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Friday, November 21, 2008

Alex Gordon = bust?

Today at work my co-author and I were discussing Alex Gordon and whether or not it's time to abandon ship. I thought it was too early to do so considering he's only been in the league for two seasons but I couldn't help but think that he has been a massive disappointment. So I figured "why not write today's blog about it in order to form a conclustion instead of relying on my gut?" Well, here we go:

Drafted second overall in the 2005 draft, Alex Gordon was seen as the second coming of George Brett for the franchise. Now that he's played two seasons, the word "bust" is being used quite frequently to describe him by fans and analysts alike. Is he really a bust or just a victim of unrealistic expectations?

Coming out of Nebraska in 2005, Gordon went immediately to AA Wichita. In 486 plate appearances Gordon hit .325/.427/.588 showing good plate discipline, power, and proving that he was adequate enough defensively to man the hot corner in the bigs. Needless to say his performance did little to temper expectations but instead raised them by showing the organization that he was probably MLB ready from the get-go.

As a rookie in 2007, Gordon struggled. Badly. He hit .247/.314/.411 and struck out three times as much he walked. The one bright spot was his baserunning where he went 14-18 on SBs. Even his defense slipped. The organization wasn't worried though and even left him on the major league roster for the whole season, confident that he'd right himself.

This past season Gordon improved but not as much as everyone thought he would. His struggles were compounded by his awful defense at third. Towards the end of the season there were rumblings coming out of the front office that he would have to be moved to 1b sooner than later adding to the organizational logjam at 1b/dh.

Last season wasn't a total waste as Gordon did improve in several areas. Gordon's raised his percentages across the board to .260/.351/.432. Additionally he was 9-11 on SBs and his K:BB ratio not only went down to 2:1 but his walk rate (PA's/BB's) stood at 11.6%. all respectable numbers. His OPS+* might tell the best story. After posting an 87 as a rookie, Gordon ended last season with a 110 mark. Where 100 is average (or replacment level), this shows us that Gordon was actually above average with the bat. Not All-Star caliber but a massive improvement from his first season. His real team value drops when taking his bad defense into consideration, probably leaving him as a league average player (this does not take positional value into effect).

*OPS+ takes park effects into consideration

So what's he going to be? Baseball-prospectus says Gordon's best comparables are Joey Foy (who?), Howard Johnson, and Tim Wallach. However, when discussing Alex Gordon with Ryan, I immediately drew the comparison to Curtis Granderson.

Curtis Granderson has played about 3.5 seasons and has steadily improved to the point where he is considered a borderline superstar. Here's his %'s his first 3 seasons:

2005: .272/.314/.494
2006: .260/.335/.438
2007: .302/.361/.552

Notice the breakout in 2007? If you look at the OBP and SLG you can see we have a similar player to Gordon. Sure the skill set is slightly different but the results are compelling. Granderson and Gordon also have one other thing holding them back--their inability to hit left-handed pitching.

Here's Gordon's and Granderson's career splits:
Gordon vs RHP: .264/.349/.445 and vs LHP: .226/.291/.365
Granderson vs RHP: .297/.369/.524 and vs LHP: .221/.280/.387

These numbers aren't doing Gordon any favors here. I guess what I'm saying is, with Gordon I see a similarity to Granderson. Granderson exploded in year 3, showing improved ability to make contact resulting in much more power. Gordon made small steps last year which make me a optimistic that he is also ready for a similar growth in his game.

Two seasons is too soon to write off a player but it's not too soon to get a glimpse of what that player is most likely to become. With Gordon he could go either way. If he improves the way Granderson did his offense will mask his defensive deficiencies and he will be a perennial All-Star. If his offense doesn't improve he will be a mediocre hitting, poor fielding 3b with nowhere to go; poor fielding third basemen don't become utility players, they move to 1b. But in an organization that has lots of players at 1b, none of whom Gordon has proved he's substantially better than, it appears the time has come for Gordon to put up or move on.
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