Is Jonny Gomes really clutch?

Jim Rogash

When the Red Sox decided to start Jonny Gomes during the World Series, one of the words that was thrown around a lot was "intangibles." What did Jonny Gomes do in 2013 that made him valuable? How does that compare to the rest of his career?

Time after time, Jonny Gomes is involved in the middle of a comeback or a walk-off win. As Gomes ever so pleasantly told Nick Cafardo during spring training, he's a "winning player." So while Gomes may have a slightly inflated sense of self-value in regards to his role on the playoff teams he has played on, the 33-year-old does bring value to a team.

From my experience, Gomes is an extremely polite, well-liked teammate in the clubhouse. He gives back to the community (most prominently highlighted following the Boston Marathon bombing tragedy) and provides a spark of energy in the clubhouse. Gomes is frequently seen talking scouting reports and baseball technicals with his teammates in the Red Sox clubhouse, and often sticks around in the clubhouse watching the latest game on MLB Network post-game while others scurry out of there as soon as possible.

But Gomes' weaknesses on the field are well-chronicled. He is not a particularly adroit outfielder (although he has an encyclopedic knowledge of the Green Monster, which allows him to play caroms off the wall perfectly nearly every time). He is adequate, but not great against right-handed pitching (he sports a .226/.310/.424 career line against righties) which limits his playing time, essentially making him a platoon, part-time outfielder.

But what is Jonny Gomes really good at?

20140420_sng_ad7_082Gomes watches a three-run homer against the Orioles. Photo credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout his career, Gomes has been a very strong hitter against left-handed pitching, hitting .274/.375/.499. The Red Sox brought Gomes in on a two-year, $10 million deal for the purpose of partaking in a platoon in left field where he would play against left-handed pitching. While he didn't decimate southpaws as he usually did, he produced a stronger than expected campaign against right-handers, so it evened out for both Gomes and Boston.

Gomes has done a good job of sporting a quality on-base percentage throughout his career despite some low batting averages. His solid career .335 on-base on top of his .452 slugging percentage leads to a career OPS of 787, well above the league average in this era of dampened offensive prowess.

What has stood out so far in Gomes' Red Sox career has been ability to come up in the clutch. Last year, Gomes seemingly played a role in the majority of the team's big, team-defining moments that eventually lead to the World Series Championships. Gomes' stats in high-leverage situation in 2013 back up this assessment.

In high-leverage situations as defined by Baseball Reference, Gomes hit .290 with five home runs, 23 RBI and a .398 OBP, a drastic difference from his performance in medium-leverage and low-leverage situations where he hit .230 and .238 respectively. To put this Gomes' high leverage performance in 2013 in perspective, David Ortiz hit .267 with five home runs, 36 RBI and a .371 OBP in high-leverage situations last year (For his career, Ortiz has hit .290 with a .388 OBP in high leverage situations). Interestingly enough, Gomes has hit .230 in high-leverage situations throughout his career, so one could probably expect to see some resemblance of a drop off in Gomes' performance this year.

Another statistic where Gomes performed significantly better in 2013 than his career average was in "clutch situations." Gomes hit .306 with a .444 OBP with one homer and 14 RBI in 45 plate appearances when there were two outs and runners in scoring position. For his career, Gomes has hit .266/.417/.429 with two outs and RISP. Gomes also hit five of his 13 home runs and knocked in 22 runs when the team was within run. Gomes also performed extremely well in the ninth inning last year, hitting .316 with a .453 OBP, four homers and eight RBI, which was significantly better than his career .225/.328/.374 performance in the ninth inning.

A lot of what Jonny Gomes was extremely good at last year (mostly involving high leverage situations) deviated off his career averages by a pretty significant margin. While Gomes' career numbers suggest that he is not a player that should be trusted upon in a tight game in the ninth inning, this narrative completely flipped in 2013, when Gomes partook in multiple walk-off wins in some way, shape or form and posted career-high numbers in multiple "clutch" and "high leverage" situations.

So who is the real Jonny Gomes? Is he the clutch, eccentric, gritty left fielder who comes up big in pressure situations? Or is he what he displayed throughout his career, a below average hitter in high leverage situations?

The answer is probably somewhere in the middle. It would be unreasonable to expect his Ortiz-esque clutch performance this year considering his sub-par career numbers in the same hitting categories. Gomes, however, seemingly continues to prove his doubters wrong year after year. Some called the Gomes contract unreasonable because he's only a part-time outfielder. Many doubted Gomes when Farrell decided to start him in left field game after game in the postseason over the regular starting left fielder, Daniel Nava. In the end, Gomes played a significant role in the Red Sox winning the World Series, justifying both the contract and Farrell's decision to start him against the Cardinals.

Gomes continues to prove people wrong. Maybe Sunday's three-run home run is a sign that Gomes can continue his propensity to come up with big hits. Maybe it's not. What you can't take away from Gomes is that he has a flair for the dramatic. Jonny Gomes makes baseball fun to watch.

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