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Season in review: Alex Gordon

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The short-time MVP candidate had another great season.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

This is the beginning of the "Season in Review" series. We'll be going over each player, looking at his performance, and grading his season. We shall begin with our good old Nebraska boy, Alex Gordon.

For a short time this year, Alex Gordon passed Mike Trout in FanGraphs' version of WAR. At that point, it seemed like Twitter, the internet, Kansas City, television, and all the writers exploded. Luckily, or unfortunately I suppose, we didn't have to deal with it very long. Gordon fell into a slump near the end of the season and exited the MVP race discussion.

Despite the slump, Gordon still had a very good season. Though his wRC+ was but 122, he ended up with the same fWAR value (6.6) as his breakout 2011 season during which he had a 140 wRC+. This is mainly due to his defensive contributions, for which he is becoming more and more known. He has gone from throwing guys out on the bases repeatedly to intimidating baserunners from even attempting to advance. His range is ridiculous. He's a top defender. This we know. As a bonus, he was an excellent baserunner. Despite not stealing many bases, he amassed about 6 extra runs worth of value from his baserunning, good for 14th among qualified position players.

After 2013's down offensive season, I was expecting a rebound. His power was about the same as before. His strikeout rate was about the same. The difference was his walk rate. In order to regain his excellent walk rate, Gordon simply swung at fewer pitches outside the zone (lower O-swing%) and made less contact with the pitches outside the zone at which he did swing (lower O-contact%). That's a simple recipe for more walks. That is allowed, right? GMDM won't go Billy Beane and trade him now, will he?

With each player through this process, I'll attempt to do the same structure of analysis, starting with basic K%, BB%, and batted ball data. The table below shows Gordon's relative K and BB rates; over 100 means he did more of the thing than the league, and under 100 means he did less of the thing than the league.

Season K% BB% lgK% lgBB% Rel K Rel BB
2011 20.1% 9.7% 18.6% 8.1% 108 120
2012 19.4% 10.1% 19.8% 8.0% 98 126
2013 20.1% 7.4% 19.9% 7.9% 101 94
2014 19.6% 10.1% 20.4% 7.6% 96 133

Gordon hovers around the average strikeout rate. However, Gordon usually takes more walks than the league. I noted this above. Moving along, here is a table showing the relative frequency values for each type of batted ball (according to FanGraphs data).

Season Rel LD Rel GB Rel FB Rel IFFB Rel HR/FB
2011 112 89 107 42 130
2012 120 94 96 91 75
2013 96 91 115 53 97
2014 93 95 111 93 119

Gordon used to hit more line drives than the league; now it appears that he hits more fly balls than the rest of the league, which is fine. As I wrote here, Gordon is decent when he puts the ball in the air due to his ability to allocate a greater frequency of his fly balls to the hard hit category compared to the league. Gordon generally stays away from the popups, and he is at least average in terms of turning his fly balls into home runs. This next table shows the production on each type of batted ball as measured by FanGraphs.

Season FB Rel PRD LD Rel PRD GB Rel PRD
2011 140 111 107
2012 110 111 99
2013 103 95 125
2014 116 108 103

Because Gordon is able to allocate more of his fly balls to the hard hit category, his production on fly balls is better than league average. It appears he may even have a skill at making more of his line drives, too. He's probably somewhere around average on ground ball production in terms of true talent despite his pull tendency. His pull ratio on grounders in 2014 was about 4.6, which is roughly in shifting territory. Note the cluster of green in the spray chart below between 1st and 2nd base compared to the non-cluster between 2nd and 3rd base. Also note, however, that he sprays line drives and fly balls around the outfield.

gordon spray chart

So, Alex Gordon is a player with a solid baseline for performance. He has a good frequency basis in terms of strikeouts, walks, and batted ball data, and he can do pretty good damage on balls in play. Though Gordon will sometime soon start to show signs of aging, he has a ways to go before he becomes a poor player.

Back to that slump. Were there any causes for it beyond "slump"? Maybe. The graph below shows that Gordon faced a few more breaking balls later in the season compared to the earlier part of the season. Gordon's walk rate jumped fairly high in September, but so did his strikeout rate.

gordon pitches

Given all this information, it's time to assign a grade. Though Gordon's offensive performance is down from his 2011 breakout, that appears to be the outlier. Gordon often came up big with home run and highlight-reel catches. He is a good offensive player and elite defender who had a season that probably reflects his true talent level, depending on how much stock you put in to defensive metrics.

For a reminder, here's this.

There's also this, the next day.

Grade: A