KANSAS CITY, MO - JULY 18: Alex Gordon #4 of the Kansas City Royals hits a two-run double during a game against the Seattle Mariners in the fourth inning at Kauffman Stadium on July 18, 2012 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Last summer, Alex Gordon clubbed a career-high 23 home runs. His Isolated Power finished right at .200. He was awesome.
This summer… Not so much.
Some of the facts as Gordon sputters like KCPL on a 110 degree day:
-- Gordon has hit one home run since April. A leadoff shot against Zack Greinke on June 12 at Kauffman.
-- His current ISO is .137. If his season ended today, that would be the lowest rate of his career.
-- Gordon has hit a home run ever 78 at bats. Last season, he owned a 26.6 AB/HR. For his career, he’s at 33.5 AB/HR.
-- His 33 doubles lead the league.
Gordon enjoyed a career year in 2011, and gave plenty of credit to hitting coach Kevin Seitzer. Seitzer, Gordon said, taught him to go up there with a plan. Approaching each plate appearance as a mini-battle. Also, Seitzer had Gordon, "trying not to do too much." That included trying to drive the ball back up the middle.
Obviously, something worked.
Here is Gordon’s spray chart from last season. The plots are based where fielders picked up the ball.
Looking at the chart, I see a concentration of balls hit back up the middle. The pupil follows the teacher. Sure, there are balls hit to left and to right, but they seem evenly split between the two. More hits to right because that’s his pull field. Those hits are probably line drives.
Now, let’s compare to where Gordon has hit the ball this season:
It looks like he’s taking the ball more to the opposite field. The concentration of batted balls to left far outweighs those to center and right. Especially right. Yes, he’s still getting plenty of base hits, but by not driving the ball to the pull side, he’s sacrificing power. Gordon’s batting average on balls in play in 2011 was .358. This year, it’s .356.
Gordon’s fly ball rate is down to 33 percent, but that’s been added to his line drive rate, which is almost 26 percent. That’s the healthiest rate of his career and is likely the cause of his once again lofty BABIP.
As Bob Dutton pointed out at the end of the week, Gordon is on pace to break the Royals doubles record of 54 held by Hal McRae. He’s still hitting the ball hard, but by taking most of his pitches up the middle or to the opposite field, the solid contact isn’t generating power. Here's what Seitzer had to say about his pupil:
Five home runs? That’s shocking to me. But from a swing standpoint, his swing is great. I don’t want him to change anything.
This is a team sorely short of power. The potential is there, but almost four months into the season and only Billy Butler and Mike Moustakas have tallied double figures in home runs. Even though Gordon has become established and comfortable in the leadoff spot, he needs to regain his missing power stroke. Before 2011, Seitzer retooled his swing and got him thinking about taking the ball up the middle. It worked. But now it looks like Gordon has moved too far to the opposite field.
It’s a fine line… Gordon’s offensive game (home run power excepting) has thrived since he returned to the leadoff spot. Yet the Royals could use the extra pop. The key is to get Gordon to pull more batted balls, while retaining the solid contact he’s been making. It’s not an easy job, and I’m sure the Royals are probably more than content that Gordon has pushed his batting average ever so close to the .300 mark. But his power has been missed.
Last season, we saw the complete Alex Gordon. While the 2012 edition has been excellent of late, I still prefer the 2011 vintage. What’s wrong with having it all?