Breaking Down a 1.68-Second Pop Time with Yan Gomes
By: August Fagerstrom / @AugustF_MLB
CLEVELAND — Yan Gomes’ throw to second base that nabbed Brett Gardner in the ninth inning of the Indians’ 5-4 victory over the Yankees on Tuesday caused quite a buzz. As it should, it was an extraordinary effort from start to finish, and the Statcast numbers back that up.
Gomes’ pop time of 1.68 seconds was his fastest all season, and among the fastest by any catcher in 2015. But 1.68 is just a number. How does a catcher achieve such a time? Let’s walk through Gomes’ technique, step-by-step, with some visual aids and commentary from the man himself.
Step 1: The Setup
In the first frame, Gomes is simply in his normal squat position. Nothing out of the ordinary. But he’s aware of the speedy Gardner on his first base, and the idea of that he may be on the move is certainly in the back of his mind. In the second frame, two things are happening. The first is, of course, Gomes receiving the pitch. That’s always the first part of the equation. But the second thing that’s happening is Gomes has noticed that Gardner has broken for second base, and he subtly begins shifting is body — left hip forward — to enter the ready position to throw.
“When I see him going, I kind of want to beat the ball to the punch with a little bit of anticipation,” Gomes said. “I know what pitch is coming — if it was a curveball it would have been a different way of handling it. I have to make sure I catch it first. But especially with a ball like that, you almost want to take your time with it. You work so much on getting your quick feet or your hand exchange that you kind of just have to let that work. But once you see him going, you want to anticipate and then let it happen. I was a little turned, but in my mind I didn’t feel like it, I try to stay underneath it as much as I can.”
Step 2: The Footwork
This frame shows the moment that Gomes’ back foot has lifted off the ground. Of course, by this point, everything is reactionary, but Gomes’ said his subconscious focus places the most importance on his back foot first.
“It’s really trying to get my back foot down, it’s my anchor foot,” Gomes said. “Once I have my back foot down, I can put some more strength into the throw.”
Step 3: The Exchange
Two things have happened since the last frame. The first is that Gomes has already planted his back foot — his anchor. His front foot has also began moving forward, and it’s in his front foot that Gomes actually finds something wrong within this seemingly perfect throw:
“I think you can see in that throw, my left foot probably wasn’t as in position as to where I’m squaring my shoulder as much as I should have,” Gomes said.
The second thing that’s happened since the last frame is that Gomes has transferred his ball from the glove to his throwing hand. According to Statcast, this exchange took just 0.483 seconds, making it the fastest exchange of the season for Gomes.
“It felt like it was probably the quickest out of my hand,” Gomes said. “Especially with a guy like Gardner running, you kind of have to get rid of it as fast as you can.”
According to Gomes, the transfer is the most important part of a throw down to second. When something goes wrong, and Gomes doesn’t achieve a pop time with which he’s satisfied, the exchange is typically the culprit.
“Usually it comes down to the exchange,” Gomes said. “Sometimes that can mess up a fairly good throw. It can be throws going different ways, but it’s usually always about the exchange. During that exchange, you want to try to grip the ball as best you can and sometimes you don’t get a good grip or you try to change your grip while you’re bringing your hand back. That’s when you’ve got to try to slow down a little bit sometimes.”
Step 4: The Release
This frame shows the moment that Gomes’ front food has landed and the ball has been released from his hand. His gripe about not being square in his base is revealed in this shot, as he’s not quite in the perfect position to deliver a throw to second base. Nevertheless, he still throws the ball at his average speed to second base of 78mph, and his lightning-quick exchange makes up for what his throw may lack in velocity.
“It’s something that we work with, Roberto and I, we work with Sandy [Alomar] to try to get the ball out of our glove as fast as we can and let our arm create some force and separation to gain some strength in the throw,” Gomes said. “That’s really what it’s mainly about. I think from then on you can figure out how to get the ball towards second.”