How much is Jonny Gomes worth?

A lot of the talk about the Hernandez signing was about whether the money spent on Hernandez would affect our ability to sign Jonny Gomes.  I thought it'd be worth it to try to estimate how much Jonny Gomes should actually be paid in 2010.

Gomes will be effectively in his second year of arbitration eligibility in 2010.  He's at 4+ years of service, despite having his first significant amount of playing time in 2005: too much time in the minors.  This impacts his earning potential, as players do not make as much in arbitration hearings as they do on the open free agent market.  The general guideline is that they make 40% of free agent salary in their first year of arbitration, 60% in their second year, and 80% in their third year of arbitration, though some work has shown that these values actually underestimate actual totals because arbitration salaries haven't inflated as rapidly as free agent salaries.  But we'll go with 60% for Jonny.

Hitting-wise, Jonny is above-average.  CHONE's R150 is +4 RAA for him.  Converted to wins per full season puts him at +0.5 WAA.  CHONE's slightly more optimistic than ZiPS, but let's run with CHONE for now.

Gomes's problem is his fielding.  Jeff Zimmerman's UZR projections have him at -3 runs in the corner outfield positions combined.  However, he really only has about 1.5 seasons worth of playing time in the outfield to draw from (192 games started), which means sample size is an issue and thus we're seeing Gomes regressed a bit toward the mean.  Furthermore, Zimmerman's data are based on total UZR data in each season, not UZR/150, which results in several fairly "average" low-inning stints entering into the calculations and pulling the numbers back toward zero.  I'm just not sure that I trust that projection.  So let's try something else.

His career UZR/150 in the corner outfield is -22 runs.  Yikes.  But again, it's based on a relatively small sample for this kind of stat, so we probably need to regress roughly 50% toward the mean.  As an alternative, the Fan Scouting Report has him at 2.4 out of 5.0, which is well below the average of RFs of 3.2.  If I'm doing this right (and I think I am), based on standard deviations of the Fans data and UZR data, you can equate 1 unit of FSR to ~17 runs, which would put Gomes at -14 runs below average in RF per full season (-1.6 wins).  That seems in keeping with his all-hit-no-field reputation, so I'm going to go with that estimate.  Nevertheless, I can see arguments for everything from -0.5 wins to -2 wins.  It's a big source of uncertainty, and how you evaluate his overall value depends a great deal on how you evaluate his fielding.

Finally, Gomes is playing corner outfield positions, which have a 0.75 win/season penalty to reflect the poor fielding found at that position (it's easier to be an average-fielding left fielder than an average-fielding center fielder).  Replacement is +2.25 wins per season.  

So, all of that combined, per season, puts Gomes at 0.5 - 1.6 - 0.75 + 2.25 = 0.4 WAR player per full season.  

Ouch.  Fielding just kills his value.

The question, then, is playing time.  CHONE projects him at 54% playing time, which isn't an unreasonable guess if you assume he'd platoon with Dickerson in left.  On the other hand, if he starts all year, he might push toward 85% playing time.  Here are estimated WAR totals, free agent dollar values, and 2nd-year arbitration dollar values for each of those two playing time estimates:

Playing Time WAR FA $ Arb $
54% 0.2 $1.0M $0.6M
85% 0.3 $1.5M $0.9M

If those seem like surprisingly low totals, remember a) he's not getting paid at free agent rates yet, and b) fielding is killing his value.  He was worth 0.6 WAR according to fangraphs last season...but 2009 was his first positive WAR season since his "breakout" 2005 campaign.

Also, in terms of the salaries, keep in mind that these are estimated fair market values for him.  The market, and probably especially the arbitration market, hasn't completely corrected for bad fielding players yet.  Arbitration debates, as I understand them, are still largely settled with AVG/HR/RBI.  So it may be that he'd get more than that in arbitration--perhaps at least the $1.3M he made in 2008.  Nevertheless, I think this is a pretty good estimate of what he should be paid in 2010.

Finally, I want to emphasize that this estimate is hugely contingent on how you evaluate his fielding.  Go with the Zimmerman UZR projections and you add a full win (~$4 M) to his FA salary.  Go with his straight-up career corner outfield UZR/150, and he's a replacement player.  What do you folks think?

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