Yesterday, against the Pirates, Anthony Gose finished 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. He has, so far, struck out nine times in 23 plate appearances. Let’s talk about why he’s possibly better.
Through his first three opportunities in the bigs, Gose came to the plate more than 600 times, and he managed a .285 wOBA. That’s a bad wOBA — the sort of wOBA acceptable only from a pinch-runner or defensive specialist. For 2015, our own projections peg him for a .292 wOBA, which is technically better, but ranked with Shane Robinson and Aaron Hicks. It’s a perfectly sensible projection; it matches what Gose has done, allowing for a little improvement from the 24-year-old. But there’s something projections can’t account for as they analyze the history: what if a hitter changes his swing?
It is, on the one hand, an easy thing to dismiss. Every player is always adjusting something. Baseball players are like cells in your body. They’re always re-inventing themselves, even if just to stay the same. Yet by the same token, you’re talking about something fundamental, something foundational. It’s a pitcher changing his repertoire, or his arm angle. A hitter is his brain plus his swing. As math, H = B + S. If you change S, it follows that you probably change H somehow. J.D. Martinez, last season, changed S. Given that he wasn’t in high demand, you see the league was skeptical. Given that he got a chance and did what he did, you see that maybe teams were skeptical to a fault.
For a while, Gose has been mostly written off as a hitter. If not within the industry, then certainly among those analyzing the industry from the outside. During the winter, Gose was dealt from Toronto to Detroit. With Detroit, he was poised to see a lot of playing time. With Detroit, and with hitting coach Wally Joyner, Gose spent spring training changing his swing. To this point, Gose has been fairly vague about the adjustments he’s made. And the changes are still sufficiently new he’s working on turning them into muscle memory. But this is more than just, say, introducing a toe-tap. It looks like Gose wants to change his profile.
Let’s watch some swings. Here are some swings from later last season:
I don’t think there’s any questioning Gose’s bat speed. He definitely has the wrists to survive. You’re seeing a swing on a level plane. This, maybe, isn’t a surprise — Gose isn’t little, but he’s also not a big guy, and he runs well, so you’re seeing a swing engineered to hit the ball down. This isn’t a swing that generates much in the way of lift, and you can see how Gose finishes — his hands sweep across his midsection. Even with pitches down, Gose keeps his shoulders relatively flat.
Here are some swings from early this season (read: Monday):
Both the swings missed! That’s still going to be a part of Gose’s game. But from this perspective you might be able to notice a couple things. There’s a sense that Gose is keeping his weight back longer. And he’s swinging with a more upward plane. You can tell from the way that he finishes — he comes aggressively around his right shoulder. His bat isn’t sweeping so much as it’s slashing, if that makes sense. He’s finishing higher, because he’s swinging higher, because he doesn’t want to limit his own power anymore.
A little closer from the front — 2014 vs. 2015:
Both of these show Gose hitting home runs. And I don’t want to suggest that Gose has made a completely dramatic overhaul to his swing mechanics. But in the home run from last year, at contact Gose’s hands are closer to his head, and they follow through laterally. You could say Gose is seen swinging at the baseball. In the home run from this year, Gose gets his hands lower at contact, and he brings them up across his upper body. You could say Gose is seen swinging through the baseball.
From the side, 2014 vs. 2015:
Something more evident here — in 2015, Gose is starting with his hands lower, allowing him to more directly get to the baseball. You also see him keeping his weight back, stepping a little back with his front knee instead of straight up. And though this is a small sample, look at the front foot at contact. In the clip from last year, Gose’s foot rolls. This year, it’s more anchored to the ground, suggesting a little more strength from the lower body.
Put it all together and you can see the tweaks. It’s not something that’s yet 100% consistent. I watched a clip of Gose doubling recently, and his swing looked more like last year’s. It was also with two strikes, so I wonder if Gose is going to have a different two-strike swing to try to cut down on the whiffs. But, that would be jumping the gun. Visually, you can see changes. And while it’s too early in the year to make much of the regular-season statistics, here’s a neat thing: we do have some spring-training data. So let’s look at balls in play.
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. Someone with Gose’s old grounder rate would stand about a 5% chance of hitting 30 grounders or fewer out of 62 balls in play. But that’s a 5% chance. And we have information suggesting deliberate changes. It seems like Gose is prepared to hit more baseballs in the air.
And here’s another interesting thing. In the minors in 2014, Gose was a groundball hitter. In the minors in 2013, Gose was a groundball hitter. In the minors in 2012, Gose was a groundball hitter. In the minors in 2011, Gose was a neutral hitter, and he knocked 16 home runs in Double-A. Gose has shown that he has some power before. Following that 2011 season, the Blue Jays instructed him to make some changes to his swing, and Gose admitted that, over the year, he was way too aggressive. But after that season, Gose’s power was considerably reduced. It seems now he wants to welcome it back.
And that’s going to be one of the questions. Gose seems to want to hit fewer grounders. Does he have the power to justify the tradeoff? J.D. Martinez had the power to justify his swing changes. Carlos Gomez had the power to justify his swing changes. Gose might, and we don’t know. He’s hit for some power in the past, as a very young player in the minors. It also stands to reason Gose’s swing change could further reduce his ability to make contact, but that might be negated by better contact and a more direct path to the baseball.
It’s by no means clear if the new version of Anthony Gose is going to hit. It was pretty clear, though, that the old version of Anthony Gose wasn’t going to hit, so if nothing else this could be a new way to fail. And in the best-case scenario, and even short of that, we could see Gose as a legitimate everyday player. There’s upside now, to his profile. It’s hard to ignore a guy who knocks a leadoff home run against Corey Kluber. If Anthony Gose always had the tools, perhaps all he needed was a new way to put them to use.
We know the Tigers aren’t yet sold. Just Monday, in replacing Gose, they pinch-hit Hernan Perez. But Gose is still trying to figure this out, and the Tigers are the team giving him the chance. It’s not their first swing-salvage rodeo.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.