Tribe anchored by strong catching duo in Gomes, Perez
CLEVELAND -- Yan Gomes is not a fan of taking a day off, but he understands that is part of the gig as a starting catcher in the big leagues. During the first half last season, accepting the requisite respite was especially frustrating while Cleveland's backup situation was shaky.
The Indians began the year with Carlos Santana as the primary backup catcher, but he was also trying to serve as the main third baseman in an experiment that did not pan out. The Tribe also took a chance on experienced reserve catcher George Kottaras, but stability behind the plate did not arrive until rookie Roberto Perez was called up from Triple-A Columbus in July.
"I'm very thankful for him," Gomes said. "I want to be playing every day, but it was kind of tough taking a day off, just because guys were coming in and out and not knowing our pitching staff. Roberto did a pretty unbelievable job with our pitching staff. Guys trusted him."
As the Indians prepare for the 2015 campaign, the team now trusts that it has one of baseball's top catching duos in place. Gomes has emerged as one of the American League's top young catchers, and Perez showed last season that he is more than capable of providing the kind of defense, game calling and offense that is required from a backup.
Indians first-base coach Sandy Alomar Jr., who spent 20 years in the Majors as a catcher, gushes when asked about the abilities, potential and work ethic of the two catchers he now helps instruct for Cleveland.
"It's a pleasure to be able to work with guys like that," Alomar said.
Gomes was acquired via trade from the Blue Jays prior to the 2013 season, seized the starting role by August that year and was inked to a six-year extension that runs through '19 and has team options that run through the '21 season. Last year, Gomes earned an American League Silver Slugger Award and helped guide Corey Kluber through an AL Cy Young Award-winning season.
Perez -- selected in the 33rd round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft -- has long been considered one of the top defensive catchers in Cleveland's farm system. Last year, following a battle with Bell's Palsy in 2013, the 26-year-old Perez turned a corner offensively with Columbus and earned a promotion to the Majors in July.
Similar to Gomes, Perez is under contractual control through the 2020 season.
"Roberto Perez has been catching all his life," Alomar said. "He looks almost relaxed and soothing when he's catching. He brings that aspect of the game. The one thing that's held him back is he wasn't able to perform offensively, but last year he made some major changes and he was able to bring his offense into his game. He got a lot better."
Overall, the Indians produced a .252/.300/.421 slash line from the catching position with 22 home runs, 30 doubles, 72 RBIs, 72 runs scored and a 108 OPS+ in 2014. Gomes (479 plate appearances), Perez (95), Santana (46), Kottaras (26) and Chris Gimenez (one) all contributed to that offensive showing. Gomes, who had eight starts as a designated hitter, led the way with 21 homers, 74 RBIs and a .785 OPS.
Perez hit .305 with 20 extra-base hits and a .922 OPS in 53 games at Triple-A prior to joining the big league club. In his limited time with the Tribe, the young catcher turned in a .271/.311/.365 slash line and helped the club post a 17-8 record in the games he started behind the plate. From Aug. 22-28, when Gomes was sidelined with a concussion, Perez hit .278 and helped limit the opposition to 3.2 runs per game.
"The first thing, when he came in, I told him, 'Man, don't play as a backup. Play as a starter,'" Gomes said. "It's the same thing I did when I first came in. He took that and kept going. He's a really good defender. I think we all knew that. It was just good to see him keep progressing here at the next level."
Defensively, Indians pitchers posted a 3.68 ERA in 1,082 innings with Gomes and a 2.60 ERA in 232 1/3 innings with Perez. As a group, Cleveland's catchers turned in a 32 percent caught-stealing rate (second-highest percentage in the AL). Perez caught baserunners at a 36 percent clip (8-for-22) and Gomes had a 32 percent rate (31-for-97). The AL average was 27 percent in 2014.
Indians catchers also led the league with eight defensive runs saved (six via Perez). According to FanGraphs.com, the Indians' 19.2 defensive rating from their catchers also ranked first in the AL. From July 10 through the end of the season -- beginning with the day Perez made his MLB debut -- Tribe pitchers ranked third in the Majors in ERA (3.07) and first in strikeouts (670).
Alomar believes the Indians have something special behind the plate with Gomes leading the way.
"He is a very underrated player, man," Alomar said. "This guy is a game-changer. He can make so many things happen behind the plate and offensively, too. And he's only going to get better."