Jonny Gomes might only be a platoon player, but he's in a park and division where he can make the most of that
Two years and $10 million might seem like a lot for Jonny Gomes, who could very well be the short-end of a platoon with the Red Sox in left field. However, context is key, and context is exactly why Gomes finds himself in Boston. He's a lefty-masher with prodigious pull power, making him ideal for Fenway offensively. He's defensively limited, but as a part-time left fielder with the Green Monster assisting him on that side of the ball as well, he'll be able to make do. Then, there's the American League East, packed full of left-handed pitchers for Gomes to feast on. There's a very good chance Gomes will earn every penny of his unexpected contract.
Of course, we've spent the off-season covering all of the above, but a few weeks before the season kicks off is as good a time as any to remind the world what he's here for. Let's start with Gomes at Fenway. Gomes profiles similarly, in many ways, to Cody Ross, in terms of being a fly ball-heavy right-handed batter who can pull a ball like it's his job (coincidentally, that often is his job). Gomes has the kind of pop in his bat to easily clear the wall even at a pitchers' park like O.co Coliseum, so with Fenway's Green Monster in left that much closer to home plate, things are only going to get easier for him -- remember, too, that some balls that might have been a simple fly out in Oakland could scrape the wall in Boston, or even clear it. The roughly 25 feet of distance Gomes' fly balls won't have to travel at Fenway in order to clear the wall is a significant difference, even when accounting for the added height. Especially when you consider that Gomes tends to hit balls that top out at a height well over twice that of the Monster, meaning he should clear that obstruction with an ease that reminds Sox fans of Ross, if not someone better-suited for the task.
As for how often he'll be used, Gomes might see more at-bats than your typical right-hander in a platoon, but there's good reason. Back in late-December, we covered as much:
The unbalanced schedule means that the Red Sox face their fellow American League East clubs the most often, and those teams, right now, employ a significant number of left-handed starters. The Blue Jays have Mark Buehrle and Ricky Romero, and their first line of defense against injury and ineffectiveness in the rotation is southpaw J.A. Happ. The Rays feature David Price and Matt Moore. The Yankees have CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte. It depends on who ends up in the Orioles' rotation, but they might have three lefties in Wei-Yin Chen, Brian Matusz, and Zach Britton, and if they re-sign Joe Saunders, he'll either replace someone like Matusz or join him there.
Now, the Orioles didn't sign Saunders, and Matusz is likely in the bullpen, but they still have Chen and Britton, and the overall point stands. The AL East is loaded with left-handed starters, and since the Red Sox play 76 of their games against AL East opponents, that's going to matter. Daniel Nava might not be great at hitting lefties, and Ryan Sweeney cannot do it at all, but Gomes can, and that's why he and his career .284/.382/.512 line against southpaws are in Boston.
Throw in the other left-handed opponents on competitive teams the Sox will have to deal with -- Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, and Martin Perez on the Rangers, C.J. Wilson and Jason Vargas on the Angels, Tommy Milone and Brett Anderson on the Athletics, and Drew Smyly with the Tigers -- and it's even more obvious how important it is to have someone who can crush left-handed pitching on the roster.
If there is an injury that requires him to play more regularly -- say, if he needs to be the designated hitter while David Ortiz is working back -- his overall line won't be as attractive, but Gomes has still managed a 754 career OPS in games with right-handed starters, and a career 732 OPS overall against right-handers. The power is still there, as evidenced by his career .202 Isolated Power against them, but his batting average -- and therefore on-base percentage -- crater to just .223 and .307. It's not optimal, but in short bursts, to compensate for injuries elsewhere, it should suffice in between games against southpaws.
Gomes isn't an all-round star or anything of the sort, but used correctly, he can be extremely useful. The Red Sox recognized this, considered Gomes within the context of their lineup, park, and against their competition, and made the right call bringing him in with a resource they had plenty of this off-season. He might be more expensive than the outfielder he's replacing, but, in a year, he's still going to cost the same, rather than search for an expensive free agent contract. For that, we will likely be thankful come November.