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2017 Tigers player preview: Can Anthony Gose make it back to the major leagues?

No other MLB team signed him, but the Tigers offered him a shot at Toledo. Does Gose have anything to contribute?

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Detroit Tigers Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball is a strange game. Take Jose Bautista, for example. He never had an OPS above .757 until his age 29 season. Since then, he has mashed 249 home runs to the tune of a .929 OPS (with a sparkling .387 on-base percentage because the guy can take a walk), and six All-Star appearances. I mean, who the heck saw that coming? Bautista had some decent years in the minors, but not anything to stop the presses about — and absolutely nothing to suggest he would ever hit 54 home runs in a season in the majors.

This brings us to Anthony Gose, another up-and-down player who is still relatively young in the grand scheme of things, turning 27 in August. His defense has been anywhere from acceptable to abysmal, as rated by both Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs. While he does take bizarre routes to fly balls, he does have some raw speed to work with, which is nice.

When I read that Gose had been assigned to Triple-A Toledo, I had a range of thoughts including, but not limited to:

  • Wait, didn’t the Tigers already sign a guy to (probably) be their regular center fielder? Mickey Mouse, I think.
  • I’d have bet money that Gose was pretty much at the end of the baseball line, after all that went down last season.
  • Did I leave the iron on?

The main crack against Gose is his work at the plate, or lack thereof. It has been noted in the past that he basically does his own thing, in terms of hitting — even going so far as to hire his own private hitting coach. This has irked quite a few fans, and perhaps some of the Tigers brass, because, well, nobody’s going to doing a double-take and thinking that’s either Ichiro Suzuki or Babe Ruth up there at the plate.

In 2015, the plan at the start of the season was to have Gose and Rajai Davis platoon in center; Gose would start against righties, and Davis against lefties. That season, Davis’ OPS against lefthanders was .758 (in 151 plate appearances) and against righthanders was .738 (219 PA). His defense in center was actually above average, so... uh... why did we get rid of Rajai again?

Anyway, Gose’s 2016 started badly and ended even worse for him. He was knocked down two levels to Double-A Erie after a dugout altercation in Triple-A with manager Lloyd McClendon. His strikeouts, always high, were even more of a problem, at all levels.

All of this points towards Gose not exactly being the answer in center. It looks like the 29 other teams in the major leagues agree, as Gose cleared waivers in January. But I couldn’t help wondering if there might be something lurking under the surface — or, at the very least, an explanation for what the heck is going on.

The first thing I examined was Gose’s OPS against both righties and lefties, and overall. Those are in the graph below, with the number of plate appearances for each data point noted.

Figure 1: Gose’s OPS year-by-year, with the number of plate appearances by each point.

The 2015 season is the only one where Gose spent anywhere close to a full year in the major leagues. Most of his plate appearances did come against righties, and yes, he was pretty bad against lefties, as has been the case over his entire career.

At the risk of incurring assorted wrath because of Small Sample Size, his OPS in 2016 really wasn’t that bad. The nearly-30 percent of his plate appearances that came against lefties certainly didn’t do him any favours, but against righties he fared even better than he did in 2015. So, as much as we wanted to run him out of town on a rail, perhaps if he was automatically yanked out of a game if a lefty came in, he would have had a shot at being productive. Still, those strikeouts, though. Yikes.

In perusing his other stats, something jumped out at me as strange: his month-by-month OPS totals, again with total plate appearances by the dots. These are for his major-league career in total, between his debut in 2012 and the end of the 2016 season.

Figure 2: Gose’s total OPS, month by month, overall for his MLB career.

Van Halen may have sung about summer nights and their radio, but June through August have not been kind months for Gose. I don’t doubt that some of the September/October stats may have come against minor-league callups, but... yeah, this one is kind of a head-scratcher.

I admit that this is a crude analysis, and I’m not sure what to make of it. I do know that Gose is treading on some organizational thin ice at the moment, and his career appears perilously close to a conclusion if he doesn’t change something, fast. In a quote from a Detroit News article, general manager Al Avila seemed to think that Gose is trying to be a power hitter, and that might be the cause of a great deal of those strikeouts. Indeed, Gose has never been much of a power hitter, save for his 2011 season at Double-A New Hampshire in which he hit 16 home runs. But in the five years since, he has never exceeded seven home runs. So, does he still fancy himself a power hitter after one apparently fluky season all those years ago? You would have thought he would have received the message from the cosmos already: “Mark Trumbo, you ain’t.”

Anthony Gose is still a relatively young player, and he has been below his league’s average age everywhere he has been except at Erie this year after his second demotion. So, perhaps there’s still hope for a breakout season, if something drastic happens. Stranger things have occurred.