I maintain, despite some amount of evidence to the contrary, that Brandon Gomes will become a very good relief pitcher. At 29, he's no longer a prospect, but injuries and occasional ineffectiveness have seriously limited his playing time. Here is Gomes's career to date.
So, what's special about a reliever with a career 4.36 xFIP?
That's a valid question, but start with 2013, when for a short while, Gomes was an elite strikeout pitcher. He baffled hitters with a three pitch repertoire of four-seam fastball (45%), slider (35%), and splitter (20%). He gave up a lot of fly balls, and too many of them went for home runs, but Gomes also got hitters to whiff at his fastball at a respectable rate, and at his two secondary pitches at an elite rate.
Injury cut short his 2013 season, and rather than resting on his laurels as he rehabbed his shoulder, he introduced a new pitch -- a cutter. That new pitch was a dramatic failure. It looked good on the camera, but Gomes really couldn't command it yet. Probably because of the lack of command, but perhaps because of other reasons, Gomes was ineffective, and was sent back to the minors, where he mostly scrapped the cutter and returned to his old mix. Since being recalled in mid-August, he's been better.
Looking through the Brooks Baseball pitching data, there are two obvious ways that the cutter failed Gomes:
1. It replaced his slider -- removing an "out pitch" from his repertoire.
|2014 Mix||Cutter Use||Cutter Whiff/Swing||Slider Use||Slider Whiff/Swing|
When Gomes was throwing a cutter, which is somewhere between a fastball and a slider, he stopped throwing his slider entirely. That hurt him, because while that whiff rate would be amazing for a fastball, it's not high enough for a true "out pitch."
2. It didn't set up his splitter.
|2014 Mix||Splitter Use||Splitter Whiff/Swing|
While the cutter replaced the slider in Gomes's usage pattern, it also replaced his four-seam fastball. The reason splitters can miss bats so effectively is that they start off appearing as a fastball, but once the batter starts to swing, the bottom falls out. There's also a velocity difference which adds to the elusiveness of the pitch. With Gomes no longer establishing his rising fastball, his best "out pitch," his splitter, stopped baffling hitters.
These are all ridiculously small sample sizes I'm working with, so throw the numbers out. What I'm trying to illustrate is that there's a major and identifiable difference in process between how Brandon Gomes worked at the beginning of 2014, and how he worked during his successful 2013 and the end of 2014. Gomes has been on the verge of establishing himself as a major league reliever for some years now, but he's never quite made it there. I'm not telling you to go pick him up in your fantasy keeper leagues, but I think there's still enough promise there to pencil him in as part of a quality bullpen in 2015.