At the beginning of November, Alex Gordon won his fifth Gold Glove for his stellar play in left field. His five Gold Gloves since 2011 are tied for the most won by any player (alongside Nolan Arenado, Jason Heyward, and Yadier Molina). Only an injury-shortened 2015 prevented him from a sixth.
If Gold Gloves aren’t enough evidence for you (which considering the checkered legitimacy of the award is fair), he’s been good enough to win an even more special honor. In 2014, Gordon was awarded the Platinum Glove as well. The Platinum Glove is given to the player with the best defense in each of the two leagues, as voted on by fans.
If that isn’t good enough for you, consider that Alex Gordon leads all left fielders in baseball in the two most widely-used defensive statistics, Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating, since he played his first inning in the outfield in 2010.
If that isn’t good enough for you, just look at this wall crash that saved extra bases in the 2014 American League Championship series...
...or this throw from the deepest part of left field to nail a runner going for two...
...or the famous Leap in Chicago:
Alex Gordon is an elite left fielder. Though his arm is strong, he uses a quick release and pinpoint accuracy to turn his throws into deadly lasers. Though he isn’t the fastest guy in the world, he combines almost instantaneous reaction time and perfect routes to make the most efficient play possible. In over 9100 innings in the outfield, he has made only 15 errors.
But Gordon in center field wasn’t a thing until this year, when there were whispers in Spring Training that Gordon would possibly get to patrol Lorenzo Cain’s territory every once and a while.
“We’re going to be pretty open-minded and experimental here in spring training with our outfield,” Yost said. “We’re going to move Gordy around, play him some in center and in right, too. We know he’s a Gold Glove left fielder. But we’re going to move him around.”
The idea of Gordon playing center field during the regular season remains improbable. The club will open with Lorenzo Cain in center field, while Paulo Orlando is a suitable fill-in at the position. But the club remains committed to flexibility.
The news of the experiment also delighted Gordon, who has hounded Yost and first-base coach Rusty Kuntz for years about playing center field.
In the past, it made no sense to play Gordon in center field when Cain and Jarrod Dyson existed, and the fleet-footed Paulo Orlando often played there lately as well. But with Dyson in Seattle, Orlando hurt, and Cain unable to play every single game in center, Gordon got his chance.
In Gordon’s very first career game in center field he did this:
Cain will not be with the Royals in 2018. Orlando’s time with the Royals may be up. Meanwhile, Gordon’s offense has abandoned him, and he has gotten significantly worse for two consecutive seasons.
So could Gordon be Kansas City’s starting center fielder next year?
Gordon only played 61 innings there in 2017, and while DRS and UZR graded him positively, that’s like trying to draw conclusions from three games’ worth of hitting data. He certainly looked the part when he played those 61 innings, as evidenced by the video above.
If you’re looking for a comp for Gordon playing center, Jason Heyward is a pretty good one. Like Gordon, Heyward is an elite corner outfielder. But unlike Gordon, Heyward has played a some of time in center. In almost 500 innings of center field, Heyward has posted a 16.4 UZR/150 (that’s UZR per 150 innings). In right field, that number is 17.9.
Another comp for Gordon could be his former teammates, Cain and Dyson. Cain has almost 1000 innings played in right, where his UZR/150 is 22.3; in over 5000 innings in center, his UZR/150 is 13.0. Dyson’s split is similar; he has a 28.2 UZR/150 in left field and a 26.4 UZR/150 in right field, with a 17.9 UZR/150 in center.
So could Gordon stick in center field? Absolutely. If he suffered a similar hit to his defensive efficiency as the other guys, he’d probably end up as a slightly above average defender in center field. Considering that the Royals suffered through Melky Cabrera’s relatively apocalyptic center field defense before Cain and Dyson appeared on the scene, they could certainly live with it.
But the biggest reason why Gordon could be a dark horse center field candidate next year is due to two Jorges: Bonifacio and Soler. Both are young, promising guys who are firmly corner outfielders and can’t handle roaming center field. Moving Gordon to center would allow the Royals to play both Jorges at the same time (and it opens more possibilities for Hunter Dozier, who’s just floating around with no purpose in the organization).
Will it happen? Maybe. But could it? Definitely. The Royals should consider it.