On January 6 of this year, the Royals announced free agent Alex Gordon would remain in Kansas City. Kansas City, a franchise with a grand history of drafting and developing players to be traded for cash every July. Kansas City, the proud owners of a 29-year playoff drought. Yes, Kansas City was resigning a franchise player following a World Series victory. And how has the man repaid the Royals thus far? With a .219 batting average through August 18 and a stint on the DL earlier this year due to a fractured wrist. So KC fans, how's that $72 million, four-year contract looking now? I say it's still worth it.
I watched my first Royals game in about a long time on Monday, and in Gordon's first at-bat he was walked. People who follow the team should know where I'm going here. After first taking a called strike, Gordo sat back and watched three straight balls go by. And when a 90 mph fastball came in, he watched that strike slide by as well. Sitting now at 3-2, Gordon fouls off two more pitches before taking a base on the fourth ball of the battle. An 8-pitch gem of an appearance, and the start to just another day at the office for Alex Gordon.
Gordon had an otherwise decent night with two hits and a run scored, but that second inning battle is what makes him the player the Royals need. While historically low enough to believe he'll bounce back, the .219 batting average is bad. How bad? Gordon hasn't played enough games to qualify for statistical comparison in the MLB, but if he did he would rank second to last in the AL - only Chicago's Todd Frazier is worse and currently sits at #77 among qualified batters with a .210 average. Yet Frazier and Gordon aren't comparable, and it's not even close.
Despite the abysmal batting average, Alex Gordon has an on-base percentage of .321 - a full ten percent greater. He ranks 37th in walks with 38 this season despite missing June. (That's 38 walks in 86 games - a walk in almost 50 percent of games played.)
Walks aren't just important because they get a player on base. Unlike a single, they don't advance a player from third to home. However, they WEAR PITCHERS DOWN. Alcides Escobar can secure the occasional first pitch hit (if you recall, the very first pitch of the 2015 World Series was a fastball over the plate that resulted in an inside-the-park home run). However, in this era of micromanaged pitch counts and overburdened bullpens, an 8-pitch at-bat is one of the best weapons a team can have.
After Gordon hit a double in the sixth inning on the sixth pitch of the at-bat after taking three balls, and Detroit's pitcher was lifted. Daniel Norris had only thrown 88 pitches, and Gordon had seen 16 of them. If you're counting at home, that's 19 percent of the team's time in the box with Norris.
Alex Gordon can snatch the occasional home run, will steal a base or two (six so far this year), and be a smart baseball player. As a four-time gold glove winner and 2014 platinum glove winner (an award whose creation I remain dubious to), his defensive skills are beyond reproach. Yet he can't be valued as just a great defensive player. His lifetime batting average is .265, and as a 32-year-old we know that number isn't going to finish anywhere close to .300 at the end of his career. Yet Gordon is not a replacement level bat. Gordon takes pitchers out of the game because he makes them tired. He doesn't jack home runs regularly, but creates the conditions under which Moustakas and Hosmer can. And that's why he's still worth every penny he's getting paid.
Oh yeah, here's that lead-off, inside-the-park home run that Escobar jacked off Matt Harvey in the World Series when the Royals beat the Mets in five games and were the best team in the world and made everyone happy.
September 9 Update: Out of curiosity I looked up Gordon's stats this afternoon. In the past thirty days he ranks seventh among all qualified outfielders (and first among left fielders) with a .394 on-base percentage. He's also 10th in both batting average (.305) and slugging (.547) among outfielders. Not MVP numbers, but certainly indicative of a player on the right track. Once again, Gordon's BA of .219 as of August 18 was zero cause for concern.