June 04, 2015

Leader, Fun to Watch Does Not Equal a Great Player

Monday night Joe Simpson praised Jonny Gomes as a player who “plays the game the right way” and is a “tough out.”   Now, I like that the Braves acquired players like Gomes and A.J. Pierzynski to be coaches on the field and provide leadership, even if we can’t know how much of an impact they make in those ways.  But Gomes is not all that good a Major League player.

Someone praising Gomes for his play in one sentence while abhorring batter strikeouts in the next is one of the most absurd things to listen to or read.  Gomes has the third-highest strikeout rate of any player with the Braves since Opening Day of 2014 (minimum 100 plate appearances).  He’s struck out at a higher rate than Dan Uggla and Justin Upton did while they were with the Braves, and of course Gomes is not nearly the player Justin Upton was.  Only B.J. Upton and Ryan Doumit have a higher strikeout rate among players who’ve played for the Braves since the start of 2014 (minimum 100 PA).

I think this shows how shallow some announcers, writers, fans, etc. can be when it comes to an honest assessment of a player.  Because Gomes looks “gritty;” has tattoos, a shaved head, and a full beard; is big and burly; because he moves around a lot in the batters box and is twitchy and energetic, he’s praised for his play (and not just his leadership). I don’t remember Joe Simpson giving that kind of praise to a far superior player in Justin Upton.  The only obvious differences between Upton and Gomes are the way they look and they way they carry themselves.  “He plays the game the right way,” just means “he’s a mediocre-to-poor player, but we like the way he looks doing it so we are going to say he’s better than he actually is.”  This is why Simpson and others will claim that batter strikeouts are the worst things ever, in one breath, while ignoring it when it comes to Gomes.

I’m not trying to knock Gomes here.  Again, I support the Braves bringing in a coach-type figure in a season like 2015, when they are clearly building for the future while trying to prevent 2015 from become a disaster.  It’s not Gomes’ fault that some announcers, fans, and others peddle this narrative about Gomes being a good player while hypocritically criticizing batter strikeouts, and striking out is something he does and has done quite often over the course of his career.

This is not a knock against the Braves for acquiring Gomes or for trading Justin Upton.  I wholeheartedly support the Braves’ plans.  Justin Upton wasn’t going to re-sign for what would have been reasonable for the Braves to pay him.  Jonny Gomes, a cheap player that could provide guidance to young players, is the type guy to fill the roster with the next season or two.  But for Joe Simpson and others to praise Gomes’ play in ways that they did not with Justin Upton is disingenuous and insulting.

Why do I care and why should we care whether Joe Simpson and others think Jonny Gomes is a good player and deserves more praise than Justin Upton?  Joe Simpson and others are paid to be analysts.  Implying that Jonny Gomes is a better addition to the Braves than Justin Upton was or that the Braves are better off with Gomes instead of Justin Upton is simply dishonest and not something you want an analyst doing.  It insults the intelligence of the fans and it’s insulting to the players to pretend that one player is better or “more valuable” (which really means “better,” in any kind of reasonable sense of the word) when he’s not.  Joe Simpson and others have let personal preference for a certain type of player, a player that looks and carries himself a certain way, get in the way of the truth.  That’s a bad thing for an analyst, someone paid to know and explain the game, and do their best to not allow their biases to come into play.

Certain players get pegged with certain labels based on the way they look and the way they carry themselves rather than the way they actually play the game.  To call it an injustice is probably going to far but when the media promotes this incorrect labeling of players, it promotes ignorance instead of baseball intelligence.  If forced to answer under oath, no front office person or scout or manager or player would rather have Jonny Gomes over Justin Upton, not even Jonny Gomes.  Fans don’t have to know that Upton is the better player to enjoy the game, but announcers and others in the media are paid to give information.  Therefore, the media shouldn’t lie or buy into their own personal views about players over the facts.



3 Responses to “Leader, Fun to Watch Does Not Equal a Great Player”

  1. 1
    Chris O. Says:

    Sorry man, poorly written article. Learn to write with more structure and in a less stream of consciousness formate, because it sounds like rambling. I’m a full season ticket holder, so I go to about 60 games a year, and watch about another 90 on TV. I’ve not once refer or even imply jonny G. Was an upgrade over Upton. I will go on record as making a direct comparison: better URZ or not, Gomes looks like he’s playing harder then Upton did in the outfield. I have a lot of problem watching laxidasical defense, and for that reason I never cursed Uggla, but grew to hate Yunel Escobar and the Upton’s. Both of the Upton’s, while capable of upper echelon wizardry on defense, were prone to their ‘quirks’. BJ would go into a week to ten day period where it was like his head was in left field when the ball was hit to center. Justin, while generally solid, always seemed to level out to solid after a bizarrely slow start defensively in April and early May. Last year I remember a string of about a week that I actually wanted to see Gattis on Defense over JUp.

    No one is saying Jonny Gomes is a better baseball player the Justin Upton…but it’s not that all elusive (and now revealed) ‘Braves Way’. We never had the super stars. Even in their days, The Jones’s couldn’t keep up with the true rockstars of the league like ARod and Griffey. But give me a Marcus Giles or a Mark Lemeke I (dare I say, knock on wood) a Jace Peterson any day of the week over a Dan Uggla. I’m having a hell of a lot more fun this year, even on a day that we were outright beat like yesterday (I actually stayed through last pitch even knowing Cole had vested us), then last year. And Jonny Gomes is a big part of that.

  2. 2
    Brandon Says:

    What indication did he (Simpson) give that Gomes was a better player than JUp? For us to be planning for the 2017 season, wouldn’t you rather have a “gritty” veteran who is fine playing part-time and has taken the role of a “player-coach” at a cheaper cost than someone we wouldn’t be able to afford for the future? “Valuable” can mean a lot of things. How much guidance would Upton have given to the younger guys? Gomes isn’t going to produce anything close to what JUp would have or could have. But he’s a great leader, sets a good example and is doing exactly what the Braves expected. You’re comparing an MVP player on the field to an MVP in the club-house.

  3. 3
    Shaun Says:

    Chris – My point exactly. For some, they would rather watch a player who looks or carries himself a certain way. Doesn’t mean that player is a better player or that he’s going to do more to help the team win.

    I just think it’s odd for people like Joe Simpson, who gets paid to know better, to go out of his way to praise Gomes as a good player. Praise him for his leadership, etc., but don’t be disingenuous about his play.

    Brandon – Yes, I would rather have a cheap player and a player that seems to possess leadership qualities, if my team is focused on 2017. I applaud the kind of moves the Braves made. That’s not what this post was about. This post was about certain media members and some fans acting as if Gomes is a good player simply because they like the way he looks and carries himself compared to other players. It’s about judging players by the outward appearances instead of actually digging into the baseball stuff and what he does as a baseball player to help his team win.

    I think it’s easy for all of us to get caught up in the way players look and carry themselves and influence our views of how players actually play. Look at a player like Bryce Harper, for example. For MLB players he was viewed as overrated. But no front office would have viewed him as overrated, even before this season. MLB players just didn’t like the way he carried himself. They let their biases come into play.

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