Mensching: Tigers’ Gose-Davis platoon in need of remedy

Kurt Mensching
Special to The Detroit News

The sight of Anthony Gose jogging in center field with the ball with just two outs Saturday in Toronto while a Blue Jays runner scored from second base seemed like a metaphor, really.

The Tigers’ center-field platoon has turned out to be disappointing compared to expectations.

Last November the Tigers sent infield prospect Devon Travis to Toronto for Gose. The thought process there was not wrong. The left-handed batting Gose played solid defense, ran well and could share the duties of the position with right-handed batter Rajai Davis.

Davis’ defense was not viewed as strong — his routes to the ball varied from “interesting” to Delmon Young — but he, too, could be expected to be a strong baserunner. It seemed like a promising idea.

It’s debatable whether a single of those expectations actually turned out to be true.

Taken on the whole, the Tigers’ center-field position ranks just above last in the American League when measured by Baseball Reference’s wins above average by position. The Tigers came in at -1.0, while the Mariners were -1.1.

This, by the way, isn’t the Tigers’ worst position, by far. They rank last in starting pitching (-4.2), DH (-2.7) and third base (-1.6), and second-to-last in relief pitching (-3.6). It’s kind of easy to see why the club is struggling so much to win ballgames, isn’t it?

But back to center field. The strongest selling point for the platoon, well-above-average baserunning, fell short. The duo ranks in the middle of the pack by Fangraphs’ BsR stat at 3.4 runs better than average.

Gose, for instance, has been caught 10 out of 29 times he’s attempted to steal a base. That’s below average. The game last Thursday against the Angels, in which he reached base twice only to be picked off at first and caught stealing at second, is just one example of the struggles the Tigers have seen out of Gose.

Davis, while successful in 18 of 23 steal attempts, suffers from a different problem: He’s not always able to take the extra base, such as going from first to third on a single or more than two bases on a double.

According to Baseball Reference, he does so 52 percent of the time, a bit above average (39 percent) but not greatly so for a player whose identity lies in his baserunning.

Or let’s look at batting.

The very point of a platoon is to take advantage of pitcher matchups. Unfortunately for Detroit, Davis is batting .236 against lefties with a .286 on-base percentage and .415 slugging. He’s arguably been better against right-handed pitching.

To Gose’s credit, so has he, batting .271/.325/.388.

Or to look at it with a sabermetric stat, wRC+, which adjusts the number of runs created to league average, the Tigers center fielders’ 87 wRC+ ranks in the middle of the pack in the American League.

That might be forgivable if Gose and Davis at least played strong defense up the middle. Yet again, they don’t.

By either of the main sabermetric stats, the platoon struggles. They rank 13th of 15 AL clubs by Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), at -4. By Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), they climb to 12th at -6.1.

Gose is actually the worse one here at -8 DRS and -8.0 UZR, while Davis is above average at 3 DRS and 2.0 UZR. And Gose was supposed to be the stronger fielder of the two.

Maybe Tigers manager Brad Ausmus is better off basing his decision on whether he’s got a flyball pitcher on the mound that day.

In short, the Tigers’ center field-platoon is defined less by a positive identity, which just doesn’t exist, and more by the various maladies they might bring to the field instead.

While not the worst problem the Tigers need to fix this coming offseason, it’s certainly one that needs addressing.

Kurt Mensching is the editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (www.blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at bybtigers@gmail.com.