The Nationals were one of eight teams whose catchers posted a sub-replacement fWAR in 2018, which led general manager Mike Rizzo to make over the position entering this season. Rizzo said goodbye to Matt Wieters and Pedro Severino, the Nationals’ primary catchers last year, and brought in Kurt Suzuki in free agency and Yan Gomes in a trade with the Indians. Both pickups looked fine on paper, and Suzuki has played pretty well through the first four months into the season. Gomes, on the other hand, has been stunningly bad.
Set to turn 32 this Friday, Gomes was a valuable backstop in Cleveland, where he totaled 13.7 fWAR from 2013-18. But Gomes has taken massive steps back in D.C., where he has accounted for minus-0.2 fWAR and mustered an unsightly .202/.298/.290 batting line with three home runs in 208 plate appearances. Gomes’ 54 wRC+ is barely more than half the 101 he managed last year with the Tribe, and his .087 ISO ranks ninth worst in the majors among 262 hitters who have amassed at least 200 trips to the plate.
To make matters worse, Gomes hasn’t been the same caliber of defender he was just a year ago, when he ranked as one of Baseball Prospectus’ premier catchers (including in the pitch-framing department). Although Gomes has thrown out a strong 36 percent of would-be base stealers – up from 29 percent in 2018 – BP regards the Washington version as a below-average backstop and a subpar framer. Meanwhile, Statcast only puts Gomes’ in the majors’ 36th percentile when it comes to stealing strikes.
Statcast also thinks little of Gomes’ offense, placing him in the 26th percentile or worse in hard-hit rate, average exit velocity, expected slugging percentage, expected batting average and expected weighted-on base average. There isn’t a huge difference between Gomes’ xwOBA (.276) and real wOBA (.261), which suggests a major rebound isn’t coming at the plate. FanGraphs offers even more bad news, noting Gomes’ hard-hit percentage (25.2) has dropped exactly 18 points since 2018 and ranks third last in the majors. Gomes is hitting far more ground balls and far fewer line drives than he did a year ago, which predictably hasn’t been a recipe for success.
If you’re holding out for encouraging signs, there are a few, starting with Gomes’ K/BB ratio. He has struck out in 23.1 percent of plate appearances, down from 25.8 percent or more in each of the previous four seasons. Moreover, Gomes’ walk rate, 10.1 percent, is a career best and almost doubles his lifetime mark (5.4). He’s also swinging and missing less than he has in recent years and making much more out-of-zone contact than ever. And Gomes’ .258 batting average on balls in play, a 37-point decrease from his lifetime figure (.295), indicates he has dealt with some poor fortune this year.
Even if Gomes’ BABIP does normalize as the season goes on, odds are the Nationals aren’t going to get the 2018 All-Star version they wanted. To this point, Gomes has surprisingly been a less valuable player than right-hander Jefry Rodriguez, whom the Nationals traded to the Indians for him and who hasn’t exactly been a world-beater in his own right. The Nats also parted with outfield prospect Daniel Johnson, a 24-year-old who has notched quality numbers in his first Triple-A action this season, and young infielder Andruw Monasterio.
Waving goodbye to Rodriguez, Johnson and Monasterio to acquire Gomes was an understandable decision for Washington at the time, but the move hasn’t yielded dividends thus far for the playoff hopefuls. Unless Gomes revisits his prior form during the final couple months of the campaign, the Nationals may buy him out in the offseason in lieu of exercising a $9MM club option for 2020.