Color me the black sheep, but I don’t get the nail-biting regarding Jonny Gomes getting a short leash to start full-time in left field for the Red Sox in 2013.
I get that he’s got huge platoon splits. I get that he’s an awful defender. But neither one of those lie at the crux of why the Red Sox signed him to a 2 year, $10 million contract this past fall.
While there’s been a lot of faux couch fainting over Gomes’ platoon splits, the reality is that they’re something the Red Sox could probably live with. In fact, his career line against lefties and righties combined for a .342 wOBA. I’d be worried about him getting more plate appearances against righties, but the fact of the matter is that he’s ALREADY SEEN more PA’s vs. right-handed pitchers. In fact, he’s had 800 PA’s more against righties as opposed to lefties over the course of his career and wouldn’t you know it – his production has been acceptable enough to post a career 110 wRC+. Not to be that guy, but I’m having a hard time trying to envision a scenario where Gomes’ bat – especially in a friendly park – doesn’t play well enough for AT LEAST slightly below league-average production at the position – even WITH the steep splits.
When laid up against the backdrop of a potential Daniel Nava low-level platoon, I’d have to question anyone’s sanity about their issues with the Red Sox offensive production out of the LF position. Nava was pretty good against RHP last year, but it was his ability to get on base that really stuck out. According to @redsoxstats over on Twitter, Mike Trout and Alex Gordon were the only two American League outfielders to get on base more against RHP than Nava. If the Red Sox split the 200 PA’s that Gomes will get against righties – or even give 150 PA’s to Nava OF those 200 PA’s – the offensive production should be roughly above average.
So the argument that Gomes can’t hack as an everyday bat- or something very close to it- doesn’t seem to have legs to me. Even if he isn’t up the task and his splits widen, then Nava likely gets more playing time against RHP, which all things considered isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s a rock-solid insurance policy.
His overall defensive ineptitude is certainly another conversation to be had, but let’s not kid ourselves- this is Fenway Park’s Left Field – a place that has seen it’s fair share of atrocious defenders. While it certainly doesn’t help in the aggregate, I can’t imagine I’d be too down on it considering the potential for offensive production out of the position.
The bottom line is that the Red Sox are likely viewing the Gomes acquisition as a means to replace Cody Ross’ production in the lineup. If that’s what they’re after, they’ve most certainly accomplished their goal, especially when park factors are taken into consideration. Even with Ross’ superior defense, he only accounted for .3 more fWAR last year overall, which means with Nava taking any kind of edge off of Gomes in a low-level platoon, that the team has likely mitigated the loss of Ross altogether and for a third of the cost. This is – mind you – with Ross playing all three defensive positions last year.
The similarity between the two becomes more involved when you look at the past three years of production. Gomes essentially was able to pop a .339 wOBA to Ross’ .330 wOBA over that period and both finished in a dead heat in SLG at .434. The difference here is that the Diamondbacks paid $26 million for Ross. The Red Sox paid $10 million for Jonny Gomes. While it may be true that Ross is the superior defender, he’s not better to the tune of $16 million dollars.
The other interesting tidbit to notice is Gomes’ sudden command of the strike zone. Since 2009, Gomes has seen his BB% double, walking in 6.8% of his PA’s in 2010, to 12.90% in 2011 and as high as 13.20% this past season. He’s swinging at fewer pitches outside the zone and being more selective about what he’s swinging at inside the strike zone as well. Who knows what sparked the change, but Gomes’ approach at the plate seems to have improved significantly.
So is Gomes really the black hole everyone is forecasting? That’s unlikely. What the Red Sox did get is a player with a good makeup who should excel in this park and add a lot to the team’s overall culture. He’s the prototypically successful plus power/ high FB% RH pull hitter that has succeeded in the past in Fenway. If the Red Sox can get league-average production out of the position, then they’ve found themselves a quiet steal this year. We’ll see how his gag-reel on defense plays out, but all things considered, for what the Red Sox paid – they should find themselves relatively happy with their investment.