Sunday, August 23, 2009

Jonny Gomes: Time to Take Notice?

When the Reds signed Jonny Gomes this offseason, I called the acquisition the "best move of the offseason." Of course, I took a bit of flak for that when the Reds' "braintrust" decided to send him to the minors to start the season, but as the injuries piled up in Cincinnati the Reds finally gave Gomes the opportunity. He's definitely making the most of it.

In fact, Gomes is performing so well that it's time to add his name to the discussion of possible starting outfielders in 2010. Whether or not he is actually deserving of the job, he at least deserves to be in the discussion.

OFFENSIVE

For a team that has as many offensive woes as the Reds, it's impossible to defend keeping Gomes in the minors until May 22. When I wrote about the acquisition of Gomes, I stated that the organization's decision as to whether to sign the Gomes or Willy Taveras would reveal much about the organization's method of valuing players. Ultimately, they signed both, but the manner in which they have utilized them still revealed a great deal about the organization's valuation of players.

Not surprisingly, given that Dusty is the manager and Jocketty was run out of St. Louis in part because he couldn't accept the organization's efforts to incorporate statistical analysis into its operations, the Reds prefer early count, slap hitters whose speed gives them the perception of actual value. Willy T does have one great attribute: he is so fast that his speed blinds people to the fact that he's a terrible baseball player.

Still, now that Willy T. has flopped like most knew he would, he has left Gomes standing as the more intriguing case.

On the season, Gomes has a slash line of .270/.351/.567/.919 in 206 plate appearances. True to his reputation, Gomes has been better against southpaws (.352/.418/.620) than northpaws (.234/.323/.541). Still, he hasn't been a slouch against the righties and I'm not convinced that he can't be at least competent against righthanders.

As for his peripherals, Gomes looks pretty solid. Both his walk and strikeout rates are actually a bit off of his career rates. (BB%: 9.0% in 2009, 10.5% in career) (K%: 34.1% in 2009, 32.8% in career). His BABIP is probably unsustainable at .343, as his line drive rate stands at 19.0%. Still, Gomes is making a lot of hard contact and is reaping the benefits of it.

His HR/FB mark is a massive 25.9%, which will likely decrease but isn't simply luck. Unlike pitchers, hitters have some measure of control over the percentage of their flyballs that leave the yard, so Gomes has earned that mark.

As for how he handles various pitches, Gomes has feasted on fastballs and curveballs, but struggled against splitters and sliders.


DEFENSIVE "PROWESS"

Unfortunately, Gomes has been about as advertised on defense. The sample size is too small for the defensive metrics to be meaningful, but they are pretty much in line with his past defensive performance. He's just not a good defensive outfielder and is better suited to a DH role. Still, after years of Adam Dunn, the Reds could conceivably put up with Gomes' defense, if they so chose.

However, his defensive shortcomings will likely preclude him from any chance at being a full-time starter in the future.


THOUGHTS ON THE FUTURE

Overall, Gomes has been a nice addition and a productive player. He's certainly received the benefit of playing in GABP (OPS Home: 1.053, Road OPS: .820), but over a larger sample size that differential will likely reduce. I wouldn't be surprised to see his home OPS fall and his road OPS rise.

In 2005, Gomes had what I thought was a breakout year. He posted a .282/.372/.534 slash line without much of a platoon split. Unfortunately, up until now, 2005 has looked much more like a statistical anomaly than an actual breakout season. Still, Gomes has always had the ability at the plate and there's really no reason why he can't post a couple more 2005 type seasons. As sports psychologist Bob Rotella once wrote in a golf context, a hot streak isn't a fluke, but rather a glimpse of a player's true level of performance.

At the very least, Gomes makes a nice bat off the bench or a platoon outfielder, but he arguably has enough upside to be a bit more than that. Regardless of whether he reaches that upside, he could still be a nice role player for the Reds.

Still, in 2010, it'll be a crowded outfield for the Reds, so it seems likely that Gomes will once again be the odd man out. Whatever happens in 2010, Gomes has been a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy season for the Reds.

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