Yesterday, we ran an article by Sean Thornton and Max Rieper pontificating about whether Alex Gordon is back. I am here to answer that question: Yes. He’s definitely back. How do I know this? Well, for starters, there’s all the evidence in their own article. There is also the fact that even before he came off the disabled list and started raking that he was hitting rockets all over the field - harder even than he’s hit the ball since returning.
There’s also this nugget written by some incredibly intelligent writer on our website. For those of you who lack belief I will summarize. History suggests that while really good hitters can sometimes fall off a cliff as they age, they usually have a late-career resurgence before being forced to give up the sport.
The bad news is that it’s pretty much too little, too late for Alex Gordon’s resurgence to help the Royals. The Royals, you may have heard, are not going to the playoffs this year. That will remain true regardless of how good or not good Alex is, barring a lot of other unlikely things. They’re probably not going next year, either. The other bit of information in that excellent preseason article was that these resurgences usually don’t last long. The Royals should not contemplate extending him even further into his 30s; at least not anywhere near the prices they’ve been paying, anyway. Those prices also mean that even if the Royals wanted to move him and he was willing to be traded that there probably aren’t many if any suitors out there that would want to trade for him in the first place. A good Alex will be a pleasure to watch but not much else. Speaking of pleasure to watch...
Soler On-Base has converted to Soler Power
The word has gone around a bit that Jorge Soler was starting to really heat up with the sun. Some people, however, wondered where the power was. Yeah, sure, he was getting on base more than 40% of the time but he’s supposed to hit for tons of power. Where were the tape measure blasts to go with the constant walking? The theory was raised that perhaps Soler was walking because when he got even a teensy bit hot all the pitchers refused to throw him strikes because why would you when you could just strike out the next 4 guys? The theory continued that maybe if Jorge had some protection in the lineup he’d convert some of those strikes into extra-base hits.
Enter Ned. Soler started batting second ahead of Mike Moustakas, the only other consistently good hitter in the lineup, on Monday. It’s an incredibly tiny sample size but since then he’s collected 6 hits (and 2 walks, still) in 4 games before Friday’s action. 3 of those hits were doubles while 2 were mammoth home runs. That’s an ISO of .500 and good enough overall for a wRC+ of 229.
Like I said, it’s only 4 games, but anyone who has doubted the power should see that it’s there, now, and just waiting for him to tap into it. Considering his ability to reach base batting him second makes all kinds of sense, anyway. It should also offer additional protection to current lead-off man Whit Merrifield. But even though the offense has been heating up...
The starting rotation has quietly stunk
Over the last 2 weeks, only one starter has an ERA under 5.00. That, of course, is ace-apparent Jakob Junis - who has still managed a -0.2 fWAR over that span. Danny Duffy, despite his protests that he’s had really good stuff, has pitched to a 7.79 ERA with a 7.11 FIP in 17.1 innings over 3 starts. His strikeout rate is also second-lowest among Royals starters over that stretch, “bested” only by Jason Hammel.
Duffy hasn’t been able to keep runners off base, he hasn’t been able to strand runners, and he hasn’t been able to keep hitters in the park. According to FanGraphs, he’s really getting lit up on his changeup. That’s a pretty big deal for a left-handed starter who regularly sees lineups stacked with righties. I don’t know what the answer is for him, but he’ll need to figure it out in a hurry if he hopes to provide value for any future Royals teams in any form.
The starter I still find most interesting, right now, is Eric Skoglund. Our own Ryan Heffernon wrote him off, yesterday, but what if I told you he was the most valuable starter in the Royals rotation over the last two weeks? (Technically he’s tied with Trevor Oaks who has only made a single 5-inning start, which is an entirely separate fascinating thing.) Skoglund’s got a better groundball rate than the other starters, he’s been striking out more than a batter per inning, and he’s keeping the ball in the yard better than Junis, Duffy, or Ian Kennedy. His biggest problem, right now, appears to be walks. If he could keep everything else he’s doing the same but just reduce the walks - which was supposed to be his one, true skill, to begin with - then he might yet turn into a decent back-of-the-rotation starter. He has underperformed his FIP in every start, this year, except the one against Chicago. He also had a rough start to the year that saw him sitting on the bench for nearly 2 weeks before he finally got into a game with another week between his first and second starts. He’s also still only 25 and this is still his rookie season - he had neither enough service time nor enough innings pitched last season to be considered a sophomore, this year. Heffernon might be right and he really might end up being more or less worthless. But it could be that it’s going to take more than 10 career starts mixed and matched over parts of 2 seasons to figure out what kind of player he might still become.