar's pitch heads home, you can see him subtly lean inside, as the pitch misses it's mark by a few inches. Gomes catches the ball leaning on his left foot, and in the blink of an eye, pops to his right, already in position to make the throw. The footwork is flawless, which is fairly impressive considering he may have been caught in a lean that wouldn't predicate such flawlessness. While popping to his feet and getting planted, he makes a snap transition. Before his feet are down, the ball has already been transferred out of his glove, and into his hand.

Leaning inside
The transition
Perfect plant and ready to throw
In his pop-up, you can see that his back foot plant is perfect, and that his front foot is pushed forward, squaring his shoulders, and he gets a full-rifle throw to first, to the tune of 78.1 MPH. We'll get to that throw in a second.

In the meantime, it's important to note Mike Napoli on this play. With the right-handed Brett Lawrie at the plate, Napoli is at least 12-15 feet off of first base. He's likely not worrying too much about a shot down the line, although play would dictate that you head to first after the pitch, just in case. Gomes did call for something on the outside of the plate, and I'm sure it was likely to make that throw, if it was there. Either way, a double could score both runs, and really put Salazar on his heels. It's clear that while the first movement by Napoli may have been instinct, the rest of the play was predicated on the prior pitch, in which Garcia was a little too far out.

With Salazar about to release the ball, Napoli still hasn't given away his move, while Gomes has already sprung into his receiving position. Then, Garcia peers over to second for a brief second. As Salazar releases, Gomes has already begun to lean over the plate, Garcia leans towards second, and Napoli is already charging towards first.

Garcia peering at second, while Gomes and Napoli are about to spring into action
Gomes early throw prep, Napoli over to first, and Garcia...well...
The play was complete there. He was toast to an average catcher, which is tasty. Of course, Gomes isn't average, and Salazar can throw kinda hard. Add Napoli's high defensive IQ at first, and this is where wizardry turns into some sorta Harry Potter destiny.

Gomes receives the ball and Garcia starts his normal "head-back-to-first-on-a-strike," while Napoli is in full sprint, and Gomes is just popping up. As you continue, by the time Gomes has planted and transferred the ball to his throwing hand, Garcia has still yet to make ground to first, although he's leaning that way, yet as the metrics indicate, he's still nearly 20 feet from first, with Napoli still about five feet from his mark.

And so it begins...
Ball transferred, will travel...fastly and thusly
On the Gomes follow through, Napoli has now positioned himself in front of the bag, easily blocking any slide, should Garcia somehow make it even close. But here's the thing. Gomes and his 78.1 MPH throw to first make that impossible, and his insane 1.48 pop time makes this the sort of throw from the gods. Yeah, I'm referencing wizards and gods, and not speaking hyperbolic either. Elite pop times occur below 1.7 seconds to second base, and regardless of the obviously easier transition to first, 1.48 is sickeningly elite.

Edit: Posted by Jordan Bastian this fine afternoon:

Gomes, with a rocket throw, looks relaxed. Napoli, almost in position, Garcia pooping a bit
Napoli receives the ball over the bag, but has positioned his left leg on the back, and dropped down to his right knee, blocking Garcia. It wouldn't have mattered. When Napoli makes the tag, Garcia is still 3-to-4 feet from the bag, and partially blocked. Napoli has forced his hand to the outside of bag, and makes his job even easier. When he tags Garcia's shoulder, he's out by three feet.

WAY closer than it should have been, but seriously, what the hell is Garcia doing?
Why may Mike Napoli pay dividends at first base? When you add a player whose IQ is the same or greater than the guy behind the plate, these are the things that begin to happen. These are the types of outs that become big in a season.

With one out, Gomes throws out Garcia. Three pitches later, Gomes grabbed a foul tip for the third strike. How many runs did that potentially save? I know...mystical...and we shouldn't deal with the mystical, except it's fun.

The progression of Gomes is tantalizing, and while there are many folks poking and prodding the 2015 Indians and their many failures, I can't help but keep coming back to Gomes and his injury as the primary culprit. While I love Roberto Perez, and his elite-ish defense, he's not the complete package that Yan Gomes seems to be veering towards.

Like many players before him, Gomes is looked at differently than top prospects, simply because he was never a top prospect. Terms like "regression" are often muttered around him because of unknown heights being reached in 2013 and 2014, compounded by an off-year marred by injury in 2015. Instead, what if Gomes is something different. What if Toronto handled him as some sorta pseudo-utility player, when in reality, he was a catcher all along. What if his tools were never measured appropriately, because the "experts" didn't know what tools to measure?

I talk a lot about IQ here at EHC, and over the past couple of years, it's clear that the Indians have focused their attention on players with high baseball acumen. Gomes clearly fits the bill here, and does everything defensively at an above average level. Yes, you can point to some skewed metrics over his career and point to ups and downs, but seriously, grade on what you see when he's healthy. He's really good. His rotation loves him. His bullpens have been pretty good. And he's a physical beast behind the plate?

And sheesh, I haven't even talked about his offense yet, but that's for another day. Let's get back to the original question:

What if Gomes is special?


Oh wait, he already is...
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