In 2006, at 22, Alex Gordon played 130 AA games in the Texas League. He went .325/.427/.588 with 29 HRs, 39 doubles and 22 steals. He also struck out 113 times in 130 games.
The Royals were impressed; the following year they invited Gordon up for an extended cup of coffee that would last three years. In 2007, Gordon appeared in 151 games for the Royals and posted a middling .247/.314/.411 mark. Still he was only 23. At that age, a 6.8% walk rate and a 25.2% strikeout rate are correctable. And, on the bright side, he did hit 15 HRs and swipe 14 bases.
While Gordon’s debut wasn’t legendary, there was promise. Indeed, many fantasy prognosticators speculated that his 2008 season, at age 24, would be a 20-20 performance from a corner infielder. Well, Gordon did improve (.260/.351/.432 with 16 HRs and nine steals), just not by leaps and bounds. Though his counting stats did not meet expectations, his secondary numbers indicated growth: his line drive and fly ball rates increased and his ground ball rate decreased.
In the minds of the fantasy community, 2009 was sure to be Gordon’s behemoth season. Or not. Gordon got off to a slow start, battled some injuries and only played in 49 major league games before being demoted to Omaha. In his limited games with Kansas City, Gordon hit .232/.324/.378, but without much increase in strikeouts or decrease in walks. He did hit fewer line drives and way more ground balls – but 49 games is a pretty small sample. When he played in the minors in ’09, he destroyed the ball.
Gordon’s 2010 appeared to follow the same path as 2009; in relatively few major league opportunities, Gordon exhibited similar hitting struggles (.215/.315/.355) that earned him his demotion the previous year. The numbers underlying those numbers, however, indicated that Gordon was salvageable. His line drives came back and his ground balls went away – at least similar to 2007 and 2008 levels. Furthermore, he had an uncharacteristically low .254 BABiP, nearly 50 points below his .302 career average.
Looking back on Gordon’s past two shortened major league seasons, the problem was not with Gordon’s talent. In 2009, in a small sample, his line drive rate was funky. In 2010, in a small sample, his average on balls in play was funky. At every reasonable sample in the minors, Gordon absolutely torched the ball.
In 2011, now 27 and in his prime, Gordon is thus far hitting .309/.367/.500. His line drive rate is in line with 2007-08 and 2010. He is swinging and missing less than at any point in his career, albeit not much less than last season. In 2011, he is destroying fastballs – a pitch that tortured him in 2010.
And, there is still room for likely improvement. Gordon is posting a surprisingly poor HR/FB rate (7.3% compared to 9.3% for his career and double digits the last two seasons).
Of course, I have not mentioned the one extremely funky 2011 statistic: .358 BABIP. Think of this as the bent stick remedy for his miserable 2010 BABIP. When you meet in the middle of those two numbers, his average on balls in play is around .325 or so. With that kind of “luck” and a continued line drive rate, Gordon should hit .270.
Further, with a reasonable walk rate and if he maintains a similar isolated power, he should post a .360 OBP and .445 slugging percentage. Now for the “real” stats, i.e. the counting numbers. Gordon is a lock for 15 HRs, with upside to 20. So far he is 3/4 in SB attempts, I don’t see any reason he can’t go 11/15. In a suddenly somewhat potent Royals lineup (hello, Wilson Betemit – nice to meet you, Eric Hosmer), Gordon should score and knock in 80+ runs.
Gordon, to date, has disappointed on the major league stage. Fortunately, he looks to be back on his 2007 and 2008 MLB trajectory.