If you follow baseball in any manner, the word ‘Consistency’ will be heard on a fairly regular basis. Every team wants that player that year after year puts up good numbers(consistently) and can be inserted into the lineup without a second thought. Hitters especially can be a streaky bunch, but as long as your numbers are there at the end of the year, that is all that matters. In fact, some players are so consistent that they can be taken for granted for going out day after day and being a reliable major league player. Alex Gordon has been as consistent as any player in the game since 2011 and because of that he sometimes blends into the background unless he is really hot…or really cold. So far in 2016, Gordon has struggled mightily in a year that has him coming off of signing his big contract in the off-season and an injury to his wrist that left him out of action for about a month. No matter the situation, Gordon just can’t seem to catch a hot streak and his struggles are even starting to worry the most faithful of us(like myself). With Kansas City on the ledge of being sellers at the trade deadline instead of buyers, one has to wonder-what is wrong with Alex Gordon?
Let’s mark a few items of discussion off the ledger. One, it’s hard to imagine the wrist injury from May is not affecting him in some way now. I’m not saying he isn’t 100%, but you do have to wonder if there is some sort of effect in his hitting. A big part of hitting is in the wrists and if he is not quite 100% then you could see where that would limit bat speed. I took a deeper look at his exit velocity this year and the only pattern I found is one of a streaky hitter, which I was already aware that Alex was:
I thought I would take a look at his 2015 exit velocities to see if they were as streaky as this year…and they were:
For anyone that has followed Kansas City or Gordon throughout his career, it is very obvious he is a streaky hitter. When he is hot, he is lava hot. When he is cold, you would think he was an inhabitant of Hoth. The one constant is that a cold spell is normally followed by a big hot streak. Unfortunately in 2016, we still haven’t seen that from Alex.
The other item to mark off the ledger is the amount of strikeouts Gordon has piled up this year. If you are paying attention, it does appear as if Alex is striking out at a higher rate this year and the numbers back up what your eyes are telling you. So far in 2016, Gordon has a 28.6% strikeout rate, which is much higher than his previous career high in years he has played in more than 100 games, which was 22.8% all the way back in 2007. If you would like to compare it since he re-invented his career back in 2011, the highest K rate over the last 6 years was 21.8% just last year. So Alex is striking out more but it has also appeared as if he has been working deeper into counts this year, in my estimation. When diving into the numbers, it appears that I was right…and wrong. So far this year, Gordon is seeing more pitches per plate appearance than ever before(4.22) and his seeing more 2-0 counts than ever before(17.6%). But he is also first pitch swinging at a higher percentage(26%) than any year since 2011 and is swinging at strikes at the highest rate(73.5%) since 2011. The problem is that Gordon’s contact rate is down(69.3% compared to 76.1% last year) and it is really showing in his numbers on pitches outside the strike zone. Gordon is only making contact on 46.9% of pitches outside the strike zone this year, in contrast with 60.8% in 2015, and if it holds it would be the lowest contact rate of his career. Overall, Alex is swinging at more pitches this year than he has since 2013(44.1% to 45.2%) but is making less contact than ever before.
With all that being said, most of Alex’s other numbers are either on par for him or slightly above. Gordon’s hard hit rate is at 32.7%, when he is normally between 32-34%, while his medium hit rate is within range(50% this year, anywhere from 47-52% over the last couple seasons) and his soft hit rate is within recent years(sitting at 17%, as it has been between 15-19%). His line drive, ground ball and fly ball rates are all in the vicinity of the last few years and his HR/FB rate is about on pace with his career. Alex is even doing what most hitters should do, as he is pulling the ball less this year(40.7%) and hitting it to the opposite field even more(24.1%, the highest he has seen since 2013). So if there was concern by anyone that maybe Gordon was starting to regress(and at 32 years old he is about the age that regression starts to sit in), it appears as if those concerns should be put to bed. The issue with Alex is simply and purely about contact.
So does Alex’s season turn around with a little more contact? I tend to think so. I’ve always looked at Gordon as a patient hitter who wasn’t much of a bad ball hitter and a few less swings on pitches outside the strike zone would probably raise his walk total and garner more strikes to hit. Gordon’s BAbip has been quite a bit lower this year(.268, while it has been above .300 the last five years) and one would think that more contact would equal more balls in play which would also elicit some better luck in this area. I am as big a proponent of taking pitches, working the count and drawing walks as anyone you will talk to. I tend to think the more you do these things, the more likely you will get your pitch to hit while driving up the pitchers pitch count. For Alex it might be as simple as going back to basics; swing less outside the strike zone, forcing the pitcher to throw more strikes. If he can do that, he could be the bat this Royals team so desperately needs. Gordon is a leader in the Royals clubhouse and has long been the guy they look to when their back is against the wall. All this Kansas City team needs is the same thing they have counted on from Alex the last six years-his consistency.