New Boston Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes has always performed best against left-handed pitching. But entering the 2013 spring training, he believes he is more than just a platoon player.
A 10-year veteran with four different major league teams, Gomes signed a two-year, $10 million free-agent contract with Boston this past offseason to be the team's primary left fielder. In addition to a reputation as a top-notch clubhouse influence, he’s also known for extreme platoon splits that show him to be much more effective hitting against southpaws.
During his career, Gomes has a .284/.382/.894 batting average/OBP/OPS split against lefties, including a strikeout every 4.09 plate appearances. Those numbers drop to .223/.307/.732, with a strikeout every 3.49 plate appearances, against righties.
Despite the statistical evidence, is it possible that Gomes can be more than a platoon player in Boston?
He believes he can.
Gomes recently told WEEI’s Mike Petraglia that he doesn’t want to be buttonholed into a certain role because of how he has done in the past:
Platooning isn’t a position. There’s not platooning in high school, there’s not platooning in 12-year-old all-stars. We’re baseball players… Have I platooned in the past? Yeah, and it’s helped us win. I figure, if you succeed at platooning, you should have an opportunity to have more on your plate.
To his credit, when Gomes has played regularly, the difference in his splits hasn’t been nearly as large as his overall career numbers.
Gomes was a regular for the Tampa Bay Rays after a midseason call-up from the minor leagues in 2005. There was virtually no difference for him against righties that year, as he posted a .279/.365/.914 split against them, compared to .288/.388/.888 versus lefties.
In 2010, Gomes got 571 plate appearances with the Cincinnati Reds. He had a .285/.378/.856 split against lefties and a .257/.301/.709 split against righties.
It’s possible that having more regular exposure to right-handed pitching could help Gomes even out his offensive performance in Boston.
Regardless, all Gomes wants is an opportunity to prove himself, as he explained to The Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham:
Everyone looks at the numbers. No one wants to look really into the game.
Let’s pick any profession out there. Let’s pick painting. People will succeed and get to the higher level because they do a lot of it. It’s their passion; they do it every single day.
If I told you this one guy works at painting six times a month, are you going with him or the guy who does it every single day?
Hitting is timing, all timing. There have been times I’ve probably gone 10 days between facing righties. This game is 162 games; it’s not 16. You need those repetitions.
If he is called upon to platoon, Gomes told Petraglia that he’ll do his job without complaint, but he is ready for anything:
Am I putting my foot down, asking for more time? No, absolutely not. I do whatever helps the team… I came into camp to play 162. It’s not my choice. I don’t make the lineup but when my name is called, count on that I’ll be ready.
Although Gomes may currently carry the label of a platoon player, he believes he can be much more, if only given a chance. With the Red Sox coming off a 93-loss season in 2012, the theme of this year’s team may be all about second chances, and Gomes receiving an opportunity to prove himself would fit right in.
Statistics via Baseball-Reference.com