Spring training is the one time during the year where baseball players and managers can experiment without hurting their team's record. For a Tigers team that ran the bases so poorly last season, for instance, it makes sense to have players push the pace on the bases. Games of no consequence allow a player to test his judgement and speed on the basepaths.
For center fielder Anthony Gose, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus has another mandate: to bunt in every single game until the season starts.
In 2015, Gose was successful in reaching base on eight of 20 bunt attempts, a healthy .400 average. However, that only takes into account attempts where he actually got the bunt down successfully. Still, his speed and groundball tendencies balanced against his modest offensive numbers make him one of those rare players who can and should try to drop a bunt down for a hit under the right conditions.
So, while the Tigers' coaching staff works to change his defensive positioning in the outfield, Ausmus also has bunting in mind as a place where Gose needs to improve. "I want him to pick a spot and bunt for a hit," Ausmus told reporters. "I don't care if the other team knows it. It's more about him getting a feel for it."
Fundamentally, this seems like a sound idea. Developing his bunting ability adds an extra element to a limited offensive profile. Working on it in spring training makes sense. Improving his skill level with it could help him get on base against teams with slow or inattentive defenders at the corners and on the mound.
The problem is, a lot of those opportunities are contradicted by the player Gose is. As a fast baserunner, teams are already inclined to pull their infielders in on him to a degree. Playing your third baseman well behind the bag, as you might against Miguel Cabrera, makes no sense against a player with Gose's speed. And Gose isn't likely to shock anyone when he squares up to bunt.
He isn't even a player teams should shift against, giving him an opportunity to push bunts down the third base line. There's a lot of green on the left side of the infield in the chart below, telling us that Gose is already doing a solid job of spraying his ground balls around the infield.
In short, Gose's speed makes him a viable bunter, but everything else in his profile suggests that particular opportunities to do so will be relatively few and far between. So why the particular emphasis on it, to the point of using a substantial portion of his spring training at-bats to practice?
"With his speed, it can be a weapon," Ausmus said. "Especially against left-handed pitchers."
Over his three seasons in the majors, Gose is a .202/.256/.269 hitter against left-handed pitching. The correct answer to the question "What should Anthony Gose do against left-handed pitchers?" is to chew gum on the bench while someone else hits. There's a clear and obvious reason why he is regarded as a platoon player. Ausmus should do everything in his power to keep Gose away from left-handed pitchers during the regular season. Should the Tigers' manager choose to start Gose against a lefty, he's going to rightly be lit up for it.
There will be situations during the season when keeping Gose in the game for defensive purposes outweighs the benefit of using a right-handed pinch hitter. In those circumstances, having Gose drop down a bunt may be a perfectly reasonable option. But overall, there is a reason why the Tigers had Rajai Davis last season, and acquired Cameron Maybin to platoon in centerfield this year. And no amount of bunting practice is going to change that.