The Royals Without Alex Gordon

On Wednesday night, Alex Gordon strained a groin muscle chasing a fly ball. If you just adjusted in your seat, I don’t blame you — it sounds painful. He’ll be out for eight weeks, which is better news than the team could have received. If the Royals can hold the fort down until then, they just may have him back in time for the stretch run. Of course, injuries don’t always follow a defined timetable, so we’ll see. Still, there’s hope Gordon can come back. That’s better than nothing. The question is, though: how will they absorb his loss?

For now, they are going to roll with Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando. This isn’t a bad plan! As I’ve discussed in the past, Dyson is worthy of a starting position. His defense is still top notch. Here’s a reminder:

Dyson also hits at an average rate against right-handed pitching. He hasn’t played much this year, but his wRC+ versus righties is a healthy 105, and he is even hitting well against lefties, though that is in a ridiculously tiny sample.

Orlando has also displayed good defense in his limited time in the outfield. In case you’re not familiar, here is a recent example:

Orlando hasn’t been the best hitter, his flare for the dramatic notwithstanding. That shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. After all, this season was his fourth crack at Triple-A. Being Brazilian, his development curve was necessarily longer, but no matter how much he improves, the 29-year-old is unlikely ever to be a star. In the long run, he may hit lefties better than does Dyson — Orlando’s 91 wRC+ against lefties this season is better than Dyson’s career 55 wRC+ mark. But with Dyson hitting lefties well this year and Orlando not having much of a track record… well, let’s just say the jury is out.

Either way, the pair of outfielders is unlikely to replace Gordon’s production in the batter’s box. Gordon had been hitting like he did in his 2011 breakout campaign. His 138 wRC+ is tops on the team, as is his ISO, OBP and walk rate. The last of these was noted this morning by Buster Olney:

I thought I’d take a look at how this compares to other teams. Here’s what I found, entering Thursday’s action:

Percentage of Team Walks by Team Leader, 2015
# Team BB Team Leader BB %
1 Diamondbacks 259 Paul Goldschmidt 68 26.3%
2 Nationals 260 Bryce Harper 63 24.2%
3 Blue Jays 284 Jose Bautista 65 22.9%
4 White Sox 184 Adam LaRoche 40 21.7%
5 Tigers 246 Miguel Cabrera 53 21.5%
6 Royals 182 Alex Gordon 39 21.4%
7 Reds 249 Joey Votto 53 21.3%
8 Pirates 215 Andrew McCutchen 43 20.0%
9 Mets 225 Curtis Granderson 44 19.6%
10 Dodgers 294 Joc Pederson 56 19.0%
11 Indians 297 Carlos Santana 56 18.9%
12 Brewers 204 Adam Lind 38 18.6%
13 Cardinals 252 Matt Carpenter 46 18.3%
14 Orioles 210 Chris Davis 38 18.1%
15 Braves 239 Nick Markakis 43 18.0%
16 Angels 242 Mike Trout 43 17.8%
17 Marlins 196 Giancarlo Stanton 34 17.3%
18 Padres 219 Justin Upton 36 16.4%
19 Astros 264 Chris Carter 43 16.3%
20 Yankees 280 Alex Rodriguez/Mark Teixeira 45 16.1%
21 Cubs 281 Kris Bryant 45 16.0%
22 Twins 209 Joe Mauer/Brian Dozier 33 15.8%
23 Red Sox 273 David Ortiz 42 15.4%
24 Athletics 266 Stephen Vogt 40 15.0%
25 Giants 230 Buster Posey 34 14.8%
26 Rockies 191 Charlie Blackmon 27 14.1%
27 Rays 236 Evan Longoria 33 14.0%
28 Mariners 236 Nelson Cruz 32 13.6%
29 Rangers 246 Prince Fielder 31 12.6%
30 Phillies 195 Cesar Hernandez 24 12.3%

So, Gordon’s percentage of his team’s walks isn’t the highest, but it’s certainly up there. You can make the case that the Royals losing him is about as devastating as it could be for a team’s walk rate than any other team other than LaRoche and the White Sox, simply because those teams don’t walk less frequently than the other teams toward the top of the table. If you want to look at the situation more glass half full, you could say that the effect is somewhat muted by the fact that manager Ned Yost has hit Gordon sixth all season. As a result, Gordon was fifth on the team in plate appearances even though he was tied for second on the team in games started heading into Thursday’s action. Still, the team will feel it.

Another aspect of the team’s game that will look different is its batted-ball profile. Gordon led the team in fly-ball percentage, and was easily last in ground-ball percentage. Orlando and Dyson — especially Dyson — are the exact opposite. In fact, since he broke into the game for real in 2012, Dyson has hit the ball on the ground 58.3% of the time — good for ninth-highest in the majors (minimum 500 PA). At 40.8%, Gordon ranks 296th out of 419 overall. That’s a pretty drastic shift. Will it make a difference? Maybe, maybe not, but the aesthetics will certainly shift.

That is, unless the team seeks outside alternatives. Players like Justin Upton and Carlos Gomez will obviously be bandied about, though acquiring either player would be a flashier acquisition than the team is known for. Moreover, with Gordon not out for the season, such a move is probably overkill. Gerardo Parra will also be mentioned, though his skill set is similar to Dyson’s, so I don’t think that he would provide an upgrade that is worth pursuing. If the Diamondbacks decided that they wanted to make another poor decision, David Peralta would be someone for the Royals to target. So would Jonny Gomes and Marlon Byrd, and both ought to be available. Another player who should be readily available and has done nothing but mash lefties since he came into the league is Darin Ruf.

Ruf doesn’t have a lot of major-league exposure, and if you focus on his total stat line, you probably won’t be blown away. Not great defense, not great baserunning, and while his overall 112 wRC+ looks nice, it’s nothing to write home about. But his splits tell a different story. They may not be super reliable since he has limited major-league experience, but in 224 PA against left-handed pitchers, he has a 143 wRC+, and he’s been even better this year, producing a 188 wRC+. In fact, going back to the start of last season, his 169 wRC+ against lefties ranks 10th overall in the majors among outfielders. As a bonus, he has improved his BB/K against lefties in each passing season. Against righties, Ruf is a non-starter. Or, at least he would be on any team besides the Phillies. He’s hit just .146 against them since the start of last season, and believe it or not has compiled a wRC+ of 13 against them in 87 PA this season, and that is dragggging his stat line way down.

Alex Gordon has been the Royals’ best player for a while now, and while Lorenzo Cain is playing just as well if not better this season, losing Gordon is certainly far from optimal. But the Royals will weather this storm well. In Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando, the team will not suffer a defensive drop-off. Kansas City may struggle to replace Gordon’s offense, and they’ll certainly look a lot more one dimensional without him, but a cheap acquisition like Darin Ruf could help plug the gap.

We hoped you liked reading The Royals Without Alex Gordon by Paul Swydan!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs




Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com. He has written for The Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.

newest oldest most voted
Barney Coolio
Guest
Barney Coolio

How about Will Venable of the Padres?