After a career-worst season last year, it looked like any hope of Alex Gordon ever returning to a respectable level of play was down the drain. He had taken his decline to a new floor, losing power and losing his superb-plate skills by a significant margin. For a huge majority of 2017, he looked lost at the plate. With pitchers constantly overmatching him, he looked like he didn’t belong at this level of play.
Fast-forward to March and April of this year and things get even worse. Hitting an ugly .127/.234/.164 in Spring Training didn’t ease any worries and seeing a .174/.208/.217 the first week of the season left us thinking any chance for a respectable level of play from Alex Gordon at the major league level was gone.
But then a twist. Out of the blue after a short DL stint and some rehabbing in AAA, Gordon has slashed .270/.341/.378. This obviously isn’t optimal with his contract at all, but with his standardly high level of defense, it creates a level of play that you would call respectable.
I’m not trying to get excited about his level of production here (because I’m not), I’m just simply interested in the overall change in his profile recently that have led to his improvement.
The clear point of this graph is to show that Gordon is hitting more groundballs and less flyballs than he ever has in the past three seasons, going against the recent trend of all MLB hitters collectively. With this, he’s hitting the ball the much harder, even harder than the days when he was an offensive threat.
Going with a lower launch angle has increased the quality of contact for Gordon, using a downward swing that further accommodates the speed of his swing. That isn’t the only thing it’s helped for him though, seeing that Gordon is now actually below the league-average K-rate.
A faster bat has allowed him to catch up to those fastballs that we constantly saw him whiff on in the 2016 and 2017 seasons. He’s putting pitches thrown 95+ MPH into play at a higher rate than he did in those disastrous seasons.
- 2016: 14.7%
- 2017: 17.7%
- 2018: 23.0%
A great example of this can be shown on this 96 MPH heater thrown by Dylan Covey, as Gordon used a lower-launch angle swing to shoot the ball into left-center field with an exit velocity of 109 MPH.
So here’s the rare story of a player getting better by hitting the ball on the ground more. Alex Gordon is likely never to return a player that hits significantly above league-average like he did in his prime, but he’s climbing closer to average. The current situation between Gordon and the Royals is nothing to be thrilled about still (as any 90 wRC+ hitter that owns a $18 million AAV contract should), but I guess it would be refreshing to see Gordon not end his Royals career on a total dud. It could be worse too. Just look to Chris Davis and the Baltimore Orioles. He currently owns a $23 million AAV contract and is a first baseman with a 23 wRC+ this year.
After last season, it looked like Gordon might not have been able to make it to the end of this contract. Now he’s made some changes and his level of production is only going up. This isn’t about the Royals getting anything out of this. This contract will never be able to be traded and Gordon’s improvements aren’t ever going to push the Royals into contention in the future. This is simply about one of the all-time great Royals ending his career on a more respectable level.