The Resurgence of Alex Gordon

kc1
Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

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.

kc2
Credit: Patrick Semansky-AP Photo

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.

kc3
Credit: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

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.

kc4
Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

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.

kc5
Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

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.

 

Whitley’s World

kc1

Almost from the moment he made his major league debut in 2016, Whit Merrifield  became a fan favorite. Maybe it was the extra hustle, maybe it was the long journey it took him to get to the big leagues. There was the dazzling defense, the clutch hits and even the boyish grin. Most importantly though was Whit’s production: .283/.323/.392 slash line and 1.6 bWAR. He got off to a fast start with Kansas City before hitting a bump in the road, finishing with an OPS+ of 90. It was believed most of the offseason that Merrifield would take over the second base position for the 2017 season, but in the end Raul Mondesi won the job and Whit was optioned to AAA. He was only in the minors for nine games this year before being recalled and since then he has been nothing short of amazing, producing at a higher level.

kc2

Over 100 games, Merrifield is hitting .293/.330/.473 with an OPS+ of 109 and 3.4 bWAR. He has already toppled his number for Total Bases from last year (186 to 122) and his power numbers have seen the biggest increase. Whit’s home run total of 14 easily beats his total from last year (2) and his 17 combined this year (between the majors and AAA) is an increase over his combined totals last year (10 total between the big leagues and minors). But it’s not just the home runs; Merrifield has seen in increase in his doubles and triples, and his slugging percentage and wOBA have seen an uptick as well. Whit has increased his body mass over the last two offseasons, which has been a big part of the increase in his power numbers. Maybe the most surprising revelation last winter was that he had bumped his meal intake to seven meals a day, increasing his muscle mass. To me, this read as a guy who was 27 years old coming into the 2016 season, knew he was going to have to improve to not only make it to the majors, but to stay as well. Whit has done just that and put himself with some impressive company.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Kansas City Royals

When comparing Merrifield to other second baseman, he is right there among the top at the position in the American League. Whit is 3rd in WAR and slugging percentage, 6th in wRC+, ISO and doubles, 5th in wOBA, 4th in OPS and first in triples. These numbers have put him right there with the Cano’s, Pedroia’s and Altuve’s of the world, which is very select company in the league. In fact, most of his numbers have either been on par or better than Ian Kinsler, Brian Dozier and Rougned Odor, all mainstays in the second base conversation. Whit has put himself in this discussion with his production, but it does beg a question: Is he better left at second base, or would he better served to go back to being a utility guy?

Minnesota Twins v Kansas City Royals

I ask this question because that has always been the plan for Merrifield, but the Royals need at second has been stronger. For right now, Whit is a good fit where he is at. But for the long run (and the longevity of his career) he might very well be better suited for the utility role. While some Royals fans have thrown out the idea of him being comparable to former Royal Ben Zobrist, I’m not as sure that Merrifield is quite that good. During the peak of his career, Zobrist was putting up solid 5.0 fWAR seasons. While Merrifield isn’t too far off this year with his 3.4 bWAR, offensively Whit isn’t quite the player Zobrist was. Ben had more power than Whit but where the big difference is notable is in walks. During his prime years, Zobrist would regularly post a 11-15% walk rate. In his two years in the majors Whit has posted a 5.7% and a 4.7% walk rate. In fact, the highest walk rate of Whit’s career, both minor and majors, was a 11. 6% in 190 plate appearances back in 2014. While both players can fill in admirably at numerous positions, Zobrist was a more complete offensive player while Merrifield is probably more comparable to a Willie Bloomquist or Sean Rodriguez. There is nothing wrong with that and in fact there might be more value in him moving around position to position in the future. Right now the Royals don’t have a second baseman to take his place, but if and when they do, Merrifield’s role on the team would probably adjust back to that utility role.

kc5

There is no idea what the future is going to hold for Whit Merrifield, but it is safe to say that he is probably in the majors for good. The scrappy infielder who moved himself up the Royals farm system has entrenched himself into the Royals starting lineup and endeared himself to Royals fans everywhere. It will be interesting to see what he does this offseason to improve on his game and one can only hope he ups his meal total to nine a day (I’m joking…I think). Whit is proof that hard work and dedication do pay off. We all hope he is able to maintain his current pace and continue to excel when given another challenge. While you won’t see him batting in the middle of the order, he might just be the glue that keeps this entire team flowing. I tend to believe at some point Merrifield will come back to earth…but I’m also not going to count him out either. Perseverance be Whit’s name!

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑