Historically, getting Major League Baseball to embrace new ideas and philosophies has been akin to getting your uncle to tuck in his shirt at Christmas dinner. Players, executives, and owners alike have been reticent to make sweeping changes for over 100 years. In fact, the statistical revolution of the past 15-20 years is the only example of MLB taking a vested interest in radical change of any sort in its lengthy history.
Not everyone has been converted, though. Tigers center fielder Anthony Gose made waves late last week when he told reporters that he did not believe in defensive metrics.
"I think the whole analytics thing is a big scam," Gose said to the media. "I feel I am one of the best center fielders in the game, and I couldn’t care less what some analytics say, some guy putting numbers into a computer. Things are a lot different when you are out there playing as opposed to sitting down behind a computer."
These statements made headlines, but were laughed off by most fans. That is, until the second inning of Sunday's game against the Miami Marlins. Playing deeper in the outfield than usual, Gose was flustered when a soft line drive fell into shallow center field for a single. Tigers radio announcers Dan Dickerson and Jim Price discussed Gose's body language at length throughout the rest of the inning.
When it comes to defensive metrics, Gose has an ax to grind. Both ultimate zone rating (UZR) and defensive runs saved (DRS) were down on Gose's play in 2015, rating him at -10.4 and -12 runs, respectively, in 1120 innings played. Both metrics rate Gose as a negative defender for his entire career as well. Gose graded highly on Statcast's new route efficiency metric, but that doesn't tell the whole story.
Later in the inning, Dickerson pointed out why Gose is being instructed to play deeper.
Playing deeper in the outfield isn't just a sabermetric principle, it's common sense. A deeper position may result in a few more singles than a hyper-competitive athlete like Gose may like, but it helps prevent extra base hits, especially those hit into Comerica Park's cavernous gaps.
Gose was particularly susceptible to deep fly balls in 2015. UZR's range component rated Gose 10.6 runs below league average, and his .906 revised zone rating (RZR) was sixth-worst among qualified MLB center fielders. Even a quick look at his fielding heat map shows plenty of missed plays, although this doesn't control for how poorly his pitching staff worked in front of him.
Now, let's compare Gose to some of his peers. While the names in the GIF below -- Kevin Kiermaier, Mike Trout, and others -- seem like lofty company, these are the six center fielders (Gose included) who Statcast determined were the most efficient ball hawks in the American League. There is plenty of red in Gose's heat map, but particularly behind him, where hits normally go for extra bases.
Ultimately, it's okay if Gose is frustrated right now. The Tigers' new front office is combing through more statistical data than ever before, and that is getting filtered into scouting reports for the coaching staff, and in-game adjustments for the players. Gose doesn't necessarily need to understand why the numbers suggest playing deeper, he just needs to be comfortable executing this new style. Time will tell if the adjustment is paying off.