A look at the major league leaders in batting average on balls in play will bring an odd conglomerate. There are established sluggers like Brandon Belt, Prince Fielder, and Paul Goldschmidt. There are young hotshots packing the lumber like Jorge Soler, Avisail Garcia, and Kris Bryant. Then there are the speedy slap hitters like Dee Gordon, D.J. LaMahieu, and a familiar name: Anthony Gose.
The former Blue Jay has been raking since being traded from Toronto to Detroit. Gose got off to a hot start this season, and has a 114 wRC+. He has accrued 0.9 wins above replacement, and is on pace for nearly 3.0 fWAR this season. This easily exceeds all expectations held for him during the offseason. What has he done right?
Well, the obvious thing is that Gose has a .417 BABIP. That's obscene, and far lower than the .463 BABIP he held roughly one week ago. Over 40 percent of the balls Gose has put in play have resulted in him reaching base safely. It would be easy to call this unsustainable and end the discussion there, but maybe Gose has some factors aiding him in his monster beginning to 2015.
One should realize that the Tigers as a team are prone to high BABIP figures. Whether it be the effect of having guys like Gose, Jose Iglesias, and Miguel Cabrera hitting for them, or whether it's the product of Comerica Park having features that play well for the base hit, Detroit leads all of baseball with a .326 BABIP (the Cardinals are second at .319). Considering the major league average is .296, that's a large gulf. It seems reasonable to conclude that Gose is in an environment where he's going to be able to thrive on balls in play, much like Austin Jackson did in years previous.
Another thing Gose has managed to do is change the outcomes of his at-bats. Whereas last year the center fielder hit ground balls in 61.7 percent of his at-bats, this year he's hitting ground balls 55 percent of the time. Ground balls are generally not good things to hit, so this bodes well. Conversely, Gose has increased his line drive and fly ball rates slightly. Fly balls generally do not lead to high BABIPs, but they do lead to better power numbers, which may explain the spike in power Gose has seen so far. Perhaps this shows growth as a hitter on the part of Gose, or perhaps it is the variance that occurs when you select a random sample of 172 plate appearances over someone's career.
To be clear, Anthony Gose will not finish with a BABIP of .417. He likely won't even finish close to that. However, with an approach more suited to his talents, and the friendly confines of Comerica to hit into, a BABIP around .360 seems possible, which would prove a tremendous asset to the team now and in years to come.