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The Gomes cheering section

Marc Topkin had a great article in the St. Pete Times today about Jonny Gomes and his mother.

Gomes, 24, figured he had 50 fans in the stands, who cheered wildly during batting practice and pregame introductions. But no matter how many buddies, teammates and coaches showed up, the most special was his mother.

Michelle Gillespie has seen her son play in the big leagues exactly once, when he flew her to New York after he was unexpectedly called up near the end of 2003 and she saw his second game.

She didn't see him like this, batting in the middle of the Rays lineup, ranking among the rookie leaders with 12 home runs and getting credit for bringing a toughness and attitude to the clubhouse that is a big part of their second-half turnaround.

I have my doubts about his toughness and attitude being a big part of the Rays turnaround, I think his .286/.362/.529 performance since the All-Star Break is much more important, but that's great to hear. Stuff like that keeps the manager writing your name in the lineup every day even if you struggle.

First base alternatives

Chris Kahrl of Baseball Prospectus weighed in (subscribers only) recently on the Rays continued reliance on Travis Lee.

Regardless, the fascination with Lee defies rational defense. I'd rather take a look at something like a Munson-Josh Phelps or Earl Snyder platoon or job-sharing arrangement. Munson has pop and patience, and at Durham, Snyder's bopping to the tune of .266/.324/.528. Phelps is slugging .571.

Munson I have no argument against, recent hot streak for Lee or not it's Munson that deserves the starting job right now. Lee is gone after this season, Munson may not have a future as a long-term starter with the Rays but he could be a good bench player and may be able to adequately hold first base until Wes Bankston arrives. He came up as a third baseman, albeit a crappy one, so he can probably handle the defensive demands of first base well enough.

Where I disagree is Kahrl's suggestion of platoon partners. For one thing, Munson may or may not need to be platooned. He hasn't shown massive splits in his time in the majors, especially in 2004. From '02-'04 he only got 158 at-bats against left-handed pitching, not nearly enough to draw a significant conclusion from. Why not see if he can play every day? Eduardo Perez is still around anyway if he needs a day off against a particularly tough right-hander.

The other problem is the partners she suggests. After two years of mashing only lefties, Josh Phelps suddenly reversed that and was horrible against them with the Rays. Again, we're looking at small sample size issues, but it is worth considering. Mainly it's just another data point in how Phelps has no real plan about what he's doing at the plate, just swinging his bat at anything and hoping he hits it hard. I saw most of his plate appearances with the Rays and it was hard to find anything encouraging in how he looked up there. Kahrl points out that he's slugging .571 (down to .550 now) but is that any reason to get excited? A quick comparison of Phelps with the Rays and Phelps with the Bulls:

Rays 158 12 48 .071 .25 .266 .328 .424
Bulls 140 8 33 .054 .24 .257 .311 .550

There's nothing there to give us any hope that Phelps will hit better with the Rays if he comes up again. The only improvement (and his walk rate has decreased slightly) is in his power, his IsoP went up 126 points. Since he's playing in a park that greatly favor right-handed power hitters there's no reason to think that he'll be any different if he comes back to the Rays. Sure, he wasn't terrible before but it wasn't the kind of production you want out of 1B or DH and he has no defensive value. I'd rather give Munson the full time job and see what he can do; not a lot of hope of him turning his career around but I'd feel better about giving him the chance than Phelps.

The other name mentioned was Earl Snyder, current owner of a .263/.322/.518 line at Durham. He's another right-handed power guy playing in a park tailor made for him and he still isn't posting a BA and OBP that could be considered anything more than mediocre. Sure, maybe if he only faced left-handed pitching he'd be good enough but I wouldn't bet on it. Put him up against major league pitching and have him play in parks that don't strongly favor him and he won't look nearly so good.

Based on his recent competence with the bat you could make a case for Lee staying as long as he continues to hit and I'd be fine with that. If you want another option though then the only one I can really see (besides the obvious one of shifting Huff to 1B full-time) is to bring Eric Munson back and give him a shot. The other Triple-A options aren't going to get the job done.