Last year, Jeanmar Gomez tallied 37 saves for a Phillies team that won only 71 baseball games. Those 37 saves are the 9th-most in a single season in franchise history, trailing seasons by Jonathan Papelbon, Steve Bedrosian, Brad Lidge, Jose Mesa and Mitch Williams.
And Gomez has had an excellent spring, too. In 8 2⁄3 innings, he has a 1.04 ERA in 7 appearances, with 4 strikeouts and 1 walk.
So it makes all the sense in the world that, with about a week left before Opening Day, he is the front-runner to open the season as closer once again, right?
I mean, the dude did stuff like this a lot last year.
Of course, there is more to the Gomez story than just those 37 saves.
Last season, he went 3-5 with a 4.85 ERA and a 3.96 FIP, averaging just 6.16 strikeouts per nine innings while walking 2.88 per nine. Opponents hit .286 against him and he blew 6 saves among the 37 he locked down. Much of those bad season-ending numbers were because of one of the most brutal Septembers any relief pitcher has ever suffered in the history of the world.
From April 1 through August 31, Gomez tallied 60 2/3 innings and had an ERA under 3 (2.97). Opponents were batting .253/.305/.356 against him for an OPS of .660. Not bad, right?
In September, he appeared in 12 games. He pitched 8 innings. His ERA was 19.13. Opponents slashed .467/.529/.733 against him with an OPS of 1.263. He gave up 21 hits and walked an additional five batters.
It was, quite simply, a horror show. But it was also understandable, given Gomez’ inability to miss bats.
Last year, there were 22 relief pitchers who recorded at least 20 saves. No one averaged fewer strikeouts per nine than Gomez. He averaged 91.5 mph on his fastball, which is slow for a relief pitcher, and especially so for a closer. Last year, there were 101 qualified relievers who threw harder than Gomez, on average.
What Gomez does well is avoid walks, something that all managers love in their bullpen arms. Only Severino Gonzalez, Dalier Hinojosa and Edubray Ramos allowed fewer walks per nine innings on the Phillies last season. Unfortunately, Gomez just doesn’t miss that many bats, which leaves him vulnerable to bad luck on grounders in save situations.
Gomez ran out of gas last year, plain and simple. And the Phillies have assembled a mass of relief pitchers who throw harder and miss more bats.
Phillies Relief Pitchers K-Rates
It’s not even close. You want closers who are good at getting the "K," and that ain’t Gomez.
So it’s likely the leash will be short for him in 2017, and in reality, he’s more suited to being a middle reliever, where his penchant for avoiding the bases on balls and inducing ground balls will be more useful.
By all accounts, Gomez is a great guy and a welcome influence in the clubhouse. There is certainly a valuable role for him on the 2017 Phillies.
It just probably isn’t as the team’s long-term closer.