Alex Gordon Gets Royally Rewarded

Word broke late Friday afternoon that the Royals and 28-year-old left fielder Alex Gordon reached a contract extension. The skinny on the contract is that it’s a four-year deal worth $37.5 million, with a player option for 2016 that can bring the total value to $50 million even. The contract buys out two years of team control and an additional two of free agency, and breaks down to $6/$9/$10/$12.5, and negates the $4.775 midpoint, arbitration-avoiding deal the two parties agreed to in early February.

That’s quite an accomplishment for the former number-two overall prospect who racked up his share of miles commuting the 190 miles down I-29 between Omaha and Kansas City. It’s no doubt the culmination of a frustrating five years in which Gordon attempted to fulfill the preposterous notion that he was potentially the next George Brett. Before last season, Gordon was way more Mark Teahen than he was any former legend. Apparently it didn’t occur to many who made the comparison that Brett debuted at 20, was a regular at 21, and a star by 22. Gordon, on the other hand, made his pro debut at 22.

They played the same position, so what?

Nonetheless, just a year ago Gordon was a 27-year old former prospect whose flame had withered to a flicker. His career triple-slash sat at .244/.328/.405, and was coming off his worst season offensively, for a club that couldn’t decide if or where he belonged. Arguably, Gordon’s ascent began in last season’s spring training, as he absolutely obliterated Grapefruit League pitching to the tune of a .353/.470/.750 triple-slash with six long balls. He also took to left field with aplomb, as he was awarded a Gold Glove for his efforts and was — outside of Brett Gardner — the best left fielder in the junior circuit.

Props to the Royals for sticking to their guns, as teams were calling on Gordon to see what it might take to pry the youngster out of Kansas City. The Royals insisted it would take a prime prospect, and were rewarded handsomely for said patience.

So where did Gordon experience the most growth in his rates which spurred him to this revival? Consider:

Year Line Drive Rate GB/FB K% BB% Contact% BABIP
2007 19.5 0.85 22.8 6.8 74.9 0.303
2008 21 0.66 21 11.6 76.8 0.309
2009 14.3 1.04 22.8 11.1 77.5 0.276
2010 23.2 0.96 22.1 12.1 77.8 0.254
2011 22 1.03 20.1 9.7 78.8 0.358

To be completely honest, nothing really stands out, with the exception of the dreaded BABIP, which checked in 44 points above his current career mark. Without any real concrete evidence of a tangible bump, is that likely to come down? Well, it would seem so. Oftentimes a guy will hit more line drives to boost that BABIP, but in Gordon’s case, I wouldn’t rule out that he finally just got a chance to play regularly — this wasn’t the first time, however — and settled into his position in left as well. While I wouldn’t rule it out, I wouldn’t bet on it, either.

I am, however, a bit surprised that anyone with a below average contact rate — Gordon was about two percent below the league average which is typically 81ish percent — was able to pull a .303 batting average. I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve the contract or anything; the Royals only really have Wil Myers knocking down the door anytime soon among OF prospects and the club has another “howdedodat” in right in Jeff Francoeur. But I may have waited just a bit longer to see if Gordon was for real.

It’s the the second biggest contract the Royals have handed out since the Gil Meche and Jose Guillen deals (Zack Greinke‘s 4/$38 million prior to ’09). I’m a big proponent of extending your own guys rather than spending in free agency — even when the dollars are exactly the same — but without considering that, I think this one will work out a bit better for the club.

For a little further perspective, colleague Matt Klaasen had a couple good pieces on Gordon’s 2011 campaign. Spoiler alert: He nails the first three years of the contract.

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In addition to Rotographs, Warne is a former Minnesota Twins beat writer for 1500 ESPN Twin Cities, and current sportswriter for Sports Data LLC in downtown Minneapolis. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Warne, or feel free to email him to do podcasts or for any old reason at brandon.r.warne@gmail-dot-com

20 Responses to “Alex Gordon Gets Royally Rewarded”

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  1. Baltar says:

    I’m happy to see the Royals extending contracts for their (fairly) young talent. I don’t know whether it will work out, but I certainly hope it does. It’s the only weapon the small revenue teams can use against the empires since the new labor contract rules out fighting back by allocating money to the draftees and international free agents.
    However, the empires may strike back by adopting this tactic themselves.

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    • Ludwig von Koopa says:

      Empires do have a nasty habit of striking back.

      But even if the empires do adopt this as well, the smaller teams will still keep more of their good players than they otherwise would have. Still a net gain, since they weren’t likely to spend a lot of money on a graduating Sox/Yankees guy anyway.

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  2. Paul says:

    This is an interesting deal due to the player option. Essentially for the Royals it is reasonable four year deal for about $9m per. People saying earlier in the offseason that he would get a Billy Butler contract were wrong ($8m per), but I’m surprised that it was not that far off. I think the Royals did really well here. And so did Gordon. The key is the option.

    IF Gordon exercises the option it will mean that he did not have a stellar fourth year of the deal and is not looking at a bigger last long-term deal going in to his age 33 season. In that case, it will still only be a $10m per average deal, still a good deal from the Royals perspective if he only plays relatively close to last season. Some of us think he will improve, because the numbers mentioned above don’t tell the story. What those numbers show is that he had the underlying skills to be successful. What they can’t show is batted ball distribution, or him popping oppo field dongs on a outside corner CB in a pitcher’s count at the spacious K. He’s a monster now, and this deal could wind up being an incredible bargain for the Royals.

    However, if he does improve that makes exercising the option unlikely, since he’ll no doubt be looking at another four year deal for his last big contract at upwards of $15m per. He’s a physical specimen who is obsessively dedicated to personal fitness, so somebody will take the age risk. So for Gordon this deal is a minimum of $50m in guaranteed money, with the ability to leverage that option in looking around for a new, bigger deal. This is really a great deal for both sides, and Royals management and Gordon’s reps should both be commended for such a solid outcome.

    Regarding the Brett comparisons, I know, they’re silly. However, given the changes he made I remarked when he came back from Omaha in 2010 how much he looked like Brett at the plate. He had started to implement Seitzer’s changes. Last year he was still working on those changes until at least mid-season, when he really started to consolidate the gains. When he came up in 2007, Buddy Bell insisted on putting him on the roster even though they all knew his swing had to be completely re-worked. What other org. in baseball would decide to completely rework a guy’s swing at the MLB level? George Brett was much more fortunate.

    That doesn’t mean Alex will be Brett, who hit .390 in his age 27 season. But he has his Charlie Lau now. And the one comparison to Brett that really, truly fits, is the swagger. Alex never for a moment didn’t think he could be great. He’s got some catching up to do.

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  3. SC2GG says:

    What Paul says above is very true.
    To put this in perspective, he needs to average 2 WAR a season for the next five seasons to make this about reasonable. This is not a whole lot. He was worth 6.9 last year, an obvious outlier, so while for him to have to regress that much over the course of his contract is certainly plausible, it has to be a lot of regression for a long time for this to turn out badly for the Royals.

    Or, he gets injured. That would suck.

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    • cpebbles says:

      They also gave him a little bump in his salary for this year, so you have to basically look at this as a 3 year, $32.725 million contract, one of which was his final arbitration year. Using the standards of 80%, $5/WAR, and 5% inflation, that puts his expected value to earn that contract at a little over 2.2 wins (And a little under 2.2 wins for the player option which will only be picked up if he stinks). Even the most pessimistic projections make that seem likely, though the Royals will rightly be disappointed if that’s all they get out of him.

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  4. charis says:

    the contract year theory works in this case.

    chris young is looking for extension too. melky wants a long term deal. oooh peavy too. so is ubaldo…even zito is playing so he doesnt get cut. oh soriano is in a walk year right?

    draft all em cept zito and be rewarded.

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  5. Jay says:

    I wrote a piece where I break down Cains peripherals and project his WAR and fair value through 2018.

    check it out by clicking on my name.

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    • SC2GG says:

      I thought maybe he was referring to Herman Cain. His Wins Against Republicans certainly has been in the negatives lately, I can only imagine what disaster it will be by 2018.

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      • Ludwig von Koopa says:

        While this stat isn’t really in vogue here, his career Value Over Replacement Pizza is still through the roof.

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  6. CircleChange11 says:

    Count me as one that doubted that Gordon would ever be as good as he was “supposed to be”. However, I’m happy for him, and the Royals, that he has become that player (or close to it).

    Looking at his 2010 seasons, he had a .254 BABIP with a 23% line drive rate. Wow.

    The same rate in 2011 yielded a .358 BABHIP, a ~.120-point swing.

    Gordon’s walk rate is down and his contact % is up, even slightly. When I read this the first thought I had was “he’s probably jumping on good pitches earlier in the count” … or he’s being more aggressive on pitches that he has a better chance of hitting.

    Whatever the case, it would be interesting to see if he made adjustments to his scouting report at the plate.

    One of my concerns with KC was that all of their OF’s, Gordan, Melky (at the time), and Frenchy were due for some serious regression … and that regression might cancel out better performance by some of the younger players that show improvement … leaving the Royals right where they were.

    I think we have to acknowledge that X% of their prospects are not going to pan out, but if Gordon can keep up a 3-4 WAR performance that gives them some stability. Regardless, it’s a good situation and story for Alex Gordon. Good for him and he deserves a lot of credit for sticking with it, accepting a position change, and working at it … and he’s fielding the rewards (pun intended). We’ve seen numerous other “can’t miss prospects” fold up the tent (mentally) and just disappear once it became apparent that baseball was no longer going to be easy.

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  7. Jon L. says:

    Looks like that BABIP is 49 points higher than his second-best, so it must be more than 44 points above his career average. Right?

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  8. Jon L. says:

    Swinging much more aggressively (and harder) at pitches in the strike zone could explain this pattern of data – fewer walks, fewer strikeouts, and a higher BABIP. I wonder how often a guy’s BABIP from one season to the next goes up over 100 points while his line drive rate drops.

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  9. Jay29 says:

    Could you briefly explain why you say it’s better to pay for your own players than free agents? My gut feeling is to agree, but I’m not sure of your reasoning. Is it 1) familiarity with the player leads to truer value or 2) free agents from other teams can be uncomfortable with new suroundings, or something else? Or are you just saying that it’s better to extend pre-FA players than to sign FAs? That’s obviously cheaper (see: Tampa Bay Rays).

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    • Ludwig von Koopa says:

      Generally you do have more data on your own players than those of opposing teams (particularly medical and other non-game info), and you have probably spent more time and effort analyzing them.

      #2 does happen sometimes (particularly with the SS position on the Red Sox… they really should have just kept Orlando Cabrera after 2004), but overall is less common than your sports radio callers would have you believe.

      Sometimes (though certainly not always) players give hometown discounts if they have put down some major roots into the community (Pujols $100m contract with St. Louis).

      And yes, extensions (both pre-FA and post-FA) are generally better than FA deals. For a player, going into FA can net a bigger payday, but also carries risk of being the odd man out (Ryan Madson) so a player will sometimes accept a below market extension in order to guarantee a contract. And of course the Longoria/Moore type contracts are solid gold when you can pull them off.

      But really it depends on the player, different players (and agents) have different motivations.

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  10. R M says:

    You completely omitted his jump in ISO, and that changes pretty much everything. His ISO was .200, well above career averages. His HR/FB was only up slightly, so it really just means he hit the ball harder than he has before, which definitely goes into explaining the higher BABIP.

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    • Paul says:

      I think that’s an excellent point. However, slight caveat. I’ll bet 8-10 of his doubles were bloops that he got sawed off on or a nasty pitch that he flicked into short left, etc., because he’s so strong. Alex Gordon pre-2011 strikes out on those pitches or flies out weakly early in the count and doesn’t get to that point often. In other words, in addition to the harder contact, he’s just a lot better hitter now. Can he sustain last year’s BABIP? Most likely not. But his skillset improvement combined with his natural ability means his rate stats may not change all that much, and I’m in the camp that thinks there could be more power to come.

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      • chuckb says:

        I would agree that we don’t know that he necessarily hit the ball harder. There’s no other real, discernible difference in his numbers except for the jump in ISO. There’s a slight decrease in the % of infield fly balls hit so it might be that he’s hitting the ball harder or it might be that his bloops were able to fall in for doubles.

        The other difference in Gordon’s numbers is the huge jump in UZR which we’re not sure is sustainable or reflective of actual performance.

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