Center fielder Anthony Gose was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays last offseason mainly on the promise of his glove. The Tigers were hoping that he would show modest development at the plate while providing stellar defense upon the vast lawns of Comerica Park.
Unfortunately, the offensive development will have to wait until next year. After a hot and ultimately unsustainable start, Gose faded at the plate for months. Even more vexing was that the most commonly used advanced defensive metrics rated Gose as decidedly below average in center field, his supposed strength. Is Anthony Gose really a mediocre defender?
Gose played 1,120 innings in centerfield for the Tigers this season. Out of 360 chances, he recorded 352 put-outs on the year, ranking fifth in all MLB. He was also fifth in fielding percentage at .989 among all qualified center fielders. He made four errors, two of which were the fault of his powerful, but wildly inaccurate arm. He registered four assists as well.
However, these aren't considered the most useful of numbers. The advanced metrics most often cited now are defensive runs saved (DRS) and ultimate zone rating (UZR). Both stats attempt to go beyond the balls a fielder made a play on, by looking at the total number of balls hit to their zone on the field. In doing so, they can assess not just how well a fielder played the balls he got to, but how well he actually covered his assigned territory. Plenty of fielders would look great according to errors or fielding percentage. A statue that caught everything within reach would look good via these traditional assessments.
The additional question the advanced metrics have attempted to answer is, who is getting to the most balls hit to a given positional zone on the field? And by these measures, Gose was well below average last season.
I realize that's a big old rack of numbers there. We need only be concerned with DRS, by which the players are ranked on this chart, and UZR. The rest are simply the component parts that makes up UZR, and I add them mainly to make clear that it's in range factor (RngR) that Gose really takes a beating. A -12 DRS doesn't love him either. For years now, UZR and DRS have been considered the most accurate measures of a player's defensive prowess. And neither thought Anthony Gose was even close to average in 2015.
I think we can all agree that playing center field in Comerica Park is an entirely different beast than handling that position in Toronto's Rogers Centre. Gose came from a park with a round wall planted 400 feet from home plate at its farthest point, where the players are shielded from any inclement weather. In Detroit, he was thrust into a cavernous center field environment extending 420 feet from the plate with a deep power alley in right-center, where the temperature, sun, wind, and precipitation (particularly in April and May) wreak havoc with an outfielders' ability to run down fly balls. These are very different animals. The transition alone may account for some of Gose poor range scores.
It bears noting that over three years in Toronto, playing mainly centerfield, Gose posted a combined +5.0 DRS, including modest stints in both corner outfield positions. Based on Inside Edge's fielding numbers, we know that Gose was perfect on all plays judged likely to be made, or simply routine. He wasn't blowing easy plays out there. His negative scores seem purely based on subpar range. Maybe he lost a bit of foot speed this season, but whether that's simply the result of moving from dry artificial turf to grass, and occasionally wet grass at that, we can't say. Perhaps Gose simply takes poor routes out there, failing to read the ball off the bat well.
There's a new player in the game, and its name is Statcast. Introduced just this season, Statcast is MLB's proprietary system for compiling all physical data, from route running, to the spin rate of every pitches, and everything in between. According to its data, Gose is among the most efficient center fielders in the game. Few others read the ball better off the bat, or took more consistent, direct lines to its landing point than Gose did. And by MLB's range factor stat, Gose was the fifth-best center fielder in the game this season.
What does this all mean? In my opinion, it means that there's a good chance that the "eye test" statistics may be missing something. Perhaps Gose needs work on his initial positioning, or the coaching staff does. Its also possible that Gose takes great routes, but just isn't that fast, but it bears noting that the other five names on the Statcast graphic are all well loved by DRS and UZR and considered among the best in the game. Is Gose really slower than Adam Jones, for example?
While a few are perhaps a tick faster than Gose, the difference is unlikely to be substantial. Meanwhile, Kiermaier and Pillar play indoors much of the time, and Trout plays his home games in the pleasant weather of Southern California. Cain and Jones? Well, they're really good. And of course, none of them (except Cain) plays their home games covering a centerfield the size of Comerica Park's. Would the eye test like Gose better if there were more opportunities for plays at the wall? The occasional robbery of a potential home run ball? We all know how fallible official scorers are where errors are concerned. Is it possible that Gose is getting little credit for tough plays simply by making them appear easier than they really were?
The play above was the highest rated play for route efficiency in baseball this season. If Gose played regularly in a park where a play that looks like that one does was possible, would DRS like him more? Are there observers impartial enough to give the same credit on a 405-foot fly ball caught in front of the warning track at Comerica as they are to a 405-foot fly ball robbed from going over the fence in other ballparks?
Gose needs to hit both left- and right-handed pitching if he's going to be a full-time center fielder. Right now, he needs a platoon. But as poorly as he's rated on defensive metrics -- which is wildly bizarre -- he dazzled with the glove and has shown signs of adjusting to pitching all around. But compared to what he was touted to be, the 2015 season has been somewhat of a disappointment. One thing that stood out with Gose was his baserunning -- or lack of ability to run the bases well. For someone with so much speed, he squandered so many opportunities and that led to a lot of the Tigers' baserunning issues overall.
Expectations for 2016
Perhaps Anthony Gose simply isn't the elite defender some thought we were getting. Perhaps he just had a down year adjusting to his new stomping grounds. Or, he may come out next year and flip these numbers on their head. Either way, I think definitive answers and predictions clearly still elude us. Until all the Statcast data is available to be analyzed, which may never happen, we may simply have to believe what knowledgeable observers have said all along. Gose may not be the best centerfielder in the game, but the odds are good that he isn't too far from it.