Rajai Davis (.336) and Anthony Gose (.328) have similar on-base percentages with the Tigers but how they got there are radically different. Davis and Gose have primarily platooned in center field and the leadoff position with Davis playing against left-handed pitching (.294/.368/.559) and Gose against right-handed pitching (.307/.342/.425). Although, with the injury to Victor Martinez, both have been getting a lot of playing time together recently.
So far this season, Rajai Davis has a 9.2 percent walk rate, which is much higher than last year’s 4.5 percent. In fact, it hasn't been this high since his rookie year in 2007. Versus left-handed pitching, Davis has walked six times in 57 plate appearances (10.5 percent), only one less than all of last year against lefties in 103 fewer plate appearances (4.5 percent). He has only surpassed 10 percent against lefties once before, in 2007 (11.6 percent). Against right-handed pitching, Davis is not as good but is still better than in previous years. Currently it is at 8.5 percent, up four percentage points from a year ago at 4.5 percent.
A big reason for Davis' improved walk rate is his increased patience at the plate. He swings at pitches out of the strike zone only at 27.4 percent of the time, down from 32.9 percent from last year. This is the second-lowest rate of his career, higher than a 23.2 percent rate in 2007. Also, Davis’ contact rate (91.2 percent) is up by almost 10 percentage points from his career (81.6 percent).
The biggest change has been his out-of-zone contact rate, which currently sits at 80.8 percent, up from a career average of 64.4 percent, an increase of over 15 percentage points. This explains why his strikeout rate is only 15.6 percent, one of the lowest rates he has had since 2010, when it was at 13.9 percent. If these trends continue, it should allow Davis to continue to batting close to his current line of .264/.336/.416, for a 110 wRC+ that is his highest since 2009.
Anthony Gose, on the other hand, has walked 5.4 percent of the time compared to a 26.1 strikeout rate. Only James McCann (3.6 percent) and Yoenis Cespedes (5.1 percent) of the current Tigers have a lower walk rate and only J.D. Martinez (28.6 percent) and Alex Avila (28.4 percent) have a higher strikeout rate. Much has been written about Gose's high batting average on balls in play (currently at .395) which has already regressed and has caused his numbers to drop. It could be argued that .395 is still too high and his numbers will continue to regress.
Gose is demonstrating some positive trends, but still a long ways away from Davis territory. Gose's contact rate is up about four percentage points from last year (to 76.2 percent) and his out-of zone contact rate is up to 63.8 percent from 46.4 percent last year. However, his out-of-zone swing rate is up to 31.4 percent from 28.3 percent last year, which partly explains his drop in walks (a 9.1 percent rate in 2014). Gose had high walk rates in Triple-A, so the hope is there that he can get back to the nine percent territory from last year.
So far, the platoon of Davis and Gose has worked out really well for Detroit, with Davis being slightly more productive in terms of getting on base. Looking deeper into the stats, Davis is much more likely to continue his trend while Gose will have to work a little bit harder to maintain his numbers.