Writer’s Note: Alex Gordon ranked 24th on Zach Sanders’ end-of-season rankings among outfielders.
I think the way I’ve always thought of/considered Alex Gordon is as the player whom, when stuck with, finally rewarded his team’s patience. And it sort of feels weird to call it ‘patience’ when he shuttled between Kansas City and Omaha countless times even after he had two seasons of 100-plus big league games under his belt.
In fact, I think that’s what surprised me most about breaking down Gordon. I knew from being an AL Central-centric viewer that his 2011 ‘breakout’ came at an age (27) and experience level (season five) that doesn’t typically equate when it comes to a player who hasn’t experienced a change of scenery.
But where I had misremembered was the actual level with which the Royals stuck by him. I think I’d assumed he’d bounced back and forth all four of those years, when in fact he was handed the keys to third base in both 2007 and 2008, amassing 100-plus more plate appearances in either of those seasons than he did in 2009 or 2010. Before breaking out, Gordon had 1600-plus plate appearances (with a triple-slash of .244/.328/.405, no less).
Let’s re-frame that: Gordon had more plate appearances as a 23 year old in the major leagues than he did as a 25 AND 26 year old, combined. Same goes for his age-24 season. It should be noted that he missed a large portion of time in 2009 to a hip injury.
I don’t know about you the reader, but to me that seems to be the road to Quad-A status rather than a future +5-6 win player. But Gordon has rewarded the Royals just faithfulness with three very good seasons (+15.5 WAR combined), starting with his breakout in 2011. That year, Gordon posted a .382 wOBA, which was good for 20th in the major leagues and 11th among all outfielders.
This also brings up a good point; his entire breakout lines up with his shift to the outfield full-time. Other than a spare 23 innings at first base, Gordon has played exclusively — and fabulously — in left field since 2011.
But while Gordon has been a solid player, a lot of his value is also tied into his defense. And as fantasy players, well, who gives a rip, right? From the high-water wOBA mark of 2011, Gordon has seen a steady tumble: .382 -> .357 -> .326. And that’s obviously troubling for his prospects for next season.
A check of Gordon’s underlying numbers reveal a couple key things. After back-to-back seasons with BABIPs over .350, Gordon saw his mark fall to .310. And while it’s still under his career mark of .326, it’s certainly more in line with his career marks than the .350s. This is duly noted in Steamer and the newly posted Oliver projections, each which forecast his BABIP next year within a tick or two of his career marks.
In that vein, each of the projections forecasted for Gordon expect his production to fall somewhere between 2012 and 2013. That is, right around a .340 wOBA. And while it’s hard to predict what run environments and all that will look like next year, but a .340 wOBA was good for 24th among all outfielders last year (Alfonso Soriano and Andre Ethier).
And I think that’s about where I’d pick Gordon, maybe among the first 18-20ish outfielders selected. He won’t blow up home runs or stolen bases, but will do just enough to be helpful in both categories. I’m not apt to overpay or reach for someone like that.
As a parting shot, one underrated part of Gordon’s game which could stand to improve is runs batted in. Gordon drove in 81 — one shy of the team high — in 2013 from the leadoff spot. With the addition of Norichika Aoki — and his .355 career OBP — there’s got to be at least a decent chance the Royals move Gordon down to No. 2 in the order to accommodate a better fit in the leadoff spot. So if you’re willing to move Gordon up your board, this — at least to me — would be a good basis to.
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