For the Cleveland Indians, they have been all about their pitching to take them to domination in the AL Central. They have boasted one of the best starting rotations in baseball, and their starters were rated the 3rd best in 2018 with Yan Gomes as their workhorse behind homeplate catching 948 2/3 innings which was nearly twice as much as his backup catcher. Gomes caught ace Corey Kluber to a 2.88 ERA and Trevor Bauer to a 2.25 as both of those ERAs were slightly better than backup Roberto Perez, and Gomes was much better in ERA for Carlos Carrasco (3.32 vs. 3.90). That is a good sign for these Washington Nationals starting pitchers who will get to pitch to Gomes and Kurt Suzuki. For the Nationals, it was a tough two years with Matt Wieters behind the plate during 2017-2018.
In past Washington Nationals history, Wilson Ramos had a 3.46 catcher’s ERA in 2016 compared to Matt Wieters at a 3.61 in 2017 to a 3.96 in 2018. Year over year the catcher’s ERA rose exactly a ½ run over a three year span which is a lot of extra runs to surrender. In comparison, Pedro Severino caught almost as many innings as Wieters and had a better catcher’s ERA of 3.74 in 2018. Wieters was not the answer rather he was probably the question as in a question mark. While there is some apples to oranges comparisons, the fact that Severino had a lower catcher’s ERA tells a story of its own. In the early years, Brian Schneider was the Nationals primary catcher, and then came Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez who mentored the young Wilson Ramos and it paid dividends. Between Max Scherzer and Jordan Zimmermann, it was Ramos who caught 3 no-hitters and Scherzer’s 20 strikeout game along with other memorable games. Starting catching always seemed like a priority for these Nationals, and this year seems like the best catching depth the Nationals have had since “Pudge and the Buffalo”.
“Put it all out there to take this team to the next level,” Gomes said. “I hope I can be a part of that.”
Catching defense matters — especially when your team has so much invested in a starting rotation that will have nearly a $100 million payroll which is tops in the Majors featuring Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez with Joe Ross and Erick Fedde competing for the 5th spot. In comparison, the Red Sox have the second highest starting rotation payroll at $86 million estimated with David Price, Rick Porcello, Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Sale.
If you want to see if catcher’s matter, take a look at Blake Treinen who was the best closer in baseball in 2018, but what people forget is Treinen was one of the best relievers in 2016 when Ramos caught him, and Treinen earned the closer’s job to start the 2017 season for the Nationals. When Wilson Ramos caught Treinen in 2016, his catcher’s ERA was 1.54 but Treinen and Wieters were like mixing oil and water. In 2017 for the 27 games that Wieters caught Treinen, his ERA was 5.06. Treinen did not forget how to pitch from 2016 to 2017, but he is a pitcher who lives low in the zone where Wieters just was not comfortable and general manager Mike Rizzo was forced to dump Treinen along with top prospect Jesus Luzardo for Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle. You think catchers do not matter? It was a costly trade to the Nationals to cut bait on Treinen and Luzardo.
This escalated quickly. Nats believe this will help in recruitment of a top pitcher. https://t.co/HPYfhid2mJ
— Talk Nats ⚾ (@TalkNats2) November 30, 2018
When Corbin was signed, he made it clear that having good catchers was part of his decision to come to the Nationals. We were told that it was an issue with Corbin considering the Yankees who boasted Gary Sanchez as their primary catcher, and he just is not a good defensive catcher. When rumors of the Yankees trading Sanchez for J.T. Realmuto were said to be false by Yankees G.M. Brian Cashman, it was not long afterwards when Corbin to Washington was finalized. Coincidence?
“That’s a huge part,” Corbin said. “[With] Gomes and Suzuki [as the catchers], I’ve gotten to watch them over the last couple years, and it’s just a big part of the game. I had Jeff Mathis in Arizona the last couple years and he takes pride behind the plate, and watching these guys, they do the same thing.
With Mathis catching Corbin, it resulted in a 1.83 ERA last season and with Alex Avila catching Corbin his ERA ballooned to a 3.34. The sample sizes were large at 86 and 73 innings respectively — so not exactly small sample sizes, but clearly the Diamondbacks never noticed the obvious analytics or did not want to change to a personal catcher situation for Corbin/Mathis. In spring training, Corbin should get plenty of work with Kurt Suzuki and Gomes and hopefully he meshes well with both or if not creates a personal catcher situation with who he wants to work with as his primary catcher.
“I know I throw a lot of pitches down in the zone,” Corbin continued. “Those [pitches] might spike or [go] wild, but those guys save me a lot, and just having confidence with them — I like to go over a game plan before games and be on the same page so when you’re out there there is no second-[guessing], you have all the confidence in the world with that pitch.”
For Gomes, he was 6th best in blocking pitches last year and tied at the 11th best overall in catcher’s defense according to Baseball Prospectus. He is above average on blocking balls and framing pitches and league average on throwing out baserunners, but he is also considered one of the best game callers in baseball.
“First, I’m pretty blessed to be on the side to catch these guys and not face them,” Gomes said. “I get to catch an unbelievable staff. Right from the get-go I get a text message from [Max Scherzer]. That was a fun day. Right from the get-go getting to talk to him and chat with him a little bit. You can tell why the guy is who he is. The intensity level and wanting to win. It’s unbelievable. I’m excited for that. Then you got three, four other guys like that can compete just as much as [Scherzer]. Stephen Strasburg, who is definitely one of the best pitchers in the game. Patrick Corbin is the best lefty in the game right now. Rightly so, he got the contract for it. Then you got a veteran guy like [Anibal] Sanchez who — talk about some redemption coming from two years to now. He is who he is and back to the guy he was before.”
“I’m super excited to get to meet these guys — get to know them. Learn from them. These are elite pitchers I get to work with. I’m honored. It’s going to make me better getting to work with such amazing guys.”
The Nationals League style might agree with Gomes more than the AL style. For the Nationals, the Suzuki and Gomes acquisitions with Spencer Kieboom as depth behind them should pay dividends for this pitching staff. If the Nationals can employ improved analytics to pitch-to-defense, the team could also see further increases in pitching BABIP efficiency.