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What About Rob?

Chuck Crow/Plain Dealer
Sometimes it’s tough to acknowledge harsh realities. There’s one that I’m trying to come to terms with right now and it has been difficult. One of the hallmarks of the Chris Antonetti era is his ability to turn spare parts into valuable assets. He’s done it several times over, but one that stands out the most is when he sent Esmil Rogers to the Toronto Blue Jays for Yan Gomes and Mike Aviles.

Gomes became an instant fan favorite and a personal favorite of mine. His excitement seemed to be infectious for the pitching staff and it had been a long time since the Indians had a catcher that cared so much defensively. It was a great change from the days of Carlos Santana behind the plate. The Indians had a catcher willing to sacrifice his body to block pitches in the dirt. He possessed excellent throwing mechanics and really worked hard at his craft to become the starting backstop that most evaluators said wasn’t possible. Santana worked to become a catcher after coming up through the Los Angeles Dodgers system as an infielder, but this just felt different.

It also helped matters that Gomes came up and hit. In his first full-time cup of coffee in the bigs, Gomes posted a .294/.345/.481 slash in 322 plate appearances in 2013. To fend off any suggestion that it was a flash in the pan, Gomes hit .278/.313/.472 in 518 plate appearances in 2014.

Then Rajai Davis happened. The current Indians left fielder slid late and took Yan Gomes’s knee with him on April 10, 2015. Gomes returned to the lineup on May 24, 2015. Since then, our beloved backstop has batted .232/.267/.392 with a .283 wOBA, a 77 wRC+, and an obscene 27.2 percent K% with a 3.4 percent BB%.

I wrote about Yan Gomes over the winter and got some thoughts from a buddy of mine, a licensed athletic trainer, who discussed the impact that Gomes’s knee injury would have had on his offensive production. It got better throughout the season, but something still appears to be off. We’re talking about a sample size of 416 plate appearances and many bad conclusions have come out of similar sample sizes, but it’s time for this discussion.

Entering play on Saturday afternoon, Gomes owned a .200/.213/.311 slash line with 14 strikeouts and one walk in 47 plate appearances. Again, this isn’t a sample size significant enough to make any earth-shattering conclusions. The thing about it, however, is that the Indians have a player on the depth chart behind Gomes that deserves a fair shake and a bigger shot.

That player is Roberto Perez. I’ve become a big fan of Roberto Perez and have been quietly, and sometimes publicly, talking about how he needs to get more playing time. Perez is an ideal backup catcher. He has a reasonable amount of power and his plate appearances are fantastic. He’s also not much of a defensive downgrade, if at all. It’s hard to compare the two because Gomes had a serious knee injury that cost him a sizable portion of the 2015 season. It wasn’t just about the games that Gomes missed, but a knee injury for a catcher is not your run-of-the-mill hiccup.

As of Saturday, the Indians had played 14 games. Roberto Perez played two of them. That puts him on pace to play 23 games. This is egregious misuse of an asset. I don’t know if the 27-year-old can be a full-time starter, but I would imagine that other teams have called the Indians to ask about his availability to do exactly that for their ballclubs. Gomes’s appearance in the April 23 starting lineup was also the second time that he has played a day game after a traditional night game.

Traditionalists will scoff at Perez’s .237 career batting average and .383 career slugging percentage in his 329 plate appearances. For me, the .339 on-base percentage is what stands out, along with a 12.5 percent BB%. Some can argue that Perez failed to take advantage of his opportunity with Gomes out of the lineup because he posted a .160/.330/.293 slash with a .286 wOBA in those 100 plate appearances.

I’m not here to promote a starting catcher change. What I do think should be considered is more of a tandem situation. These two guys are not separated by that much. Since the start of 2014, here are the offensive numbers:

Player
PA
AVG
OBP
SLG
wOBA
wRC+
K%
BB%
Gomes
954
.255
.289
.431
.311
98
24.9
4.0
Perez
329
.237
.339
.383
.321
104
28.0
12.5

Is it unreasonable to suggest that you match up on a daily basis to a guy’s strengths? Could Perez face more of the erratic starters, while Gomes faces the strike-throwers that are prone to giving up more dingers? Could Perez, who has a .324 wOBA and a 107 wRC+ against righties (236 PA), get more of those plate appearances than Gomes, who has a .306 wOBA and a 94 wRC+ against righties (667 PA)?

How about the defensive differences since 2014?

Player
INN
K
BB
K/BB
WP
PB
SB
CS
CS%
FRAA
Gomes
1999
1910
581
3.29
68
13
108
52
32.5
9.2
Perez
787.2
824
243
3.39
29
5
39
26
40
7.5

These seem pretty comparable overall, don’t they? FRAA stands for framing runs above average. To be fair, Gomes was excellent with framing in 2014, but the knee injury affected his balance in 2015 and that dragged down his performance. Either way, it’s still not a significant difference, and the sample size could come into play as well.

I had a conversation with TJ Zuppe, the 92.3 Indians beat writer, on Twitter on Friday night about Carlos Santana leading off and he talked about Terry Francona’s unwillingness to put players in uncomfortable situations. Would a same-handed platoon of Gomes and Perez rub the players the wrong way? Would it affect the pitching staff too much to be a viable option? We’ve long heard about pitchers having “personal catchers”. Would that be an option? Is there a starter (or are there starters) that wouldn’t mind throwing to Perez on a regular basis?

Teams in the payroll situation that the Indians are in need to maximize every opportunity and every asset. It seems like they are mismanaging an asset in Roberto Perez. This is coming from as big of a Yan Gomes fan as you will find. The better play for the team, both in the short-term and the long-term, is to balance playing time between these two catchers in a way that makes sense for the team. If that means making Danny Salazar’s personal catcher Roberto Perez and then finding another day every week to use him, so be it.


The overall point is that Roberto Perez needs to play more. The gap between Gomes and Perez is smaller than we’d like to admit, even if the knee injury that Yan suffered is to blame. It’s an admission that the Indians should probably make sooner rather than later.
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