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Bearish On Alex Gordon

In light of his very nice contract extension, which Brandon Warne covered extensively earlier this week, I figured giving my thoughts on Alex Gordon would be timely.

Gordon was a fantasy MVP for many teams last year. If you took a flier on him in your draft last season, you were rewarded greatly as almost nobody expected the type of season he had. Everyone understood that Gordon was talented, but a .300 average along with 23 homers and 17 steals was surprising to even the biggest Gordon optimists. He put it together, much like his fellow outfielders Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur did, for the first time in his career.

I like Gordon as a player, but I am bearish on him for fantasy this year. I never like to draft players coming off career years. This goes for Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson, and Ian Kennedy as well. I simply do not like paying a high price for last year’s numbers when there is little reason to expect duplicated success.

When looking deeper into Gordon’s numbers, the first thing everyone sees is the enormous BABIP. Even though his BABIP was .358, he did record an xBABIP of .331. Not all of his average was luck, but his expected slash line, meaning his slash line if his BABIP matched his xBABIP, is then just .283/.359/.474. Those are still very good numbers, but the drop in average is pretty significant for fantasy purposes.

The next part of Gordon’s game I worry about is the stolen bases. This was by far the most surprising part of his game, as he stole 17 bases after going 1-6 in stolen base attempts the previous year. Gordon was usually a better base runner than he was in 2010, as he had 14 steals and was caught just two times from 2008-2009 in the Majors. Even last year, the 17 stolen bases came with eight caught stealings, which is worrisome for future stolen base totals. A rate of 68% is not bad, but it is not optimal either. I expect his total to drop this year, at least somewhat.

My last worry about Gordon is his home run total. I am not as worried about his home run total as I am about his average or steals, but there is reason to believe that he may have reached his homer upside last season. He plays in a poor park for left-handed home runs, rating just a 71 on Stat Corner. The poor rate combined with the fact that he had his highest home run per fly ball rate of his career leaves at least some cause for concern that he is more of a 17-20 home run guy than 22-23.

I think Gordon is a very good player and that the extension he signed made sense for both parties. I am glad that he got his career back on track and I would take him on my team if he fell to me in a draft or if an owner of him was even more bearish on him than I am. I just have not found myself targeting Gordon this year and I am skeptical that his 2011 season was as real as we all want it to be.