Don't Know What You Got Til It's Gone

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It is a terrible hair metal ballad. It is also something many of us express after jettisoning something we had in our possession at one time. Do I think we Rays fans will utter that statement about Pat Burrell sometime in the future? I highly doubt it, but I also highly doubted it when the Rays released Jonny Gomes after the 2008 season. Gomes finished the 2008 season with a .182/.282/.383 line in 177 at bats at that season and his most valuable contribution of that season may just have been him tackling Shelley Duncan in spring training or him pummeling Coco Crisp in a brawl in June at Fenway Park. Those may have been the two hardest hits Gomes had in 2008.

In his career with the Rays, Gomes hit .235/.329/.455 in 1264 at bats and was widely recognized as a three true outcome player; he walked 151 times and struck out 413 in that time. Gomes was, and hell, still is a huge fan favorite because of the energy level he played with and the power he hit with. Frankly, it was tough to differentiate him from Pat Burrell in his final two seasons here but fans never gave Gomes the type of treatment Burrell got here and that easily came from the fact that Gomes always gave the appearance that he was busting his tail on every play and played every game as if it were his last. He would mix those types of plays in with titanic blasts to all parts of Tropicana Field but also mix them in with some horrific fielding that eventually got to the point where he had to DH full time. The irony here is that Jonny Gomes was let go because he was not supplying enough help against left-handed pitching and the Rays brought in Pat Burrell to do that job. Anyone who has paid attention knows that Burrell never did hit a single home run against left-handed pitching in his time with the Rays while Gomes has hit .320/.383/.592 with 8 homers and 23 extra base hits in 147 at bats against lefties as a member of the Reds.

As the Rays offense has struggled in May with consistency, it has to hurt to look over to the National League leaderboard and see Jonny Gomes in the top five in both batting average and slugging percentage and fourteenth overall in wOBA for the National League.  In May, he has the best wOBA in the National League at .488 and his .395 batting average is 43 points better than any other hitter in the league while his 20 RBI are sixth best in the league. Simply put, Gomes has been a one-man wrecking crew for the Reds and he has had some single game efforts, as recently as last night, that have outpaced what the DH position has done for the Rays this month.  Most recognize the Burrell signing and the two year contract given to Troy Percival as the two worst moves that Andrew Friedman has made as General Manager of the Rays; was non-tendering Gomes a third one? Maybe – but the Reds also non-tendered Gomes this past off-season and every other front office in baseball passed on bringing Gomes in before he re-signed with the Reds as both parties saw all of their other options dry up.  The big question – what is Gomes doing differently in Cincinnati in 2010 that he was not doing from 2006-2009 with Tampa Bay and his first go-around in a Red uniform. The simple answer to that question is,  not much.

TEAM AB AVG OPS BB/K BB% K% IsoP BABIP
TB 1264 .235 .772 0.37 11% 33% .220 .294
CIN 417 .283 .890 0.31 8% 29% .264 .340

Gomes is still the same feast or famine hitter that he was with Tampa Bay but he walks and strikes out a bit less these days. Certainly, moving from a ballpark that is slightly neutral to a hitter’s paradise such as Great American Ballpark certainly helps Gomes out, but the growth in batting average is rather astounding given his .282 average in his rookie year was the highest mark Gomes ever reached as a Rays player and never again hit over .245 with the franchise. 2010 has been special for Gomes for a few reasons:

  • His Batting Average on Balls in Play is an astounding .371 to date; his career rate is .298
  • 25% of his balls in play are line drives in 2010; a figure he hasn’t come close to since his rookie year in 2005.
  • Fangraphs tells us he is swinging at pitches outside the strike zone at a 36% rate. While Gomes has been known to chase pitches in the past, particularly sliders low and away, that chase rate is six points higher than his worst effort with Tampa Bay. He is still hitting 50% of those pitches which helps illustrate his reputation as a bad ball hitter.

Do I miss having Gomes around the Rays roster? Absolutely. I first got attached to him when he was playing with the AA Orlando Rays and he was crushing 450 foot homers over the scoreboard at Disney’s CrackerJack Stadium. That said, I am not willing to write his release up as an Andrew Friedman failure because the only two things that seem to have changed with Jonny Gomes are his location and his luck. He is still an undisciplined hitter and a terrible defender, but he is on an amazing hot streak right now and I am happy for him because it could not happen to a better guy.

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About Jason Collette

Writer/Analyst
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