When the Tigers traded Austin Jackson at the 2014 trade deadline to acquire David Price, it left a big hole in center field. The Tigers options were Rajai Davis, who had spent more time in left field than center, and long-time career minor leaguer Ezequiel Carrera. The two combined for 0.3 WAR in the second half, or less than half of the 0.7 WAR Austin Jackson put up in his final 14 games in a Tigers uniform.
Davis was under contract for the 2015 season, but with his poor numbers against right-handed pitching, he would need a platoon partner. The Tigers solved this problem by acquiring Anthony Gose from the Toronto Blue Jays last December. While this plan seemed to work for the first half of 2015, both players have been struggling lately, so much so that new general manager Al Avila should think about going in a different direction for 2016.
For the first half of the season, the Davis/Gose platoon was working pretty well. Davis batted .277/.335/.436 with a 111 wRC+ while Gose hit .282/.325/.388 with a 96 wRC+. The Tigers accumulated 1.8 fWAR in the center field position in the first half, which ranked ninth in the American League. Not great, but for just over $5 million, not bad either. They were getting by with middle-of-the-road production among American League teams, which is sometimes all you need when you are stronger elsewhere.
However, in the second half, Davis and Gose have combined to be the worst center field tandem in the American League. They have been worth -0.7 fWAR while hitting .174/.235/.308. Only the Toronto Blue Jays have a worst wRC+ at that position (36) compared to the Tigers' 46 wRC+.
After the Tigers traded Yoenis Cespedes, Davis has seen more playing time in left field, breaking up the center field platoon and exposing Gose's weakness to left-handed pitching. It was a good experiment to see if Gose could handle the everyday job in center field, especially with free agency pending for Davis. But it looks like Gose can't hold his weight offensively, at least not yet. Gose desperately needs a right-handed platoon partner. Just look at these splits.
Gose's drop in production was rather predictable, unfortunately. He had an unsustainable .417 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) on June 2. Since then, his BABIP has regressed to .291 and so have his numbers, hitting .211/.275/.309 since then. There is definitely some luck involved here. While speedsters usually can sustain a high BABIP, .400 is generally way too high while .290 seems a bit low. Gose has yet to use his speed to his full advantage, other than the occasional bunt base hit.
As far as defense is concerned, it looks like Anthony Gose passes the eye test, but the stats say otherwise. According to both defensive runs saved (DRS) and ultimate zone rating (UZR), Gose has cost the Tigers eight runs defensively. Only Adam Eaton and Angel Pagan have a worse UZR rating than Gose this season. Range is the biggest negative on Gose from this stat, as no center fielder has a lower range rating than Gose's -8.5 on UZR. Range is also a negative on the DRS calculation for Gose, although not has harshly (-5 rPM). According to revised zone rating (RZR), Gose only converts about 90 percent of his balls in play into outs (186 out of 207), which ranks in the lower third of the league.
My proposition is to make Anthony Gose the new Rajai Davis. Davis' contract is up at the end of the season and is making $5 million -- that's $5 million added to the budget to get a new center fielder. While Davis was providing above average production in the first half, he is only hitting .167/.197/.333 in the second half. Davis is also on the downside of his career and is going to be 35 years old next season.
Gose is younger, will still make close to the major league minimum in 2016, and has more potential. By getting a brand new center fielder, the Tigers' manager can pick his spots in using Gose, as a pinch runner or hitter, batting only against right-handed pitching. He could also move to left field to maximize his defense potential, with his strong arm being his biggest defensive asset.
The trouble is, there won't be many center fielders available this offseason.
Aside from Fowler, there aren't many impressive free agent center fielders, which means going the trade route could be the Tigers' best option. It's not always easy identifying players on the trade market, but the Tigers were eyeing Jackie Bradley Jr. last offseason. Regardless of what Al Avila does, he has his work cut out for him when deciding how to reboot the centerfield position.