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MLB Arizona Diamondbacks

Will Alex Gordon Regress In 2012?

It was supposed to happen sooner.  He was supposed to be an All-Star and MVP candidate earlier than this; he was supposed to be the second coming of George Brett. Coming out of college he was looked at as a five-tool talent that could lead the Kansas City Royals back into relevance. He was the second pick in the 2005 draft, the Royals pushed him immediately to Double A and he hit .325/.427/.588 with 29 home runs in his first season as a professional.

Coming into the 2007 season Alex Gordon was ranked by Baseball America as the number two prospect in the entire game. He had one season of professional baseball under his belt and he now found himself in the Major Leagues.  Gordon had a solid but unspectacular rookie season, hitting .247/.314/.411 with 15 home runs.  In his second year he improved on those numbers hitting .260/.351/.432 with 16 home runs. It was another decent year but not what everyone was expecting. The next two years would push everyone’s expectations way down, even to the point where some were wondering if Alex Gordon, the can’t miss kid, simply missed. He lost most of 2009 and 2010 in the Majors to injury and mediocrity. While rehabbing in the minors he stilled showed he could hit, posting an OPS over 1.000 on each stint. Was Gordon simply a quadruple A player (star in the minors but not quite enough for the major leagues)?

Alex Gordon and the Kansas City Royals knew something needed to change in order to save a once promising career.  Leading up to the 2011 season, The Royals had hitting coach Kevin Seitzer work with Gordon on his swing, getting into a ready position earlier and more compact at the plate. Well it paid off in 2011 – .303/.376/.502 with 23 home runs, 185 hits and 87 runs batted in. All career highs.  But did Alex Gordon really turn the corner on his career or was it simply one of those years?


Year

Age




HR%

SO%

BB%

XBH%

X/H%

SO/BB

AB/SO

AB/HR

AB/RBI



IP%

LD%


2007

23

KCR

2.5%

22.8%

6.8%

9.2%

41%

3.34

4.0

36.2

9.1

66%

21%

2008

24

KCR

2.8%

21.0%

11.6%

9.1%

41%

1.82

4.1

30.8

8.4

63%

20%

2009

25

KCR

3.2%

22.8%

11.1%

6.4%

32%

2.05

3.8

27.3

7.5

61%

13%

2010

26

KCR

2.9%

22.1%

12.1%

6.4%

35%

1.82

3.9

30.3

12.1

62%

22%

2011

27

KCR

3.3%

20.2%

9.7%

10.5%

39%

2.07

4.4

26.6

7.0

66%

19%

5 Seasons


2.9%

21.5%

9.8%

9.0%

39%

2.19

4.1

30.2

8.3



64%

20%


MLB Averages

2.6%

17.9%

8.6%

7.8%

33%

2.10

5.0

34.6

7.9



69%

19%


 

Taking a look at a few of his ratio stats from Baseball- Reference, Gordon improved across the board power wise. He hit for a higher percentage of home runs, struck out less, a higher percentage of his hits were going for extra bases. However, he wasn’t walking any more than he had in years past and he was putting about the same percentage of balls in play as he usually had, he wasn’t hitting for a line drive percentage at any higher a rate ( league average is between 18-20%),so what was the reason for Gordon’s success?  A look at his stats on FanGraphs.com show he made contact on almost 79% of the times he swung (78.8 to be exact) after having only connected on 76.5% of his swings before his breakout season. It was a sign of improvement but league average is around 80-81%, so again why were Gordon’s numbers better this year?


Year

Age

Tm


PA

Outs

RC

RC/G

AIR

BAbip

BA


2007

23

KCR

600

428

70

4.4

107

.303

.247

2008

24

KCR

571

381

79

5.6

104

.309

.260

2009

25

KCR

189

133

21

4.2

105

.276

.232

2010

26

KCR

281

207

26

3.4

99

.254

.215

2011

27

KCR

688

446

118

7.1

98

.358

.303

5 Seasons

2329

1595

314

5.3

102

.314

.262


162 Game Avg.

675

462

91

5.3

102

.314

.262


 

A closer look at his relevant advanced batting stats from Baseball Reference paints a clearer picture. Coming into 2011, Gordon had a career average around .285 balls in play. In 2011 he hit .358, 73 points above his career average.  Batting average on balls in play is a tricky measure of a players worth because a player has little to no control on what happens once the ball is in play, meaning luck comes into play. Was Gordon really 74 points better in 2011 or was he simply lucky?  A variation as high as his almost assuredly means some sort of regression in the following year but will he go back to being the Alex Gordon of old? Most likely not, FanGraphs.com breaks down BAbip and describes why a player’s average can vary from year to year –

Description:

Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) measures how many balls in play against a pitcher go for hits. While typically around 30% of all balls in play fall for hits, there are three main variables that can affect BABIP rates for individual players:

a) Defense - Say a player cracks a hard line drive down the third base line. If an elite fielder is playing at third, they may make a play on it and throw the runner out. However, if there’s a dud over there with limited range, the ball could just as easily fly by for a hit. Pitchers have no control over the defenses behind them; all they can do is minimally affect if a ball is more likely to be in the air or on the ground.

b) Luck - Sometimes, even against a great defense, bloop hits can fall in. A batter may turn a nasty pitch into a dribbler that just sneaks past the first baseman, or they may blast a shot in the gap that a fielder makes a diving catch on. A pitcher can make the absolute perfect pitch against a batter, yet the hitter could still dribble it up the middle for a hit. That’s just the game.

c) Changes in Talent Level - Over the course of a season, players can go through periods of adjustment. Maybe a pitcher starts tipping one of their pitchers, their mechanics are off, or they start leaving too many balls over the plate. Balls get hit harder until the pitcher makes the necessary adjustments, but until then, the harder a ball is struck, the more likely it is to fall in for a hit.

 

While a player may not have much control after he has made contact, this description helps point out why Gordon was more successful in 2011. He didn’t hit for a higher percentage of line drives but he did make more contact in 2011, he had a little luck come his way and he made adjustments to his swing.

Will Alex Gordon regress in 2012? Putting everything together a lower batting average is basically assured – .275-.280, but his higher contact rate, lower strike out rate and improvement across the board power wise including a .200 isolated power average, 40 points above his career average (slugging – batting average) – Bill James suggest changes in isolated power take on meaning around 550 plate appearances, Gordon had 688- suggest he should be able to put up similar numbers to what he did in 2011.