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Buy Low on Alex Gordon and Chase Headley

I’m just as guilty as anyone of feeling fed up with players, despite their pedigree. Today, I’ve got a little quick-hitter to try and provide some perspective on two well known players who are really scuffling right now. Both players could be nice little buy-low candidates, although players with name recognition always cost a little more it seems. But sometimes you have to roll the dice when you need lightning in a bottle in order to get back into contention, and that’s what these two have the potential to provide.

Alex Gordon

Over his first 40 games, Alex Gordon hit .343/.367/.535 with six home runs, 29 RBI, and 29 runs scored. He was well on his way to replicating that fantastic 2011 season and was starting to look like an excellent value pick for many of you out of the gate. But the cold reality of batted ball luck seemed to snatch him right out of cloud nine and the rest of the season has produced a .202/.313/.229 slash line. Yes, a .229 slugging percentage, that’s no typo. Over his last 128 plate appearances, Alex Gordon has three doubles, zero home runs and seven RBI.

Indeed, over his last 30 games, Gordon has had a 38 wRC+. Yeah, that’s run production which is more than 60% below league average, or there abouts. Was it just the bouncing ball? In those glorious first 40, his BABIP was .411. In the latter pile of garbage, it was .253. The wheels have come off for Gordon, and the big question is if he’s gonna find the mudders again or if we’re stuck with the training wheels from here on out. If I’m a vulture, I might be interested in this data:

April 4.6% 22.9% 0.395 20.3% 49.4% 30.4%
May 8.1% 17.9% 0.398 24.2% 42.9% 33.0%
June 10.5% 18.4% 0.192 30.8% 38.5% 30.8%

So over the last three months, Gordon has seen his walk rate climb pretty dramatically, his strikeout rate remain fairly stable (and below career averages). His line drive rate has steadily climbed and his BABIP is simply in the toilet in June. The near .400 BABIP over the first two months wasn’t likely to be sustained, but given his hit trajectory, walk rate, and strikeout rate, I’d be betting that Gordon will pull out of his funk sometime soon. I’d be buying.

Chase Headley

In the first half of 2012, Chase Headley hit .267/.368/.413 with 8 home runs. And then you probably remember the 23 home runs he hit from that point on, running up a .308/.386/.592 slash line.

His first half of 2013 is just barely north of putrid – .222/.327/.348 with six home runs and he’s hardly even running with just four swipes. Maybe another second half explosion is lurking?

Headley owns a career .334 BABIP over more than 3,000 plate appearances — so we should feel fairly comfortable with that figure as a baseline. Right now, his BABIP sits at .276 while his expected BABIP based on his hit trajectory is fully .331 — much more in line with his career. He’s suffered through a .188 BABIP over the past month while batting a truly awful .156/.252/.229. His hit trajectory on the season, however, is right in line with his career rates:

2013 21.00% 45.70% 33.30% 11.10%
Career 19.60% 45.40% 35.00% 10.30%

There are a few warning flags. His contact rate is down about three percent to 72% and his swinging strike rate is at a career high 12.5%. He is, however, seeing just 39% of pitches in the strike zone, which is about 7% lower than the league average. So it’s clear pitchers are being much more careful with Headley than they have been in the past. It’s simply incumbent upon Headley to adjust and be more selective if this is indeed how pitchers are going to deal with him for the rest of the season.

Lastly, in 2012, Headley’s average distance on fly balls and home runs was 301 feet. So far this season, it’s just 276 feet. That’s one of the bigger differences I’ve seen when making such a comparison, so I don’t know if it reflects some kind of injury or dumb luck — but it’s worth pointing out that in 2011, his average distance was 284 feet, lending a little fuel to the outlier argument we’ve heard before about his 2012 power outburst.

At his current clip, Headley projects to finish the season with a .220 batting average, 13 home runs, 51 RBI, and eight steals. I’m not sure there are many people who would put money on that, but if you can convince an opposing manager to give him up on the cheap, you might have a great third base solution with plenty of upside for the second half.