2016 Phillies Report Card: Jeanmar Gomez
That Jeanmar Gomez played the role of an effective closer for the 2016 Philadelphia Phillies for so long was a slight miracle in and of itself. It’s not to say that Gomez is an incompetent reliever, but simply one not built for high-leverage situations. You can’t find a semi-reliable closer in the league without a great out-pitch, an offering that jumps out on opposing scouting reports like a bolded stat on a Baseball-Reference page. That is where Gomez lacks. But as new age bullpens are leveraged more and more by managers navigating the back half of games, reliable groundball-inducing relievers are viable commodities. Gomez was just that. With a groundball-rate in the top 25% of qualified National League relievers, Gomez’s sinker-slider-changeup combination was worthy of the Phillies tendering him a contract (which they did last week).
His strikeout rate, however, is the ultimate indicator that he doesn’t belong as a long-term closer. Of 60 National League relievers with 50-plus innings of work, Gomez’s 15.8 K% was lower than all but two. No closer with at least 18 saves had a lower strikeout-rate (Gomez ended 2016 tied for eighth in the MLB with 37 saves).
The lone blemish on Gomez’s season was undoubtedly his final month in which he emphatically plopped a 19.13 ERA and 6.40 FIP in eight innings on the table after 60.2 innings of 2.97 ERA ball in the five months prior. For perspective, in September he surrendered more than a third of the total hits he allowed between Opening Day and the end of August. It’s tough to pitch to a below-3 ERA without a go-to out pitch, plain and simple, and that finally caught up to Gomez in September.
Despite his lack of shutdown closer stuff, the 37 saves he logged in 2016 will drive up his arbitration salary if the Phillies can’t secure a deal with him beforehand. Michael Schickling noted in a recent roundtable that the last arbitration-eligible reliever in Gomez’s situation (over 30 saves, no prior closing experience and a 3.50+ ERA) was then-Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard who netted a $2.4 million raise via arbitration. That salary increase for Gomez would put him just shy of $4 million in 2017; MLB Trade Rumors’ in-house algorithm slots his arbitration salary, should that be the final determination on his pay, a bit higher at $4.6 million. It’s a slightly steeper price to fork over for a potential seventh or eighth inning guy, but that’s the price the Phils have to pay for an unexpected closer candidate who outperformed his expected value (and true worth, in my opinion) for all but the final month of 2016.
In that same roundtable, Dave Tomar likened Gomez to a station wagon driving down a racetrack. He doesn’t stack up to closers around the league – no finely tuned engine or glossy interior – and that’s precisely why he won’t be the 2017 closer. But that doesn’t mean it’s worthless to have that trusty wood-paneled station wagon in the garage to get you from point A to point B. It’s not the car you’ll rely on in crunch time for your cross country trip – crunch time here serves as a double analogy both for late-inning, high-leverage situations in 2017 and for the upcoming years when contending seems more likely. For those situations, you’re piling into your new roomy crossover SUV. But that doesn’t mean the station wagon isn’t worth keeping around in the meantime.
I’m still a college student (if only for one more week) so excuse my tendency to make overt academia-related analogies for these player report cards. But Gomez worked his butt off during the semester, over-achieved, and got burnt out and flunked his final. It wasn’t bad enough to derail the hard work that earned him a solid midterm grade and passing marks in the dreaded class participation category, and it certainly didn’t override his surprising success from April through August.