Considering Tampa Bay‘s obsession with young, toolsy players, I assumed when Jonny Gomes was first called up last year that he was of the Joey Gathright, Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli mold. You know, the type of player that puts up a .320/.350/.450 line in their best seasons. When Gomes started yanking balls out of the park last year, I adjusted my mental model to include Shane Spencer and his never-to-be-repeated Roy Hobbs impersonation. However, after spending the off-season reviewing 2005, I realized Jonny Gomes is exactly the antithesis of who I thought he was.
What started to change my mind was Gomes‘ high on-base percentage of .372. He wasn’t just another young call-up hacking away at anything near the strike zone. In his rookie season, he managed to work out a walk more often than the average major league hitter. And while the season’s still young, Gomes has improved on that rate in 2006, up to a stellar 18% of his plate appearances.
You have to believe his power’s for real. As David pointed out in his roundup of Ryan Howard‘s Rookie of the Year campaign, Gomes is one of only 25 active players to hit at least 20 homeruns his first year in the league. Only a handful of names on the list turned into disappointments. In 2006, he’s destroying last year’s power benchmark, slugging .648 with an isolated power of .360. Yes, .360!
In addition to hitting for raw power, Gomes has managed to post a batting average in the .280s since the beginning of 2005. If he has a weakness it’s a high propensity to strike out in over one-third of his at-bats. Striking out is detrimental to his batting average, but Gomes makes up for it by crushing the ball when he does make contact, to a tune of a .350 average on balls in play (BABIP) over his career.
Looking at Gomes batted ball data, we can see the cause of both his power and high balls-in-play average. He hits very few groundballs; it’s all fly balls and line-drives. His career line-drive percentage of 27% is absolutely phenomenal, even better than uber-prospect Joe Mauer, who thrives on creating line-drive hits (red). Notice also the extreme difference between the two players’ fly ball (blue) and groundball (green) rates.
I’ve learned my lesson — Gomes is no Joey Gaithright, that’s for sure. He’s a patient hitter who destroys the ball when he chooses to swing. While he hasn’t received the hype given to the rest of the Devil Rays‘ prospects, his abilities speak for themselves. Given a conservative estimate of 600 plate appearances this year, Gomes’ 2006 line could look something like this: .288/.421/.648, 49 HRs, 106 BBs, 98 runs, and 117 RBI — for the Devil Rays. At age 25, he looks poised for a long peak of offensive dominance.