I wrote a series of Things to Work On last year during spring training, and I’m bringing it back for round two. I’ll select a few key players and pick out on area in which they need to improve this spring. Up first: Yan Gomes.
Gomes was arguably the most pleasant surprise for the Indians last year, and if Carlos Santana’s switch to third base goes smoothly, Gomes is in line for an everyday job in 2014.
But now that he’s been around the league once, pitchers will begin to adjust to his weaknesses.
Looking at Gomes’ stats, the plan of attack for right-handed pitchers is obvious: force him to chase off-speed stuff low and away.
Take a look at Gomes’ heat map versus off-speed pitches from righties…
The plan of attack is obvious. And when you really dive into the stats, it’s even worse than the map indicates.
Gomes hit just .143 in at-bats ending in a low-and-away off-speed pitch, but the most concerning stat is his contact rate. When Gomes offered at an off-speed pitch low and outside, he whiffed an astonishing 48.6 percent of the time.
To be fair, Gomes only saw 104 pitches from righties in this zone, so it’s a relatively small sample size. But if you include his time in Toronto in 2013, he saw 147 pitches in the zone and his whiff rate increases to 52.9 percent.
There’s also nothing unusual about Gomes’ struggles with this type of pitch. In fact, plenty of far more accomplished hitters such as Giancarlo Stanton (78.8 whiff percentage), Matt Kemp (74.4 percent) and Yasiel Puig (67.0 percent) were far worse than Gomes in 2013.
Despite these excuses, it’s an area that needs to be addressed or Gomes will continue to be exploited on these pitches.
In 2013, when Gomes found himself in a pitcher’s count he saw off-speed pitches 48 percent of the time. And a heat map of these pitches (pictured, right) shows that pitchers are already working on forcing him to chase outside of his preferred zones.
As a result, when Gomes ended up in a pitcher’s count at any point in the at-bat, he posted an on-base percentage of just .253 against righties.
None of these numbers are historically bad, and for a rookie they might even be considered acceptable. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t an area for Gomes to focus on this spring.
After nearly a full season in the big leagues, this has clearly been exposed as an area of weakness. He should assume pitchers will attack this area early and often in the 2014 season.
The key to avoiding a sophomore slump could be in Gomes’ ability to fix this area of concern before it’s fully exposed by opposing pitchers.