Alex Gordon: Quietly Fueling the First-Place Royals
Sitting atop the MLB Wins Above Replacement (WAR) hitting leaderboard is Mike Trout, as some might expect. But rather unexpectedly, Kansas City Royals outfielder Alex Gordon is second among all MLB hitters with a 5.5 WAR. Quietly, Gordon has been putting up another good season, and is one of the main reasons behind the Royals hot streak.
Since the All-Star break, the Royals are 22-9. They're first in the AL Central, in front of the Detroit Tigers - who many projected would coast to a division title, especially after the David Price trade - and the Cleveland Indians. Gordon has been leading this run, batting .327/.389/.496 with a .384 weighted on-base percentage (wOBA) in the second half, fueling a once struggling offense that has been behind their hot streak. Overall this season, Gordon is hitting .283/.358/.443 with a .353 wOBA.
Gordon's always been a fairly good outfielder with a career .270/.346/.437 slash, but he had never lived up to his billing. Gordon was the Royals' first-round draft pick in 2005, and immediately become the number one prospect in their system. Rated the number two prospect in the minors by Baseball America in 2006, he debuted in the big leagues in 2007, but after two mediocre seasons, his career was derailed with injuries. Gordon returned 2010, but just wasn't the same, hitting .215/.315/.355 with a .303 wOBA in 281 plate appearances.
In 2011, fully recovered from injury, Gordon finally broke out, posting his best season in the majors, hitting .303/.376/.502 with a .382 wOBA and a 6.6 WAR. And while Gordon hasn't reached those numbers since, he's grown into one of the better all-around outfielders in the majors today.
Since his breakout season, Gordon's been remarkably consistent. He's never batted below .260 or had an weighted on-base percentage below .300.
Gordon's numbers don't scream greatness. He's only hit above .300 once, only slugged over .500 once - all in his breakout year. And he's never reached those numbers since. Gordon's just a good - not great - hitter. He strikes out and walks an average amount and gets on base an above average amount, with a plus .300 wOBA. Most recently he's just been on fire.
But hitting isn't where most of Gordon's value lies. Yes, he's an above average hitter, but he's also excellent on the base paths and in the field. This year, Gordon has an Ultimate Base Running (UBR) rating, used to measure the value a player adds to his team through his base running, of 3.8. Gordon's UBR is good for eighth best in baseball, and better than well-known base stealers like Dee Gordon and Ben Revere. Gordon doesn't steal many bases - only eight this year and 75 lifetime - but he uses his speed to make plays on the basepaths.
More so, Gordon's speed is put to use in the field. Based on defensive metrics, Gordon is the second best fielder in baseball, with a 22.4 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), only behind Jason Heyward and the best left fielder in the game. With an UZR of 22.4, Gordon is a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder, already having three in his arsenal.
Gordon is also third among major leagues with 20 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), meaning he's saved the Royals 20 runs while playing left field. He makes his money as a fielder. FanGraphs rates Gordon's arm as the best in baseball, with an 8.6 ARM rating, while his range ratings are among the best in baseball too.
This season, Gordon has been leading the Royals charge, as their best hitter and fielder. He leads all qualified Royals in on-base percentage, slugging, weighted on-base percentage and WAR. He's also their best fielder, leading a defense that's the best in the big leagues. And as of late he's been on absolute tear.
But with a .402 BABIP since the All-Star break, it isn't likely Gordon will keep up his hot streak. And while Gordon may not continue to hit so well the rest of the season, if he can continue to give the Royals some much needed offense and power, it won't be long before we're talking about the AL Central Division Champion Kansas City Royals, making their first playoff appearance in 28 years.