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Player Profile: Jonny Gomes

And here I am. I know I've been missing for a bit, but I had the last two weeks from hell to finish up my semester, pumping out five or six papers and five final exams, as well as a few presentations and articles scattered elsewhere on the web. Also, after some discussions with people know who know more about what goes into defensive statistics than I do, we've been working on some changes to make Net Runs Above Average more accurate. We should hopefully have a fully updated and revamped spreadsheet for you to play with sometime this week. Before I get into today's long, long overdue player profile, I'd like to say happy Mother's day to all of our wonderful matriarchal readers. And kids, play nice with mother today.

Jonny Gomes was drafted in the 18th round of the 2001 draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He debuted in Princeton in the Rookie League, playing 62 games while hitting .291/.344/.597, with 15 walks to 4 strikeouts, and 16 homeruns -- one every 12.88 at-bats. Certainly a positive half season, and it was followed up by an even better season in A+ ball. Gomes hit .276/.431/.572, for an OPS of 1.003 with 30 homeruns, 91 walks, 24 doubles, 9 triples, 15 steals -- with a success rate of 83% -- 31 hit by pitches, and 173 strikeouts. His on-base percentage may have been slightly affected by those 31 hit by pitches, but for the most part, not getting out of the way of pitches may be a skill of his, as he has totals of 31, 16, 22 and 22 in his full seasons.

Gomes 2003 season wasn't quite as splendid, as he regressed with his plate patience, his power and his average upon his arrival to Double-A Orlando.

Jonny Gomes 2002-2003
2002 A+ 569 24 9 30 .276/.431/.572 0.500 0.296 0.160 0.304
2003 AA 515 28 3 17 .249/.348/.441 0.360 0.192 0.103 0.287

As you can see, his walk rate regressed a sizeable amount, although his strikeout rate improved slightly. He had massive drops in homeruns, ISO and Secondary Average, although a .360 SecA and a .196 ISO are still very good. Tampa Bay promoted him to Triple-A Durham for 5 games, and then a quick audition in the majors for 8 games.

At this point, Gomes was a power/patience player with skills on the basepaths that made him a dangerous all-around player. In his first full season in Durham, he seemingly lost his ability to steal bases frequently, dropping to 8/13 on the season, as opposed to 23/25 from the year before. Baseball Prospectus 2004 harped on his defense, which is quoted as being "rapid, but unpredictable", but claims that he had more upside than "anyone in the system short of Upton," which can be interpreted as either a dig at the Rays farm system back in 2004, or praise for Gomes as a player. He wasn't quite MLB ready according to PECOTA at that point, which gave him a weighted mean projection of .221/.307/.393. He had a major league equivalent line of .223/.328/.462, so PECOTA was accurate for the most part, outside of the power. He hit .256/.368/.531; his SecA climbed over .400, and his ISO reached .275, while his BB/PA remained relatively steady at a .109 clip.

Baseball Prospectus 2005 basically compared Gomes career numbers thus far to Rob Deer and Jack Custs at the same age, and stated that if Gomes can produce enough to earn a promotion and succeed, he'll be in the majors for 10 years, like Deer. If not, well, Cust is still in the minor leagues if you weren't aware, now at age 27. His PECOTA projection was much more favorable, coming in at .265/.366/.491. John Sickels' was pretty pessimistic about Gomes, but mostly due to the outfield situation in Tampa:

Jonny Gomes has enough power to be a useful player, though likely only in a platoon role. He's blocked by more athletic outfielders in Tampa Bay...In the Show, he projected as a 20 home run hitter, but his batting average will struggle to clear .250, and he'll strike out often enough to keep his managers annoyed.

Seemingly the same assessment from two different sources. I may have been more optimistic, but I am also known to have a love affair with potential Three True Outcomes players, and my optimism has problems staying level headed when it comes to that particular breed of slugger. Gomes 2005 season at Durham brought on cries of "Free Jonny Gomes!", and with good reason. Take a look at his 2005 figures in Durham and Tampa:

Jonny Gomes 2005
2005 AAA 202 13 0 14 .321/446/.660 0.562 0.339 0.149 0.218
2005 MLB 407 13 6 21 .282/.372/.534 0.376 0.252 0.096 0.278

Gomes beat the average and power projections for him by both sources, but he did strike out a great deal, as was expected. In limited defensive time, Gomes was not all that bad, according to BP's Rate. His Zone Rating in right was .931, but his UZR was terrible, as was his Range. Something I've noticed (and discussed with others) is that right field just doesn't seem to match up system to system. The sample size is small for all of these figures, so don't read too much into them, especially since Gomes has taken over as the everyday designated hitter in Tampa. Free to mash, he has produced quite the line in 2006 thus far, coming in at .293/.419/.659, with a .336 EqA, 13 homeruns and 27 walks in 123 at-bats. He is still striking out a great deal -- 46 whiffs so far this year -- but he also has extra-base hits 53% of the time. He has amassed 2.1 Wins Above Replacement Player so far this season, which prorates to an incredibly valuable year, even primarily as a DH.

His PECOTA projection was very pessimistic, at .255/.348/.501. A .301 EqA is still very good, but I expect a little more from Gomes. His EqA is in line with his 90th percentile projection, so although I expect him to drop off somewhat, it certainly is not out of the realm of possibility that he keeps it up.

Friend of BtB David Gassko was kind enough to do some digging for me, and came up with this tidbit about Gomes' hitting tendencies:

Johnny Gomes has quite possibly the biggest uppercut in the major leagues. Last year, 26.8% of the balls coming off his bat turned out to be ground balls, the second-lowest total in the major leagues among players with at least 100 PAs. Among players with at least 100 PAs this year, Gomes has the lowest GB% at 22.6%. Gomes also has a penchant for hitting all those fly balls a long distance: His average home run this year has travelled 417 feet.

Certainly, that might help account for some of those strikeouts as well. For context sake, Wily Mo Pena led the majors in average homerun distance at 415 feet.

Overall, Gomes appears to be on the path to a very good career with the bat, as long as he can continue to get on base and mash homeruns. He is a player that is very hard not to like (at least for me, considering my favorite style of slugger) and he has overcome a great deal of adversity in his life so far to get as far as he has. Here's wishing him a successful career mashing homeruns, walking, and striking out. Long live TTO!

On Edit: Fangraphs has put up their piece on Jonny Gomes, which is also positive.