As we count down the days until the start of the season, we’re profiling every player who is likely to be on the Cleveland Indians’ Opening Day roster and how he could impact the team. Today, we turn our attention to the most likely candidate to be the Tribe’s No. 5 starter: Jeanmar Gomez.
Background: The Indians signed Gomez as an international free agent out of Venezuela in 2005, when he was just 17. Never considered a top prospect, he struggled at times as he ascended through the minor leagues. He made his debut with Cleveland in 2010 and has bounced back and forth between the big-league club and the Triple-A Columbus Clippers ever since.
Last year: Gomez, now 24, split time between the minors and the majors in 2011, going 15-10 with a 3.11 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP in exactly 200 innings. He struggled a bit in the majors, going 5-3 with a 4.47 ERA in 11 outings for the Tribe, although his DIPS numbers (4.12 FIP, 4.03 xFIP, 4.14 SIERA) suggest he may have gotten a bit unlucky. Baseball-Reference valued Gomez’ contributions as worth 0.2 wins above replacement, while the more generous Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs had him at 0.5 WARP and 0.7 WAR, respectively.
Key factor: Strikeouts. Gomez’ career K/9 rate is just a hair over 5.0, and in 2011 it was just 4.8. Recent homegrown Indians arms have tended to be pitch-to-contact guys and Gomez doesn’t have a track record of blowing batters away, but he’s posted strikeout rates of 7.0 K/9 or better in three of his last four minor-league seasons. In today’s game, a pitcher who gets as few strikeouts as Gomez did last year has to have control like Josh Tomlin‘s to be a successful MLB starter.
2012 projections: Courtesy of FanGraphs:
Quite a bit of variation here—and not just in terms of playing time. Bill James sees Gomez preventing runs at almost a league-average rate, while Steamer has him pegged for an ERA of nearly 5.00. In addition to vastly differing opinions of his relationship with his DIPS numbers (interestingly, RotoChamp has Gomez posting a .336 BABIP but still managing to outperform his FIP), there’s almost a full 1.5-strikeout swing in the K/9 rate projections.
Yet despite his lack of a substantial track record in The Show, there’s still less variance for his projected ERAs than there is for Tomlin’s.
Best-case scenario: Gomez continues to impress throughout spring training. He wins a rotation spot and never looks back. He throws 200 innings again, but this time they’re all in the majors. He brings his strikeout rate up to a respectable level and induces enough ground balls to maintain an ERA in the high 3.00’s.
Worst-case scenario: Gomez’ spring hot streak ends the next time he takes the mound. He loses the fifth rotation spot to Kevin Slowey or David Huff and isn’t even the first in line for a spot start call-up at midseason. When he does finally make it back to the big leagues he’s unable to make any strides with his strikeouts and as a result he gets hit hard.
Most likely scenario: Hard to say, exactly. I’d probably go with the Marcel projection as the best estimate of Gomez’ true talent level, but how much playing time he’ll get is an unknown at this point. If he does win a rotation spot out of the gate it’s unlikely he’d lose it, but based on his competitors’ track records he might not be the best man for the job.