By Mike Moritz
After being drafted second overall in the 2005 draft, Alex Gordon started his first season in pro-ball in AA and in 576 PAs, he hit .325/.427/.588 with a .268 ISO, while also posting a 12.5% walk rate, 29 homers and stealing 22 bases.We should also note, and probably put more consideration into his .452 wOBA and 172 wRC+, both of which were outstanding. It could be deemed that he was just about destined for greatness. The fact that he was able to hit that well in his first year of minor league ball in AA was amazing! Now rewinding a little bit, before the 2006 season started, he was already ranked as the 19th best prospect in baseball as rated by Baseball America, and he hadn't even picked up a bat in pro-ball. Impressive right? And sure enough, after that monster season in AA, he earned the #2 prospect rating by Baseball America, behind only the then highly touted Daiskue Matsuzaka. Not only did Gordon earn a higher ranking as a prospect, he also earned himself a spot on the 25-man roster, skipping AAA entirely.
So here's what happened next: He turned in what seemed to be a disappointing offensive season as he hit .247/.314/.411 with an 88 wRC+, with only 15 homers as his walk rate basically cut in half, down to 6.8%. On the other hand, he had a pretty nice .164 ISO and 36 doubles. But nontheless, it all added up to -8.1 RC. But UZR did like him enough for an 8.7. He turned in 2.1 WAR. His BABIP was .303. His LD/FB/GB slash line was 19.5%/43.6%/36.9%. So he had a little more pure power (FB%) and seemed to be a good pure hitter (LD%). So maybe he got a little unlucky. Let's say his BABIP should have been something like .325ish. So his average should have been around .272, his OBP should have been around .339 and etc. So the fact that he was able to post a 2.1 WAR in his rookie season despite not living up to offensive expectations at all is okay. He just got a little BABIP'd, nothing you can do about it.
Now, the next year, he started to put it together. He hit .260/.351/.432, .172 ISO, 106 wRC+. He hit 16 homers and 35 doubles but this time, his walk rate spiked back up to near his minor league levels: 11.6%. His batted-ball-slash-line was 21%/47.6%/31.4%. So he showed improved pure hitting ability and increased pure power, something that should have led to a break out year the next season.
Instead, Gordon got shot down by injuries in 2009. He missed 79 games, if my sources are correct, to a hip injury which, I believe, required surgery. He ended up only getting 189 PAs, a point in which the vast majority of statistics are not stabilized. So that was sort of a lost season for him.
And then, in 2010, he started the year on the DL. He came back after his rehab assignment and the Royals sent him back down after he was hitting .194 but in only 37 PAs. This is where the Royals started to mess with Gordon. Fans thought he was a bust. In 321 PAs in AAA, he, predictably, hit the shit off the ball: .315/.442/.577, just to keep it short. He was re-called in July and hit just .215/.315/.355 with a .140 ISO in 281 PAs, which added up to be -.4 WAR. Now, most conventional baseball fans don't know what WAR is, so all the Royals fans were just saying straight up that Gordon was a bust.
But if you know advanced stats well and you were into them since Gordon got called up for the first time back in 2007, then you might have noticed that after his injury plagued 2009 season, his batted rates went back to normal, more specifically his line drive rate. It rose back up from 14.3% in 2009 all the way back to 23.2% in 2010. So he was BABIP'd to death in 2010 in those 281 PAs, so be it. As I said before, you can't do anything about BABIP. It can be a harmful thing, it really can. But people should have also taken note of his growth as a pure hitter. As what happens to most great hitters who have multiple tools (in this case, I'm referring to hitting for average and hitting for power), Gordon started to hit more ground balls and less fly balls while also keeping his line drive rate up, which shows an improved set of hit-placement-skills, or the ability to place balls in certain spots, whether it be in the air, on the ground and to left or right field, or going back up the middle. Again, the reason that we did not see the results was because of the Holy BABIP.
So sure enough, Gordon has put it together this year at age 27, right at his prime. And yes, he been able to maintain the ability to keep hitting ground balls while also squaring up the ball for a home run now and then. His batted-ball-slash-line this year has been 21.8%/39.9%/38.4%, very good. So his stats for 2011, you ask? Well....305/.378/.505, .383 wOBA, 141 wRC+, .200 ISO, 30.6 RC, 7.9 UZR (keep in mind he made a position change before this year to left field from third base). He also has 41 doubles (which ties him for second in baseball) and 19 homers. He has 6 WAR this year. Sure his walk rate has gone down a bit (9.5%, still above average) and his O-Swing% has jumped, but based on his past performances with base on balls, I think he bring that walk rate back up, hopefully. And sure, his .365 BABIP is pretty high and due to regress, I wouldn't expect to regress all that much based on his batted ball this year and through his career.
Do I think that Gordon will be the 6.5 WAR guy for the rest of his career that he's on pace for now this season? No. But he should be a 3.5-4.5 and maybe 5 WAR through his prime and once his BABIP returns to normal. Gordon has not been a bust, in fact, he's far from it, it's just taken him a while to find his groove/get healthy/the Royals to give another chance/for the BABIP Gods to be kind to him for once. Some players take a few years to live up to the hype, Gordon is one of them. His career path has been a little sketchy but his peripherals tell the truth. Royals fans, Alex Gordon is pretty legit.
(Statistics in courtesy of: fangraphs.com, baseball-reference.com and baseballprospectus.com)