In Tampa Bay Rays spring training, there were two players who burst onto the scene with new pitches: Jake Odorizzi with his split-change and Brandon Gomes with his cutter. Since then, however, Odorizzi and Gomes have gone in opposite directions. After struggling mightily in the early part of the season, Odorizzi has rebounded with two excellent and one decent performance in his last three starts. Gomes, meanwhile, got off to a tremendous start, managing a 2.31 ERA in his first 11.2 innings pitched, but has season has come apart since then.
In Gomes’ last 10.1 innings pitched, he has a 7.84 ERA including 4 home runs. His 5 total homers allowed are more than every Rays starting pitcher but David Price in considerably less innings pitched. In a matter of three weeks, Gomes went from one of the Rays’ most trusted relievers to being sent down to Triple-A. Gomes has seen this movie before- he has been up-and-down the last two years after a strong rookie year in 2011. After Gomes added the cutter, however, we thought that things would be different this time.
Do Gomes’ struggles despite the cutter indicate that the pitch has not helped him at all? That may be a little extreme, but one thing we can say is that the pitch covered up some weaknesses and exposed others. For his career, Gomes has allowed an OPS that is .295 higher against lefties than righties. This season, he has narrowed the gap to just .089. The trade-off, though, has been his ability to miss bats. His strikeouts per 9 innings have decreased from 8.4 for his career to just 5.7 in 2014. The reason: he doesn’t have an effective secondary pitch anymore.
Brandon Gomes’ cutter is much better than his fastball, but it did not replace his fastball in his repertoire- it replaced his slider. And without that slider, suddenly Gomes has found himself using his four-seam fastball as a change of pace, leading to both Gomes’ homer problem and inability to force whiffs. Gomes got his cutter to begin with because his fastball impressed neither through its velocity nor its movement. He also had trouble commanding it. Why would he possibly want to keep throwing a pitch like that? Even if it was working, though, a great fastball forces many fewer swing-and-misses than a solid slider. Between Gomes’ cutter, fastball, and inconsistent splitter, he simply does not have an offering capable of putting away hitters.
Brandon Gomes’ arsenal has a fatal flaw. With the cutter as his primary fastball, he lacks a efficacious secondary pitch to complement it, and that is not about to change. This is not an issue of command or pitch execution, but instead something that Gomes will have to make another major adjustment to overcome. Unfortunately for Gomes, his status as a Quad-A reliever will not change until he does.