Since being called up ahead of a July 17th game against the New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays rookie outfielder Anthony Gose hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire. In fact, he’s collected outs in 74% of his plate appearances. That’s resulted in what’s known around the industry as an Omar Vizquelian on base percentage.
Making matters worse is his absolutely vacant power. In addition to non-existent isolated power numbers (because he has yet to garner an extra base hit in 31 plate appearances), the 21-year old, left-handed batter (and I use the term loosely) is slugging a minuscule .214. Combined with a .258 on base percentage, that’s good enough for a .472 OPS.
However, we take these numbers with a grain of salt, because on top of coming from a rather small sample size, Gose is young and without much of a reputation as a hitter. Despite these acceptable awful outcomes, General Manager Alex Anthopoulos has been impressed with Gose’s approach at the plate, according to a recent radio interview, as transcribed by the lovely and talented Andrew Stoeten, over at DJF.
I think overall the quality of his at-bats has been outstanding. He doesn’t chase, he works the count. I think there’s times from a mechanical standpoint where he’s a little bit late getting his hands going or getting his foot down– I think that’s why you might see him swing through some balls. But I’m very encouraged– I know the numbers aren’t there, but I’m very encouraged about the quality of his at-bats.
Anthopoulos is correct in one sense. Gose has seen 4.16 pitches per plate appearance. That’s way above the league average, and not that far off of the pace set by the league leaders who typically see an average of 4.3 to 4.5 pitches every time they step up to the plate.
However, the high pitch count isn’t the result of Gose taking pitches. In fact, he’s swung at 52% of the pitches he’s seen compared to the league average of 46%. You may be thinking that because of his rookie status and reputation as an undeveloped hitter, Gose is more likely to be challenged with pitches in the zone. While that might sound like a reasonable suggestion, the truth is that the average MLB batter gets about 49% of his pitches in the zone, while Gose has seen 51% in his short career. That’s not enough of a difference to really matter, and it’s easily counter balanced by the fact that he’s been swinging at 32% of the pitches he’s seen outside the zone, compared to the league average of 29%.
So, on the whole, we can say that Gose has had poor plate discipline, and simultaneously suggest that maybe his proven ability to drive the ball into the ground (85.7% ground ball rate) is leading to more foul balls than normal, and therefore more pitches per plate appearance. In fact, Gose might be better off just not swinging at anything ever or only bunting.
Not only does his 17.1% swinging strike rate compare horribly to the 9.0% league average, but even when Gose does make contact, the ball goes nowhere. For the balls that he’s put in play, Gose has hit a dozen grounders, two line drives and zero fly balls. The farthest he’s managed to hit a baseball at this point in his young career is one that rolled 300 feet from home plate.
Typically, we’d expect a high batting average for balls in play from a player with Gose’s skill set, because his speed will sometimes allow him to beat out throws to first base. But while his .313 BABIP might confirm this suspicion, a look at the spray chart above suggests that luck has a lot to do with the majority of hits he’s collected, as they roll past infielders and into the outfield.
Further fueling the idea that Gose needs a lot more development before he can be considered Major League ready is his handling of off speed pitches, or more specifically change ups. It’s one thing to be aggressive at the plate, and if you’re a better hitter than Gose, it might be justifiable to be so, but the batter’s problems aren’t so easily attributed to his wanting to prove himself or, as we already established, his facing a whole lot more pitches in the zone than is typical.
Put plainly and simply, Gose is getting fooled.
He’s seen a change up from a pitcher 14 times since being called up, he’s swung 13 times. This is the one that he didn’t swing at:
Here are the thirteen that he did swing at:
Of those 13 change ups he swung at, he whiffed on eight of them, sent four into foul territory, and put one in play:
It resulted in a ground out to the pitcher.
So, this is why Anthopoulos’ comments are a little bit concerning: Gose clearly needs more time to develop, and with Jose Bautista set to come off the Disabled List in a short matter of time, there’s really no reason to have him up in the Majors struggling to hit pitches as a 21-year old. In fact, such a strategy sounds a little reminiscent of the development path of a recently made former member of the Toronto Blue Jays currently plying his trade in Pittsburgh.
This is all regardless of whether or not the team still believes it’s in competition for a Wild Card spot. Gose swinging and missing or swinging and rolling the ball into the infield does nothing to help the team or himself. If Toronto doesn’t send Gose back down for another month of Triple A baseball, as soon as they possibly can, they’re making a very similar mistake all over again.