Tigers' Gose brings aggressive mindset to center field play

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Anthony Gose

Lakeland, Fla. – It's happened at least three or four times this spring.

A ball is flared into short right center or left center, one of those aggravating duck-snort singles that tend to start a rally -- except, wait, here comes Anthony Gose loping in to make an easy catch.

Aggressive defense isn't a term used much in baseball, but Gose plays a very aggressive center field. Counter to sabermetric logic, he positions himself as shallow as he can, more shallow possibly than any center fielder in the game.

He cares more about taking away cheap singles than about the possibility of giving up an extra-base hit over his head.

"Taking away the cheap hits, those are the ones that extend innings," he said. "They are the ones that get rallies going. Doubles, you can't just play for a double."

Sabremetrics say the opposite. They say it is more prudent to play deeper, guard more against the extra-base hits because they do more immediate damage. Gose has his own mathematical theory.

"If a guy has a great year, say he has 200 hits," he said. "How many doubles, in reality, is he going to hit? Thirty, maybe forty? He might hit 20 home runs. So that leaves, what, another 140 hits that are going to be singles. Why not take some of those away?"

Gose has sprinter's speed, so he feels like he can get back and take away some of those extra-base knocks. In his mind, it's going to take a wall shot to beat him deep.

"A ball off the wall is a ball off the wall," he said. "You are going to get some, but you are not going to get them all. The reality is, a well-hit ball off the wall is a mistake pitch."

Case in point, Wednesday against the Marlins. He was playing his usual short center field when Jordany Valdespin blasted a hanging splitter from Alfredo Simon to the wall in center. Even if Gose was playing no-doubles depth, he likely wouldn't have gotten to that ball.

"It went over his head, but he wasn't burned," manager Brad Ausmus said. "It was just a well-hit ball."

Except in some late-innings, no-doubles situations, the Tigers have not tried to push Gose deeper.

"We are going to let him roam," Ausmus said. "Part of it is, what is a player better at, coming in or going back? If you talk to the sabermaticians, they will tell you it is better to play back because you keep extra-base hits from going over your head.

"Obviously, situation plays into it; when an extra-base hit hurts you versus when a single hurts you. But he does play shallow. He has a comfort level with that. There will be times we push him back."

Good luck with that.

"Some coaches try to tell me to move back; I don't like it," Gose said. "There are times when situations will dictate, but for the most part, why are you playing for a double? It's the singles that's going to hurt (pitchers)."