Are you familiar with the many faces of the Tampa Bay Rays’ Brandon Gomes? Like some sort of international spy, you never see the same Brandon Gomes twice, although in his case, it is simply because no version of him has been good enough to achieve sustained success in the major leagues. We wrote about Gomes’ different incarnations in a full piece this past offseason, but let’s review.
2011: Fastball-heavy with slider as primary secondary pitch, splitter as third offering
2012-2013: More even split of the same three pitches, a lot more sliders and a few more splitters
2014 (pre-demotion): Cutter bursts onto the scene, no more slider, four-seamer and splitter as secondaries
2014 (post-demotion) to July of 2015: Back to four-seamer with more even usage of slider and splitter than previously, no more cutter
And now we get to Gomes 5: The Fiery Conclusion. How it is fiery, I am not quite sure, but at the very least, it is different once again. From his return to the majors in September of 2014 until the end of July of this year, Gomes threw 43.81% fastballs, 25.30% sliders, 25.30% splitters, 4.53% curveballs, and 1.07% cutters according to Brooks Baseball. His usage since then has been drastically different: 51.35% sliders, 40.54% fastballs, 8.11% curveballs, and not a single splitter or cutter.
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Luke Gregerson is the first pitcher that comes to mind who throws more sliders than fastballs, although he is surprisingly throwing more sinkers than sliders for the first time in his career this season. The pitchers actually using more sliders than fastballs this year (minimum 30 IP) according to Fangraphs are Andrew Miller, Sergio Romo, Al Alburquerque, Shawn Kelley, Neal Cotts, Boone Logan, and Aaron Thompson. That is a pretty accomplished group of pitchers (although Logan isn’t good anymore and Thompson never was), but there is huge selection bias here–most relievers who throw more sliders than fastballs don’t do much in the big leagues. At the very least, though, it is certainly possible to succeed in short stints while using your breaking ball half the time or more.
In his three appearances since making this shift, Gomes has retired all nine batters he has faced, three via the strikeout. Can he remain effective with this new approach? The sample size is too small to say anything, but it’s worth noting that everyone but Romo, Cotts, and Thompson throw harder than Gomes does with their fastballs and it isn’t as though Gomes is known for a wipeout breaking pitch. The slider has been his best offering historically, but is it really good enough to be used over half the time? Also worth noting is that Gomes’ fourth adjustment was going back to his four-seamer, but actually throwing his slider less than he had before (versions 1 and 2). It seems downright bizarre that now he is making it into his primary pitch, using it even more than the heater.
Beyond that, none of the pitchers above use a changeup or splitter even 7% of the time as apparently it doesn’t work well off the slider. Considering Gomes’ splitter is a solid pitch in its own right, that doesn’t seem like a good thing. The one interesting question, though, is whether Gomes’ curveball can rise to prominence. The early returns on it aren’t good–it has gone for a ball all three times that he has thrown it–but if he can complement his slider well, that might give him a chance to make this new spin on his repertoire work.
At the end of the day, we have to be skeptical about whether Brandon Gomes will ever find an approach to which the league can’t adjust. It has already happened four times in the past, and there is nothing that makes this slider-heavy style any likelier to work than the others. The most promising version of Gomes we saw was the one with the cutter and even that failed. Why should this one be any different?
That being said, the Rays aren’t asking Gomes for much and is it so crazy to think that he can pitch effectively for the next month and a half? Or maybe it will only be a few weeks to provide a temporary fix for a Rays bullpen that has seen Brad Boxberger and even Jake McGee struggle lately. Whatever the case may be, anything the Rays can get from Gomes has to be considered a bonus after how many times he has looked dead in the water.