Who's better: Mike Trout, or the Detroit Tigers' new hybrid center fielder? Okay, it's Trout. But the Tigers' center field platoon of Rajai Davis and Anthony Gose isn't too shabby. The platoon, a strategy often implemented by small-market teams like the A's, has paid dividends for the high-spending Tigers this season.
Combined, Gose and Davis have a 101 wRC+. At one percent above league average, that's pretty impressive considering that Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski has always valued defense in Comerica Park's expensive center field.
But Gose is sporting a -3 wRC+ when facing lefties, and although Davis is in the midst of a career year against righthanders, the plan has always been to play Gose exclusively against righties and Davis solely against southpaws.
Take only Gose against righties and Davis versus lefties, and the Tigers' starting centerfielder is the ninth-best hitting center fielder in baseball. A perfect platoon will never happen due to relievers, but you can consider Gose-versus-righties and Davis-versus-lefties to be the Tigers' "starting centerfielder" and Gose and Davis versus same-handed pitching to be the Tigers' backup outfielder used for pinch running and defensive replacements.
In this list, everyone but Billy Burns was either a highly touted prospect or acquired for a highly touted prospect. (And with how many big-name players Billy Beane has traded away, it was inevitable that some unknown player was going to emerge with a roster full of no-name players.)
The claim that Gose and Davis combine to form an above-average center fielder does take a few leaps that we must consider, however.
First, their fWAR totals are unimpressive. Davis's 1.2 is right behind former Tiger Cameron Maybin, and Gose's 0.5 is right behind former Tiger Austin Jackson. Both are obviously only part-time players, but together 1.7 fWAR makes them equal to Ben Revere.
FanGraphs gives both negative scores on defense, which doesn't pass the eye test. Advanced defensive statistics can take over a year to stabilize, so there is some wiggle room here for scouts to trump small sample sizes.
Gose has 70-grade speed and hit 95 mph on the radar guns as a pitcher in high school, so he'd practically have to take routes where he runs in circles to be a negative defender.
Davis, who has more than enough major league innings under his belt to trust advanced defensive metrics, has strangely been a negative defender in the corners but a slightly positive defender in college over the course of his career. Scouts have billed Davis as having a poor arm, but with his speed he's still a passable defender -- much better than players like Delmon Young or Brennan Boesch.
For the third facet of the game -- baserunning -- FanGraphs has both Gose and Davis as roughly average among center fielders, even though both players' greatest strength may be their speed. FanGraphs may be accurately taking more factors into account than just steals, but Gose and Davis have done well in that regard with 13 and 14 steals, respectively.
Among all players with at least as much playing time as Davis, Davis has the fourth-highest steal rate (and Gose 13th).
|Player||SB per 196 PA|
Additionally, both players' fWAR totals may be depreciated due to Victor Martinez's extended disabled list stint. When Ausmus would DH J.D. Martinez and play both Gose and Davis together, one of the two may have been accumulating negative fWAR.
Davis has been surprisingly competent against righties, but Gose has been an automatic out against lefties. If Gose would have never seen an at-bat against a lefty, he would certainly have a higher fWAR.
While both players have their flaws (namely: hitting same-handed pitching), together they've been a plus-hitter, have probably been a good defender, and have had a positive contributions on the basepaths (four baserunning runs above average, per FanGraphs, combined). This type of player usually carries a well-known last name like Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Lorenzo Cain, and (recently) Joc Pederson. Gosavis may not have the same ring to it, but he too is above average in all three facets of the game.
With Miguel Cabrera's injury, Justin Verlander's struggles, and the whole team's slide dominating recent headlines, not much attention has been paid to the platoon in center. That's OK, because the fact that Gose and Davis haven't been the center of attention shows that they've been doing a fine job.