Jonny Gomes is good at three things that could be considered employable skills in the baseball world. The first skill being that he crushes left-handed pitching. Klaasen covered this a few weeks back, but Gomes has an expected wOBA against lefties of .354. That’s above average, mind you, however Gomes is a right-handed batter and a poor defender in the corner outfield spots. That combination of skills is readily available throughout the minor leagues. Gomes can play a role on a big league club. That’s for sure. He can also be replaced, which is too bad, because his story is pretty fantastic.
First some background. Gomes is 29-years-old and from a smallish town in California. His younger brother, Joey Gomes, was actually drafted by the Rays, the same team that drafted Jonny years before. At last check, the younger Gomes was playing for the Newark Bears or something. The older Gomes was an 18th round pick in 2001 and quickly rose through the system by mashing baseballs. He launched 30 bombs as a 21-year-old in the hitter friendly California League, then moved on to Double-A where he hit 17 homers as a 22-year-old. In 552 at-bats at Triple-A Durham, split between 2004 and 2005, Gomes homered 40 times. That’s power.
He made cameos for the (then) Devil Rays, but saw fewer than 30 at-bats in 2003 and 2004. Gomes arrived with a sudden impact in 2005; hitting 21 homers and with assistance from a wickedly high BABIP (.352) posted a batting average above .280. He came back the next year and hit 20 home runs in nearly the same number of at-bats. Then he hit 17 home runs in 2007 with exactly the same number of at-bats as 2005. In 2008 he played a smaller role and even spent some time in Triple-A. And similarly split last season between the minors and majors, but found nearly 300 at-bats with the Reds and … of course, hit 20 home runs.
Jonny Gomes can hit home runs. He’s hit 155 split between the majors and minors since Christmas Eve 2002. Why is that date important? Because that’s when Gomes suffered a heart attack. Being the professional baseball player he is, Gomes ignored the symptoms and continued going about his business. He literally slept through a heart attack before passing out and being rushed to the hospital. Somehow he survived and featured enough heart function to play professional baseball and play the role of the gritty hustler.
That’s the other part about Gomes’ employable baseball skills. He’s evidently a great person to be around. During the Rays’ run in 2008, Gomes started the Mohawk haircut and gained popularity (albeit short-lived) for attempting to give Shelly Duncan a few cuts of an entirely different kind. Even before that, Gomes’ reputation as a maniac in the clubhouse is well-known.
The Rays were horrible in 2007, with Gomes contributing a replacement level performance of his own, yet this didn’t stop him from trying to reverse the tide. So, what did he do? What any insane man would do: He bought a plastic rooster. Not only that, he named the rooster ‘Cocky’ and made the entire team personnel rub the rooster before taking the field. Then, during high-leveraged moments, he would sneak into the clubhouse and bring the rooster to the dugout. Unfortunately, Gomes left Cocky somewhere in Camden Yards after an excessive losing streak. Gomes also took part in the Rays’ “Wrestling Night” promotion, wore a customized robe around the clubhouse sent to him by a former teammate, and took a few sips of champagne from Dioner Navarro’s protective cup following one of those magical nights in 2008.
None of this makes Gomes’ any more valuable though. If he were a worthwhile player all these antics could be celebrated with sepia-toned fondness and a celebratory tone. Instead I feel compelled to mention that he’s probably not going to repeat last year. His BABIP was a tick above career rates, his walks were down, his strikeouts static, and his HR/FB well above. Even if you’re generous about Gomes in the Great American Ballpark, a .370 wOBA is quite optimistic. CHONE and Marcel have him closer to .340, which seems fair. Even if you bump that expectation up a few points for various reasons (N.L., playing in the field full-time, and maybe being used in a platoon, etc.) there’s still a good gap to make up for and one that leaves Gomes as a marginal player on a good team.