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Taking a look at some of Alex Gordon’s struggles

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The future Royals Hall of Famer got off to an incredible start, but has been cooling off at a rather worrisome pace.

Kansas City Royals v Chicago White Sox Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Alex Gordon is a Kansas City Royals legend. If I had it my way, there would be a statue of him rounding first base after hitting a home run in game one of the 2015 World Series in the outfield at Kauffman Stadium after he retires. To say that his four year, $72M contract has been disappointing would be an understatement.

To begin the 2019 MLB season, Alex Gordon looked like he might be back to his old self. If you arbitrarily use May 14th as a cutoff date, here was Alex Gordon’s stat line from the beginning of the 2019 season through May 14th:

  • .299/.382/.544/.926
  • 8 HR, 12 doubles
  • 8.1% BB%, 12.1% K%
  • 25.7% O-Swing%, 74.2% Z-Swing%, 46.2% Swing%, 8.3% SwStr%
  • 17.7% Soft%, 36.9% Hard%
  • .245 ISO, 141 wRC+
  • .295 BABIP

Fast forward to June 22nd (time of writing), and here is Gordon’s line from May 14th through June 22nd:

  • .213/.289/.328/.617
  • 2 HR, 6 doubles, 1 triple
  • 7.4% BB%, 24.3% K%
  • 31.7% O-Swing%, 68.2% Z-Swing%, 46.2% Swing%, 11.1% SwStr%
  • 17.8% Soft%, 35.6% Hard%
  • .115 ISO, 63 wRC+
  • .276 BABIP

Gordon has only struck out three times over his last six games, but his overall K% trend has been pretty rough since mid-April:

Minor Graphs - Prospects Live

As has pretty much every other meaningful statistic for Gordo. One of the first things that a lot of people like to jump to when a players’ K% rises is that the hitter must be working himself into bad counts. Some evidence may even point to that in Gordon’s case. In 2019, when Alex Gordon is ahead in the count, he has an OPS of 1.053. When Gordon gets behind in the count, his OPS is .689.

From the beginning of the season through May 14th, Gordon had 173 PA. Of those 173 PA, Gordon saw a fastball to start off 105 of them, good for a 60.7% rate. From May 15th through June 22nd, Alex Gordon has had 135 PA, and seen fastballs to begin 91 of them, good for a 67.4% rate. Through May 14th, Gordon swung at 18.5% of those first pitch fastballs. From May 15th on, he swung at 20%.

There’s not even really a huge change in where these first pitch fastballs are located:

Through May 14th
Since May 15th

There’s a little trend up in the zone, but essentially, nothing has really changed in terms of Gordon’s approach on the first pitch of his plate appearances. At this point in the digging, I honestly haven’t found anything that would suggest a huge difference in approach or, anything really in Gordon’s offensive performance. He’s striking out more, but why?

The answer may not lie in the approach, but simply in how Gordon has been pitched with two strikes. Here are the heat maps of where pitchers had been pitching Gordon with two strikes through May 14th, and since May 14th:

Gordon w/ 2 strikes through May 14th
Gordon w/ 2 strikes since May 14th

Pitchers have really started to figure Gordon out. Pitch him low and away, and he’s mostly not been very good. Here is a heat map of all of the pitches that Alex Gordon has either made an out on, or swung and missed at in 2019:

Gordon 2019 outs & misses

Here is a heat map of all the pitches that Gordon has made solid contact on in 2019:

Gordon solid contact

And here are all the pitches that Gordon has recorded hits on in 2019:

Gordon 2019 hits

As you can see, Gordon has had a tough time reaching pitches that are down and away from him in 2019. Pitchers have pretty much decided to stay entirely away from Gordon as a result. Gordon looked better Sunday afternoon against the Twins, hitting a pair of RBI doubles. Gordon took advantage of a couple of pitches that missed their spots and helped the Royals on their way to a 6-1 victory, but that doesn’t quite dismiss the last month or so of struggles.

The encouraging thing for Gordon at the moment is the fact that he is still hitting his pitches with authority. His hard-hit rate remains in tact and he’s actually hitting fewer balls weakly than he was early on, but part of that is due to fewer balls in play. If Gordon can just solve his issues with pitches in ONE location, he has a really good chance of resembling his old self for the rest of the season.

This all probably doesn’t mean much in 2019. The Royals aren’t going anywhere this season, Dayton Moore has all but said outright that he’s not trading Alex Gordon, and so Gordon’s performance in 2019 simply does not matter (though it would be nice to see a KC hero go out on a high note).

What it means for me, however, is that unless Alex Gordon can really turn around his struggles with pitches low and away, the Royals don’t need to be entertaining a significant contract extension for Gordon this offseason. Anything more than one year and $3-5M would be simply putting off the inevitable while potentially getting in the way of playing time for younger players like Brett Phillips, Bubba Starling, or even Khalil Lee.

Alex Gordon is one of my heroes. He’s got an autographed jersey hanging on the wall behind my head right now, and another in my closet. He was my favorite player on those playoff teams and he deserved every bit of that contract that KC gave him at the time. But just as some remember legends like Brett Favre for the end of their careers, and not for their prime, I fear that holding on to Gordon too long could result in something similar in KC. Even if Gordon evens out in 2019, I’m of the opinion that this should be his last in Royal blue.