Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Reason #4: The Phenom.

Alright, so 2007 was a disappointment. And the Royals absolutely should have sent Alex Gordon to Omaha when he was hitting .172/.287/.278 on June 4th, as much to stave off free agency for another year as because his play deserved it. (Don’t think I won’t be bringing this up in 2012, because I will. The Royals may not have gotten the message, but the Tampa Bay Rays already have – they just sent their version of Gordon, Evan Longoria, to minor-league camp, as much to keep his service time clock from starting as anything else.)

We now know that the Royals were literally days away from sending him down when his bat came alive. So that four-hit game he had on June 7th ranks up there with Joe Nelson’s strikeout of Brandon Inge in extra innings on the final day of the 2006 season on the list of “good performances by Royals players that I really wish didn’t happen.”

Still, from that day on, Gordon hit .285/.330/.478. It wasn’t quite what we expected after his ridiculous performance in Double-A in 2006, when he hit .325/.427/.588, but it wasn’t far off. (Incidentally, Gordon’s one year in the minors was the most impressive season the local Wichitans had enjoyed since a 19-year-old Roberto Alomar hit .319/.374/.478 with 43 steals in 1987. I supposed Johnny Damon should be in the discussion – he hit .343/.433/.534 in 1995 – but Damon was called up to the majors before the season ended.)

(And why isn’t his nickname “Flash”, by the way? Isn’t that the law? According to Baseball-Reference.com, only three players with the last name of Gordon played in the majors for more than three years, and two of them (Joe and Tom) had the nickname. Not that I’m complaining. Calling him Flash because his last name would be just plain lazy, and we can do better.)

Every winter Nate Silver upgrades his PECOTA program in an attempt to make it even more deadly-accurate than it already is. (I shouldn’t be discussing this, but the US military is thinking about solving that bin Laden problem by attaching a warhead to PECOTA and letting it do its thing.) This winter, the most significant changes to the system were based on two findings. First, Silver found that a player’s second-half performance is slightly more indicative of his performance the following year than how he played in the first half. It’s not a huge factor, something along the lines of 54 to 46%, but it’s there, and it’s there for players of all ages.

Second, he found that even when you control for all other factors, a player’s draft position (or, more precisely, signing bonus) has a significant impact on his future performance. This makes intuitive sense, but it’s something we often forget to think about when, say, Phil Nevin looks like a Quadruple-A player for the first seven years of his pro career before suddenly turning into a 30-homer 100-RBI guy, or when Jeremy Guthrie has a Rookie of the Year-caliber season after getting released by the Indians.

Gordon benefits from these adjustments as much as anyone: he had a much better second half (both offensively and defensively, although that won’t show up in PECOTA), and he was a #2 overall pick. Needless to say, his PECOTA is noticeably better than what you’d expect from last season’s numbers – his weighted mean is .269/.345/.463.

Besides, he just has the look of a franchise player, you know? His face never changes: he never looked scared or overwhelmed when he wasn’t doing well, and he never looked too impressed with himself when he was. Plus, he’s got a chin you could cut a diamond with.

He needs to draw a few more walks – what Royals player doesn’t? His batting average needs to be a lot better than .247, but batting average is the least consistent of all the major stats, and .247 is at the very low end of his true skill level. By year’s end he was an above-average defender at third, and he stole 14 bases in 18 attempts as well. He’s the closest thing to a five-tool player the Royals have had since Carlos Beltran.

The Royals don’t really need Gordon to be a five-tool player, though. They need him to be a pure slugger, and so the fact that he hit just 15 homers last year may be the most disappointing stat of all. But he did hit 36 doubles, and some of those should turn into homers this year. In fact, I’m willing to bet a lot of those doubles turn into homers. Why? Thanks to the Hit Tracker website, we have an estimate of the distance of every home run hit in the majors last year.

Prince Fielder, for instance, not only led the majors with 50 homers, but he also won the “Golden Sledgehammer” award for the highest average standard distance of his home runs – 408 feet. Jimmy Rollins, on the other hand, averaged only 373 feet per home run – his longest homer was just 409 feet. Fifteen players averaged 400 feet or more, including our own John Buck, who ranked 8th with an average distance of 402.2 feet.

It appears you had to have 18 homers to qualify for the list. This is important because Gordon hit only 15 homers, and we only have data on 14 of them. If it seemed like Gordon hit a bunch of absolute bombs last year, your perception is correct: the average length of those 14 homers was 409.9 feetthe longest in baseball. He only had five homers by the middle of June, but those home runs traveled, in order, 399, 424, 436, 427, and 412 feet. He added a 423-foot poke on August 11th, and his final homer, on September 17th, went 428 feet. Only one of his homers traveled less than 395 feet.

When Gordon got a hold of one, he hit them as far as anyone in the majors. Now it’s just a matter of getting a hold of one more often. It may not happen in 2008, but I’ll go on record now and say that he’ll be the one to finally break

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

... his nose on what should have been the last play of the year? :)

I assume you meant to finish the post with Balboni's record. And I agree.

Breck said...

how about when Gordon starts dropping those bombs into the fountains w/ some regularity he might be tabbed:

"Splash" Gordon

Hiatt to Hell said...

I enjoyed the post tail off to reason #5.

Can his nickname be diamond cutter? That line made me laugh pretty hard.

Alex said...

I do like Splash Gordon, but he's going to have to earn that one.

I think this post has me more excited than the rest of them so far. Of course, if this one doesn't pan out (all of your predictions are going to happen, right?), I'm going to be even more disappointed.

Also, I like how the post about Gordon is #4. Nicely done.

Anonymous said...

Love the "Splash" nickname if it comes to fruition.

One thing on the PECOTA projections...I honestly believe they were just put on this earth to depress me after Ive drafted my fantasy team....I jumped and took Gordon in the 10th round-PECOTA be damned!

royalsfanatic said...

If he doesnt hit the fountains we can always go with "Bash" Gordon

Anonymous said...

And yet...

Why do I get this sinking feeling that Billy Butler will end up being a MUCH better player than Gordon?

Of course, I hope they both turn out to be studs, but if you put a gun to my head, I'd have to select Butler, due to the two year age difference and the MUCH better plate discipline.

Nick said...

How about "Commissioner" Gordon?

Brett said...

Huber was just traded to the Padres for PTNL

Nathan said...

Anonymous,

I agree that Butler is likely to turn out a better hitter--people lose sight of the fact that he was a 20-year-old dominating AA and hitting decently in the Majors--but whether he'll be a better player overall, or hit for more power, than Gordon is a different question. Scouts say Gordon has more power potential, and as Rany demonstrates, it looks like the numbers agree. In any case, both have superstar upsides, so let's just hope the discussion of which is better remains worth having in four or five years.

Anonymous said...

With a nod towards ARod, my son and I like the names AGor and BButt for Gordon and Butler, although we get in trouble with mom a bit on the second one.

Also, nice transition between #4 and #5 on AGor breaking the Rs HR record.