With only four games played by the Detroit Tigers in the 2015 season it’s too early to make definitive statements, but early returns have shown that this team has it right on offense with Anthony Gose manning the leadoff spot.
In Grapefruit league play this spring Gose demonstrated a talent for the role. He led off for the Tigers in 15 games and in 40 at-bats produced 13 hits and seven runs scored along with a .400 On-Base Percentage. So far he’s carried that success into the regular season. In his three games Gose has delivered eight hits in 17 at-bats with five runs scored and a .471 OBP.
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The Tigers have been one of the top run producing teams in the American League the past four seasons even without a reliable leadoff man in place. Austin Jackson was a productive hitter for the Tigers but was a bad fit at the top of the lineup where he batted a majority of the time in his four-and-a-half seasons in Detroit.
Jackson’s role as the leadoff hitter had more to do with Jim Leyland’s philosophy of wanting to generate instant power at the top of his lineup than generating more base-running situations by someone with a better OBP. Still, those were the years when the Tigers had such power as Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez beating at the heart of their lineup. Jackson’s strikeout totals always weakened the effectiveness of that power.
A leadoff hitter with an OBP below .340 is a liability, especially when he fails to put the ball in play the way Jackson did. A strikeout is not the equivalent to a ground or fly out as most in today’s game would try to argue. Putting the ball in play provides a chance to capitalize on misplays and errors. Striking out is the equivalent of surrendering an at-bat, especially by the man whose job it is to make something happen when on base
Jackson’s best season as the Tigers leadoff man was in 2012 when he put together a slash of .301/.378/.481. He scored 103 runs to become a major contributor to Cabrera’s RBI total in his Triple Crown season. His inability to maintain that level of production made him expendable at last season’s trade deadline.
Even with the hitting and speed that Gose has demonstrated so far, he isn’t yet the perfect solution for the Tigers at the top of the lineup. To this point in his brief career, and through this spring, Gose has shown a complete inability to hit left-handed pitching. Last season for the Toronto Blue Jays Gose had 50 at-bats against left-handers and managed only nine hits and 18 strikeouts. This spring he only squeezed out two hits in 16 at-bats against southpaws.
Fortunately for those situations the Tigers have Rajai Davis as the anti-Gose. Davis put up a .382 OBP against left-handers in 2014.
Still, as the left-handed hitting part of the platoon. Gose will be seeing the majority of the playing time in center field and in the leadoff spot this season. The ability of the Tigers’ lineup to keep growling this summer hinges on his success.