We hoped, begged, and pleaded for a platoon of Anthony Gose and Rajai Davis in center field. With the trade of Rick Porcello for Yoenis Cespedes, our entreaty has been answered. At least, until Cespedes or J.D. Martinez need a day off. Or Rajai Davis abuses left-handed pitching so much that Brad Ausmus just cannot resist giving him more playing time.
So just how good is our hybrid center fielder?
Anthony Gose has a pronounced platoon split in his 202 major league games, though he only has 133 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers. He is a .241/.316/.350 hitter against right-handed pitchers. This is consistent with his 2013 minor league splits. His Steamer projection for 2015 is .244/.309/.352, but this does not assume a strict platoon. He is only 24 years old, so Steamer must be expecting some improvement. Between favorable matchups and age-related improvement, we can assume he takes a small step forward to .250/.330/.370. With tremendous range in the center field, that would be reminiscent of Austin Jackson.
Rajai Davis impressed by hitting .282/.320/.401 line in 2014, for which we are thankful but not greedy enough to expect a repeat. His career rate against southpaws is .304/.358/.446. He blew this away in 2014, but his recent 34th birthday reminds us to expect some decline. His Steamer projection is .265/.311/.377, in line with his career rates but assuming nearly full playing time. We can expect .295/.350/.430 if his at bats are only against left-handers, and he has a small decline from his career norms.
The Tigers had 6,202 plate appearances in 2014, and 1,680 or 27.1 percent were against left-handers. In a perfect world where Gose bats only against lefties and Davis against righties, we take roughly 73 percent of Gose's numbers and 27 percent of Davis'. This results in a .262/.335/.386 line from the center field position.
Last year, Desmond Jennings of the Rays hit .244/.319/.378, good for a 105 wRC+ and 3.3 fWAR with above average defense. Jacoby Ellsbury hit .271/.328/.419, good for a 107 wRC+ and 3.6 fWAR with near-average defense. Our composite center fielder, Tony Davis*, should reach base a little more often, have power more like Jennings, and play better defense than either. If everything breaks right, he could be pushing 4.0 fWAR and exceed the value of either J.D. Martinez or Yoenis Cespedes.
While the individual performance assumptions above are not overly optimistic, the usage is. A strict platoon will not happen for a variety of reasons, including stunting Gose's growth. We can still reasonably expect .250/.325/.375, and 3.0 fWAR. Tony Davis (or Rajai Gose) will be an above-average center-fielder; better than Austin Jackson in 2014, and similar to Jackson in 2011. Having the platoon partner on the bench, available to pinch run and steal a base in a key late-inning situation, could return even more value.
Some amount of youth and creative solutions like this platoon are necessary with the payroll commitments to Verlander, Cabrera, V-Mart, Kinsler, Sanchez, Price, and Nathan. Overall this improves the position compared to last year's 3.0 fWAR, and for less than $6 million total.
*Note the real Tony Davis pitched in Double-A for Toronto last year. He has no discernible platoon split, and walks all batters with abandon.