With Cameron Maybin set to miss four to six weeks of action due to a left wrist injury, Detroit Tigers fans are already scrambling to fill the void. Any number of players -- Andrew Romine, Mike Aviles, Tyler Collins, and Wynton Bernard are the internal candidates -- can fill in for Maybin against left-handed pitching.
No matter who gets those plate appearances, they will be playing second fiddle to Anthony Gose in the outfield. Should we be worried, though? Many Tigers fans spent last season lamenting the trade that brought Gose to Detroit. While he got off to a hot start, Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis was off to an even hotter start, garnering some early AL Rookie of the Year hype. While Travis eventually hit the disabled list, he still hit .304/.361/.498 and was worth 2.3 WAR.
Unfortunately, Gose's hot streak did not continue. He finished the season just above replacement level, hitting .254/.321/.367 with five home runs and a 27.1 percent strikeout rate. The Tigers could have lived with those numbers -- even if Gose's 90 wRC+ was third-worst among qualified MLB center fielders -- but his defensive metrics were rather unflattering too. He was worth -12 defensive runs saved and his ultimate zone rating (UZR) wasn't much better at -10.4. Long story short, he was worth just 0.4 fWAR in 140 games.
Looking deeper, though, things weren't so bad. UZR was not enamored with his range, yet he ranked fourth among MLB center fielders with 101 "out of zone" plays made, one more than Platinum Glove winner Kevin Kiermaier. Statcast, on the other hand, was a big fan of Gose's defense, ranking him among the best defenders in baseball.
According to its data, Gose is among the most efficient center fielders in the game. Few others read the ball better off the bat, or took more consistent, direct lines to its landing point than Gose did. And by MLB's range factor stat, Gose was the fifth-best center fielder in the game this season.
Had Gose's other defensive metrics matched these evaluations, he may have been a two-win player. Baseball Prospectus rated him as a +1.5 WARP player, in large part thanks to more favorable defensive metrics.
There's potential for even more, too. Gose hit an abysmal .192/.272/.274 against left-handed pitching, but a respectable .265/.330/.383 against righties. He only had 81 plate appearances against left-handed pitching, but over half of those came in the two months after left fielder Yoenis Cespedes was traded to the New York Mets. With Rajai Davis playing more left field after the trade deadline, Gose faced more left-handed starters, causing a drop-off from his solid .713 OPS in the first half. Fatigue may have also been a factor, with Gose nearly doubling his offensive workload from the year prior.
Whether Gose stands to add any power to those numbers remains to be seen. FanGraphs' Jeff Sullivan pondered that same question last April after Gose homered off of Corey Kluber. Gose didn't homer again until nearly three months later (thanks a lot, Jeff). But parts of that article still stick out.
In the past, Gose has been a groundballer. Excluding bunts, from 2012 – 2014, Gose hit 60% grounders, which gave him one of the highest rates in baseball. He had the swing to match the groundball rate. Now, this year, excluding bunts and including spring training, Gose has hit 48% grounders. It’s still a sample of just 62, so you don’t want to go crazy.
Gose finished 2015 with a 54 percent ground ball rate, and was slightly lower than that against righties. He posted one of the higher fly ball rates of his career, and did so without the high pop-up rate he had in 2013. He pulled the ball a fair amount against righties, and hit the ball hard more often than not. Few of those went into the outfield seats -- he only homered five times last year, and just once at home -- and Gose hit more fly balls the opposite way than one would like.
Here's the thing, though. Gose is still only 25 years old. We've squawked all winter about how young Nick Castellanos is, and here's Gose, just over a year older. The magnitude of Gose's potential breakout is less than that of Castellanos, but the message remains the same: players hit their prime in their late 20s, power is always last to develop. If Gose can start to pull a few more of those fly balls, he may be able to find more gaps or even clear more fences.
This ultimately doesn't solve the "who replaces Maybin?" question. Gose can't hit lefties, though we may see him face a few southpaws to start the year because of his glove. The other 70 percent of the time? The Tigers are in better hands than many people think.