The regular season has ended, and yet Yan Gomes is still playing. The Clevelands are fighting for their playoff lives, hoping for a chance to take a crack at the Red Sox in the ALDS, awaiting the winner of tonight’s Tampa-Texas tiebreaker, and the addition of Gomes– worth 3.7 wins per FanGraphs (2.7 per Baseball Reference) in just 88 games– has been a huge part of that.
So, it should be noted, have the additions of Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Danny Salazar, Scott Kazmir, and a re-born Ubaldo Jimenez– meaning, the Francona-is-magic brigade can kindly take a seat, thanks.
Regardless, given the atrocity that Jays fans have endured behind the plate this season, which Alex Anthopoulos still won’t commit to replacing– though given that means submarining what little is left of his theoretical value, I suppose it’s understandable– there has been a lot of post-facto hand-wringing around here among those who’ve taken notice of the season Gomes has had.
That’s not remotely close to unfair. Esmil Rogers has had a very good season himself, but you simply cannot give up MLB-quality everyday catchers for a middle reliever, no matter how good or versatile he may be. Especially when you’re committing to J.P. Arencibia.
Frankly, the Jays are lucky that Rogers had as good a year as he did– thanks in no small part to bullpen coach Pat Hentgen and the introduction of a power sinker to his repertoire. Otherwise dealing away Gomes would look even more like an unmitigated disaster.
Even without the Rogers component, however, there are reasons to not fly too deeply off the handle about it– even if they may illuminate something not too pretty about how the club operates.
Fans sometimes tend to lump all of last winter’s moves into a single solid mass, when the reality is that they happened in a particular sequence. This is important to keep in mind in the case of Gomes, as he was dealt on dealt on November 3rd. At that moment, before Miami and Dickey deals, the Jays had Arencibia and Jeff Mathis on the big league roster, Bobby Wilson on the 40-man, Travis d’Arnaud slated for everyday at-bats in Buffalo, and A.J. Jimenez recovering from Tommy John and set to return to New Hampshire.
It’s easy to kill them for it now, but that situation didn’t present a lot of opportunity for Gomes to get the reps behind the plate that he needed. That’s part of the reason he played more often last year at first base (with a healthy dose of games at third, DH and in the outfield mixed in), and why, as the Cleveland Plain Dealer notes, he was headed for Triple-A Columbus when the season began.
That, however, is not close to the most important part of the article. For me, here’s the money quote:
Those in the organization who know Gomes best – notably, bullpen coach Kevin Cash – figured the ability was there, it was just a matter of when.
Or maybe it’s this:
“When Yan’s name came up in trade talks, the question was: ‘Could he catch every day in the major leagues?’’’ Cash said. “I said that, based on what I’d seen, it definitely appeared that way.’ He had everything you wanted in a catcher.’’
Kevin Cash, you may recall, spent last year as a Jays advance scout.
Nobody in their right mind would have believed that Gomes would be able to produce the kind of wholly unsustainable rate stats we’ve seen from him so far– a .293/.346/.483 line driven by a probably-high BABIP (though, it should be noted, he fairly consistently produced high BABIPs in the minors) from a guy who walks less than Melky Cabrera– but Cash’s comments make clear that it’s not like nobody in the organization though that he could be an everyday catcher.
It’s just– and this is where my mind often starts wandering, especially in the wake of the since-recanted rumour of a turf war among guys in the front office who actually have the GM’s ear, and the loss of a number of scouts– who is the GM listening to? And, more to the point, are there maybe so many competing voices that the GM can reasonably justify pretty much anything?
Though we’re told that Tony LaCava and Dana Brown are “two of the few the GM listens to” in the since-excised quote from the Toronto Sun, the list of scouts in the Jays’ front office directory runs 70 names deep. Many of those are amateur scouts or guys with regional specialties, but among them are guys like pro scouting director Perry Minasian, longtime scout Sal Butera, and former full-fledged GMs Jim Beattie, Chuck Lamar, and Dan Evans– voices that you’d at least guess must carry some weight.
And, of course, there is also their analytics guys, like Jay Sartori (who, interestingly, just left the club for Apple, and was profiled in the Toronto Star prior to the 2011 season), and Joe Sheehan.
No, not that Joe Sheehan– the one you’re thinking of went to USC, while the Jays’ guy’s Linkedin profile shows he went to Oberlin, and from 2008 to 2010 worked for the Pittsburgh Pirates. That means, interestingly, that he worked in the analytics department run by Dan Fox, who was fascinatingly profiled by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review last week, where we were told that “his influence as an analyst has reached a peak this season.”
I’m not sure that’s the case with the Jays’ analytics guys– AA’s frequent quoting of the very rudimentary OPS in interviews (which I keep telling myself is maybe just his way of appearing to have his foot in both the old and new schools), and the club’s move away from defensive shifts this year suggests as much– but that would such a ridiculous shame that I kind of don’t even really want to think about it.
I mean, Fox, according to the piece, now has five people working under him, and was consulted on nearly every player acquisition decision the Pirates made, conducted “research on the draft and preventative health practices for pitchers,” and most crucially, supplied the data behind the Pirates’ shifts– which the Tribune-Review also reminds us have been a key part of their success this season. According to that piece, Pittsburgh has been the fifth-most shifting team in the Majors this year, having done it on 414 balls in play as of September 14, while the Jays, according to a September 2nd piece in the Toronto Star, were in the middle of the pack, having done it just 203 times by then, down from 436 in 2012.
Part of that has to do with the loss of Brian Butterfield, but whatever the case, for me it does not bode well. Which isn’t to say, to get back to the original point of this post, that there must have been something deep in the data that should have shown the Jays that Gomes was going to end up having the kind of year that he did– or that Arencibia was. I think that given the status of J.P., d’Arnaud, and Jimenez at the time– all of whom, again, like Gomes, needed everyday work behind the plate– it was not at all unreasonable for the Jays to have done what they did. But that there were people in the organization who saw the potential– even though we have to take Cash’s comments with a grain of salt, given the hindsight and the team now signing his paycheques– and they weren’t listened to, or weren’t listened to enough, coupled with what may be signs of a less-than-enthusiastic application of work that could so easily come from the analytics department, makes you a little bit concerned about just who the hell is being listened to.
I don’t know what to make of it all. What goes on in the front office is much too shadowy to actually pretend we understand what’s going on enough to say that it seems positive or negative. But there are signs of things to maybe be concerned about, and after a season like the one the Jays have just concluded, you really can’t blame anyone for starting to think that way.