The Upside and Downside of Anthony Gose

March 2, 2012; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Anthony Gose (43) poses for a portrait during photo day at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Without a doubt, Anthony Gose is the most polarizing prospect in the Blue Jays’ system, as everyone has an opinion on the 6-foot-1 center fielder. The strange love affair among the fan base began after Toronto acquired Gose from Houston, via Philadelphia, at the 2010 trade deadline. The Astros acquired Gose in a package deal from the Phillies in exchange for Roy Oswalt, and then swapped him to the Blue Jays in a rare prospect-for-prospect deal, receiving first baseman Brett Wallace. However, for Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos, the hunger for Gose began long before. During the Roy Halladay trade discussions of late 2009, the ‘Silent Assassin’ made acquiring him a priority. Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. refused to include the toolsy outfielder, forcing Anthopoulos to accept another outfielder, Michael Taylor, instead. But in the end, what Alex Anthopoulos wants, Alex Anthopoulos gets.

The scouting report on Gose is an interesting one, and makes the wide array of opinions understandable. One thing everyone can agree on, however, is that Gose is a special defender. In addition to roaming the outfield for his Bellflower, California high school, Gose worked off the mound, where he sat between 92 and 96 mph with his fastball. That arm has translated extremely well to professional baseball, as it serves as an 80-grade tool in center field, and he has recorded 13, 16, and 14 outfield assists in his last three seasons. Despite his muscular build, he’s an exceptional athlete, grading out with plus-plus speed and above-average baserunning ability. Those afterburners serve him well on defense, as they give him exceptional range and the ability to run down nearly any ball from gap to gap in the outfield. If he improves his reads and first step, he has the potential to be an 80-grade defender.

While the defensive aspect of his scouting report reads glowingly, the offensive side has more question marks. His power, once a below-average tool, has blossomed to solid-average, flashing the potential for 15-20 home runs — in addition to the numerous double and triples his legs will help him create.

The red flags can usually be found next to the scouting section titled “Anthony Gose hit tool”. Gose is currently a below-average hitter, which is a bit puzzling considering his lightning-fast hands, repeatable swing, and smooth weight transfer. His stance has a wide base and is quiet outside of a small bat wiggle. He even has an above-average eye at the plate, consistently working deep into counts. The problems arise when he gets to two strikes, because as Keith Law wrote in his Top 100, “his two-strike approach still needs work – because it doesn’t really exist”. So while the deep counts can lead to walks, they also lead to a plethora of strikeouts.

This is where the variations in projections come into play. Gose hit .253 with a 26.2% strikeout rate with Double-A New Hampshire in 2011, and that’s not good enough to be a big-league regular. To simply maintain a .250 average while making the transition from the minor leagues to the Majors, Gose will need to make improvements in his swing, perhaps keeping his front shoulder closed to make him less susceptible to breaking balls on the outer half. If not, smart pitching coaches will find the holes and pick his swing apart.

For argument’s sake, let’s assume he makes no such adjustments, failing to further develop his offensive approach. Assuming he receives the roughly 700 PAs that he’d need at the big-league level, how would he fare?

700 PA | 622 AB | 97 1B | 24 2B | 9 3B | 16 HR | 60 BB | 16 HBP | 2 SF | 47 SB | 15 CS

The above statistics are my best estimates given his tools and historical numbers, translating to a .694 OPS (.235/.315/.379) and .318 wOBA. From this data, we can calculate his wRAA, the offensive aspect of the WAR formula. wRAA is calculated by subtracting the league average wOBA from the players value, dividing it by a scaling factor, and multiplying everything by plate appearances. Using 2010 league data, that gives Gose a -1.12 wRAA – unsurprisingly, a below average offensive player. But offense is only one part of the equation, defense and base running ability play large factors as well. Since those numbers are difficult to predict, I used the average of the top three defensive center fielders for Gose’s fielding, and the average of the top five base stealers for Gose’s base running — fair assumptions given his tools. These numbers translate to 13.1 and 4.3 runs above average, respectively. When added to his -1.12 wRAA, we get a net total of 16.28 runs above average. WAR is calculated simply by dividing runs above average by 10, making Anthony Gose a 1.6 WAR player.

While that number isn’t particularly appealing for someone considered a top prospect, one must remember the circumstances. This is assuming that Gose has no further offensive development, and is thrown into regular duty. That 1.6 WAR would have been 19th among qualified center fielders in 2011 (see below, via FanGraphs.com), and put him on the fringe between the “role player” and “solid regular” classifications.

The other end of the spectrum has Gose spending the 2012 season in Triple-A Las Vegas, refining his offensive game with hitting coach Chad Mottola, and then following a normal development approach once he reaches the Majors. What might his ceiling be under these circumstances?

700 PA | 605 AB | 111 1B | 25 2B | 12 3B | 18 HR | 77 BB | 16 HBP | 2 SF | 55 SB | 17 CS

A significant improvement over the previous numbers, these statistics translate to an .813 OPS (.275/.368/.445) and .369 wOBA. Using the same calculation as before, Gose comes out with a 27.44 wRAA – well above average. If we then use the same averages to determine the fielding and base running aspects of the equation, we get 44.84 runs above average, or 4.5 WAR. His 4.5 WAR would have ranked 8th among qualified center fielders in 2011, and falls into the “All Star” classification, which is obviously elite territory.

This quick exercise proves that while there are numerous possible outcomes, the upside with Gose is pretty huge. Small adjustments in his offensive game transform him from a bottom of the lineup platoon outfielder into an All-Star centerfielder and dynamic leadoff hitter. It also gives insight into just how valuable his defense and athleticism make him in the sabermetrically-driven modern era of baseball, as even with zero (or negative) offensive contribution he can be a useful roster player.

Whether or not he’ll make the required adjustments to unleash his potential is the million dollar question, and is the reason why scouts and Major League executives alike will continue to give him opportunities to succeed.

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Topics: Anthony Gose, Brett Wallace, FanGraphs

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  • dbenson1399

    Great article, and compelling use of stats to support your arguments! I think his upside is huge and there is one thing I heard in an interview after the season that never seems to get mentioned. Anthony Gose was not allowed to bunt for hits last year as they wanted him to focus on his power stroke. He will be putting the bunt back in this season and that will cause a lot of uncertainty in infields; If you play him back, he can bunt his way on and if you play the bunt, he’ll knock a few more by. Adding that weapon back into his arsenal should bump his average a few notches. That said, I think he still needs a year in AAA where he can develop more confidence in his swing and refine his approach, before he’s thrown to the big league wolves to pick him apart.

  • http://jaysjournal.com/ Rockshu

    Glad you enjoyed the article.
     
    I completely agree with you on your bunting comment. With his speed he’d likely be successful on at least 50% of his attempts, and if he has even 1 attempt per week, that could result in an increase of 15 or 20 points on his batting average over the course of a full season. I do understand why Toronto held back that part of his game in Double-A though, as offensive development is far more important than inflated statistics for top prospects.

  • ALEastbound

    Excellent write-up, I am almost jealous how well written it was…  From a fellow Jays blogger…  @ALEastbound

  • FactChecker12

    Wow…there’s some massive problems with some fo the stats here. Let’s start with the most glaring issue: “we get a net total of 16.28 runs above average. WAR is calculated simply by dividing runs above average by 10, making Anthony Gose a 1.6 WAR player”.
    1) WAR = Wins Above REPLACEMENT, not Wins above AVERAGE. You calculated runs above average, and to get to replacement you add 20 runs/600 PA…or so you need to add 23.3 runs for a 700 PA assumption. This gives you 39.6 runs above replacement. Likewise, in your second scenario, you have to do the same…
    2) (More minor issue) Converting from runs to wins above replacement is not as simple as dividing by ten. That’s a rule of thumb, and it’s fine for approximations you’re doing, but you can’t pass it off the actual methodology.
     
    Moving on to the next massive issue…how you get your defensive and base stealing numbers. You took the 3 highest defensive numbers from last year. The problem is that they represent not the true talent of the top 3 defensive outfielders, but the 3 best defensive seasons. From year to year, different players will have the highest numbers, because they’ve have up and down defensive years. Therefore, you should take a multiyear reading, take an average of the top 3, and figure out the average defensive runs. It will be significantly lower than 13 runs…probably around 8 or 9.
     
    Next, the way you measure baserunning. First, baserunning =/= base stealing. In Fangraphs version of WAR, essentially, what you’re doing here, SB and CS are accoutning through wOBA, not base running. Baserunning just measures things like taking extra bases, moving up on sac flies, etc. So you have to estimate SB and CS, account for them through wOBA. Then for the basrunning, same problem as above, and also, you can;t assume he’s an elite baserunner just cause he’s fast. Baserunning is as much about smarts – hence why Evan Longoria had a great baserunning score without elite speed. So your baserunning number should also probably not just be the top 5.
     

  • http://jaysjournal.com/ Rockshu

    @FactChecker12
    For WAR calculation, I simply followed the equations given by FanGraphs in the glossary section. I’m not a sabermetric expert, so if I missed something I apologize, but I feel as though I followed the instructions well.

    As per the defensive argument, I disagree and consider it a very fair number. Many players have recorded fielding runs above average seasons in the 30′s, so just as a short estimate — again, this was just an estimate — 13 for a potential gold glover seems fine.

    Finally, with base running, I used the values for the top 5 base stealers, not the top 5 base runners. Gose has incredible pure speed and above average base running ability (did you see him score from 2nd on a groundout in spring training?), so again, I feel that was fine.

    Just to emphasize though, this whole article was an estimation, not exact science. Everything I did was based upon estimation and I thought I made that clear. If I screwed up a bit of math I so apologize (I was using fangraphs WAR not BR or BP, if that makes a difference). This was not meant to come off as precise statistical projections of Gose’ future, it was an exercise to show that while he has value from his defense, only small offensive adjustments can have a huge impact on his overall value.

  • FactChecker12

    I understand that the point was to estimate, and that’s why I didn’t evaluate your projections (on that note, I find your “doesn’t develop further” projection crazy optimistic, you’re basically saying that right now he’s an average offensive player. And he’s not close to that. Also, you never project 700 PAs, that assumes almost no lost time, but this is beside the main point). Your article is “The Upside and Downside of Gose”, and you suggest his downside is basically an average CF. But using the assumptions you’ve made, his doenside is actually be one of the best CFs in the game right now, around 4.5 WAR (you can see why I find it crazy optimistic). This is why this has to be pointed out – the error in your math was not small, it’s the difference between being blow average and an All-Star.
     
    I assumed you were fWAR, there’s no way you’d have easily been able to pull the numbers you did for the components if you were using another. In terms of following the glossary, you skipped two critical components written right there: “Add in a positional adjustment, since some positions are tougher to play than others, and then convert the numbers so that they’re not based on league average, but on replacement level”.
     
    I neglected to notice the missing the positional adjustment in my list yesterday, that’s +7.5 runs/150 games. Add in the average to replacement translation I mentioned above, and that’s over +30 runs net. Which means your 1.6 WAR becomes more like 4.8, which is 3x as valuable – we’re talking completely different orders of magnitude.
     
    Regarding the baserunning and defence. I think you’re still not understanding that Fangraphs baserunning metric has nothing to do with base stealing. But in any event, these aren’t that big a deal compared to the above. Projecting Gose at +13 runs defence is probably 5 runs over optimistic for someone with no data (8 runs above average in CF is very, very good), but this pales compred to the 30 runs above
     
    I understand that you’re saying you’re not an expert at this stuff, but if you’re going to write about upside and downside and use WAR calculations to support your argument, you have to be in the right ballpark with the calculations or the analysis will not only be meaningless, but also misleading.

  • http://jaysjournal.com/ Rockshu

     @FactChecker12
    For the low-end projection, I think his .318 wOBA is fair. His contact rate is pretty poor, no doubt, but he also has solid-average power, can take a walk at a well above average rate, crowds the plate for good HBP numbers, has exceptional base stealing ability, and his legs help him generate plenty of doubles and triples which further augment his value. While the contact ability is lacking, and that’s a big detriment, the rest of his offensive game is really impressive.
     
    As for the offensive WAR argument, it says right here under the wRAA calculation:
     
    http://www.fangraphs.com/library/index.php/offense/wraa/
     
    “When calculating Wins Above Replacement (WAR), wRAA is used to represent offensive ability. Ten wRAA is equal to +1 win.”
     
    It doesn’t say when calculating wins above average, and it doesn’t say to make a replacement level correction. That’s what I was going on, and if that’s incorrect, I apologize. I was not trying to be deceitful here, I was calculating numbers based upon what I read.
     
    ** While burning my eyeballs reading through almost the entire glossary, I do see that an adjustment is needed. I didn’t see it at the time as it wasn’t on the page I was using, but it does look like I need to add the equivalent of a 2 WAR player’s value to make it runs above replacement.
     
    You mentioned a defensive position correction, and I know I saw that while I was doing this, but I thought it was rather negligible considering center field is the closest to “neutral” position on the defensive spectrum (it’s +2.5 runs/150, not +7.5/150 like you said — http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/explaining-win-values-part-three). Had I been going for complete accuracy and not an estimate I could have included the 0.25 WAR that playing centerfield represents, but I didn’t.
     
    I really don’t want to harp on the defensive issue any more since it’s obvious that I have my opinion, you have your opinion, and they don’t agree. A rating of 15 in the fielding metric is considered “Gold Glove caliber”, and most scouts would agree that, at only 21 years old, Gose is already approaching that level of defensive ability. Furthermore, UZR does NOT include any aspect of a players throwing ability. As I mentioned, Gose has an 80 arm, and is excellent at throwing out runners.
     
    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/win-values-explained-part-two
     
    “However, if you feel like a particular player has an exceptional arm and should be rewarded for it, feel free to add in a couple of runs to make up for the fact that UZR doesn’t include that portion of his defensive value.”
     
    There is no arguing that Gose has an exceptional arm, so even if I knock my defensive projection from 13 to 8 runs like you suggest, by adding 2 runs due to his arm, we’re up to 10 runs again, at which point we’re splitting hairs on a minor difference.
     
    I do understand that UBR =/= stolen base ability. My point was, few people have seen Gose play extensively, and what little we’ve heard suggests that he’s a dynamo on the basepaths. This is why, for an estimate, I used the top 5 base stealers for an average as opposed to the top 5 base runners. I was attempting to target the “burner” category of player as opposed to the smart, instinctual base runner. Obviously that’s not perfectly accurate, but base running has such a small effect on overall WAR I didn’t think it would be a huge issue. If you think it’s necessary to drop his 4.3 UBR estimate to, say, 2.3, feel free. I still stand with what I wrote in that regard.
     
    In conclusion to this essay of a comment on a blog post:
     
    - I disagree with your analysis of Gose’ defense
    - The positional adjustment and base runner differences are minor, and if you’re adding runs to his adjustment and subtracting them from his base running, your net change is negligible.
    - You are correct on my omission of the runs above average to runs above replacement adjustment. I’m not going to change the original article as then these comments would just confuse people, but if I use WAR calculations in future articles, I’ll be sure to include that adjustment and appreciate you pointing it out.