The last two years have been hard for Alex Gordon fans.
It was difficult to understand how a guy who was once one of the most well-rounded players in the game had turned into one of the least productive batters in all of baseball. It wasn’t just the elevated strike outs in 2016 or even the 29.2% hard hit rate last year. It wasn’t even a wRC+ of 62 last year that was tied with teammate Alcides Escobar and only better than Texas’ Rougned Odor for qualified batters in all of baseball.
No, it was just as much Alex fouling off pitches he used to scorch. It was him pulling the ball to the right side when he used to take a pitch to the opposite field. It was him looking lost at the plate and not appearing to have a real plan while he was up there.
Call it what you want. Maybe it was him trying to live up to the massive contract he signed after 2015. Maybe he was in his head too much. Maybe it was a slight tweak in his mechanics or a change in approach at the plate.
I myself have long felt the wrist injury he suffered when colliding with Mike Moustakas in 2016 was a big factor in some of the issues he was dealing with. Or maybe it was just the natural regression that occurs to every athlete and had finally took up residence on his physical doorstep.
Whatever the case may be, after two years of sub-par productivity and a litany of injuries in between it really felt like the Alex Gordon of our past was just that: in the past. But a new year brings new promise and since his return from the disabled list he has looked like the Alex of old.
The numbers so far speak of a revitalized Gordon, as he ended Thursday hitting .303/.352/.439 after going 3 for 4 on the day with his second home run of the year and two runs scored. The most promising stats for Alex have to be his hard hit rate and exit velocity. His hard hit rate is at 38% (his career high is 36.9%) and the exit velocity is at 89.7% according to Baseball Savant, a good 2 to 4% higher from the last two seasons.
It is still very early for Gordon, as he has compiled just 71 plate appearances so far. In other words, it’s a small sample size. But the last two years have seen him not hit the ball very hard whereas now he looks more comfortable at the dish and it might be just a minor change in his mechanics that have done the trick:
Alex Gordon starts with his hands. This, he says, is where the adjustment began, where a mini renaissance was born. His hand path to the baseball is different; a little flatter, he says, in the hitting zone longer. He’s trying to keep his hands back longer. He’s seeking to load quicker. He’s trying to stride straight at the pitcher.
You may not have noticed these tweaks if you watched Gordon over the last week. They are minor in scale, insignificant to the untrained eye. “A lot of little things,” he says. But inside the batting cage at Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium, as hitting coach Terry Bradshaw looks on, Gordon has sought to find his swing.
He wants to beat the shifts that have haunted him in the last two seasons. He wants to stay back and go the other way. He wants to give himself a chance.
“I feel like my swing is a little bit different than it was at the beginning of the season,” Gordon says.
This swing has led to him hitting the ball to the opposite field at a higher rate this year (26..0%) than any year since 2013. I’ve long felt Alex was a better hitter when hitting to the left side of the diamond while focusing on the gaps in the outfield. At one point he was a guy who could rack up 50 doubles in a full season (51 back in 2012) and make a good living off taking the ball the opposite way.
So should we expect Gordon to return to past glory? I’m pretty sure the Alex we saw in 2011-2015 is probably in the past; I mean the man is 34 years old and his body has taken a beating over the last three seasons. But this resurgence is probably closer to what most of us expected when he returned to Kansas City in January of 2016. We knew that the aging process would bring regression, but we also figured that the dedication to keeping his body in tip-top shape might slow down the regression a bit.
But if he can keep his approach at the plate consistent and just work on being comfortable, there is reason to believe he can maintain a pace where he is productive again and possibly even above replacement level at the plate.
There’s still a long way to go and many peaks and valleys along the way. But for those of us that have cheered and placed him up on a higher mantle, it’s hard not to smile real big when thinking about how he is performing right now. It’s nice to see that the Alex we love hasn’t completely left the building.