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A Word on Alex Gordon's Struggles

I have much longer post in the works that centers around our catching situation and a few of our more questioable roster decisions, but this topic has been burning a hole in my head for a little while now. I'm not going to call specific people out or anything--though maybe I should if everyone would improve the way Jome Run Jose did after I dissed his plate discipline--but I've seen numerous comments in game threads and fanposts that go something like "over/under for pitches Gordon sees in his AB: 1" or "of course Gordon goes after the first pitch" or "Gordon kills another rally." I'm not going to tell people to take a different attitude towards Gordon, because that would be prententious of me, but I feel as if overall the negativity towards A-Gord is a bit misdirected. Not wishing to pick on Will, let's look at part of what he wrote on Alex in his nicely done "Auto-Interview II" piece, as I feel as if i should expand a bit on the subject of what kind of hitter Alex has shown himself to be in the majors thus far.

In over 800 big league PAs he's a .253/.322/.408 hitter. He is 24 years old, so he's right on the hinge between still being young and being in his prime. Look at his comparables on his baseball-reference page and tell me how I should feel. Whatever it is that we expected he'd be... we may have to give up those dreams. Fortunately, this is an experience that most of us should be familiar with.

Will's right, of course, in that Gordon has been disappointing relative to what was expected. In hindsight it's easy to say that perhaps Gordon would be better off right now if he had done been learning in AAA rather than being sent right up to the majors, despite the consensus at the time that Alex had nothing left to prove in the minors. The issue that I feel the need to expand on, as this was already brought up in the last couple game threads, is that saying Gordon is a number/number/number hitter for his very short career in the bigs or this season doesn't tell the whole story. Just because it now appears that Alex isn't going to be a superstar doesn't mean we can't still be excited about him improving this year and down the line.

For one, let's look at something that should be clear to everyone by now: Alex Gordon has, in fact, improved overall since last season. Last year's HBP-boosted .247/.314/.411 line isn't exactly blown away by Alex's current .265/.345/.419, but there's definitely caveats here. That .314 OBP had a lot to do with getting plunked 13 times last year, and this year's .345 figure is only slightly boosted by 4 HBPs. After walking only 41 times in 151 games last year, Gordon has already taken 32 free passes. Gordon is also seeing 3.95 pitches per plate appearance this year, which .03 more than David DeJesus. The former is critiscized by many Royals fans as being an impatient hitter at the plate, while the latter is considered to have a very good plate approach. It's also worth noting that that 3.95 P/PA is highest on the team. Now I know this will bring up the totally reasonable argument that patience is not the same thing as working the count effectively to drive the ball--because clearly Alex still needs to work on that--but Gordon is the last player on this team that should be dismissed as someone who isn't working the count.

Now, if you're next reaction is to say something like "okay, but .265/.345/.419 isn't that much better than the career numbers, and it still isn't good for a 3B" then...we are in total agreement. But there's another interesting thing going on with Gordon right now, namely his RHP-LHP splits.

  • Alex Gordon 2008 vs. RHP: .294/.370/.505
  • Alex Gordon 2008 vs. LHP: .195/.286/.218
  • Alex Gordon Career vs. RHP: .270/.344/.440
  • Alex Gordon Career vs. LHP: .209/.274/.343

That 2008 vs. RHP line is a lot closer towards what everyone wants, isn't it? Noting that Gordon's overall line has been unimpressive in the majors is fine, because unlike derisions of his plate discipline, it's true. However, it makes sense to parse the splits, especially in the case of a young player. It is far too early in Gordon's career to label him a player who can't hit lefties at all, as that career vs. lefties sample is in 200-something PAs (barely a third of one season's worth). Nonetheless, it has be pointed out that Gordon is killing right-handed pitching this year, while he turns into Freddie Bynum against left-handers. Is this necessarily better than him OPSing 730 vs. righties and lefties, you ask? To my way of thinking, yes. It's not all that uncommon for a young left-handed hitter to struggle against same-sided pitching and then find his feet against them with experience. Maybe Gordon will never be a lefty-masher, but if he can keep up his current vs. RHP clubbing and combine that with, say, a .250 BA against LHPs--hardly an unrealistic goal--his overall line will give us a lot less to complain about. It's not as if Gordon came up with some major caveat such as "this kid is awesome, but he can't touch lefties." The talent is there, the plate discipline is coming, and an improvement versus lefties would vault Gordon up into triple-slash numbers where he would be a plus for his position.

If there's anything we should be getting on Alex for in particular, it's his weak hitting versus left-handers and the fact he's not exactly thrilling defensively overall, despite several gold glove plays this year. Alex Gordon is not a superstar, or a lost cause. I think we all know that a player can be quite good while falling somewhere in-between these extremes.