You’re right: that was an awful pun.This will be a short post, I’m afraid; I’m playing in a Stratomatic tournament this weekend, which hopefully goes as well as my last one did. Before we get to Alex Gordon, go ahead and listen to this week’s podcast here. The news about Gordon created an opportunity to get an opinion from an injury expert, so be sure to listen to the beginning of the show, where my Baseball Prospectus colleague Will Carroll joins us and explains what’s wrong with Gordon’s hip, and whether this injury is likely to create additional difficulties for him even when he returns. Of course, once you’re done listening to Carroll, you’ll probably want to stick around and listen to BP’s Kevin Goldstein discuss the state of the Royals’ farm system, including the mention of a “sleeper” prospect that almost made me fall out of my chair. And at that point, well, you might as well listen to the whole darn show, right?
Also, due to a scheduling conflict, next week’s show will be THIS MONDAY (the 20th) at , an hour later than usual. We don’t have any special guests scheduled yet – although I could always surprise you – so we’ll probably open the phones up for a big part of the show. So be ready to call in.
Anyway, yeah, the news about Gordon sucks any way you look at it – when the guy who I labeled the single most important player in determining the Royals’ playoff hopes goes out for half a season, there’s no way to spin that as a positive. But it’s not the end of the world either.
For one, we at least have some explanation for why he played as poorly as he did in the season’s first week. I wasn’t all that worked up about his 2-for-21 start, but given how lost he looked at the plate after returning to the lineup on Tuesday and Wednesday, it’s a relief of sorts to know that something really was wrong with him.
Secondly, as I talked about in March, the Royals are about as well-built to handle a key injury as they can be, thanks to Teahen. (If Willie Bloomquist is the Spork, what does that make Teahen? A solid-gold Swiss Army knife, the one that’s like 2 inches thick and has 43 different gizmos attached?) Teahen’s flirtation with second base gets the cold shower for a few months, so Gordon’s bat essentially gets replaced with Alberto Callaspo’s. That’s not an insignificant difference, but Callaspo is himself an asset in a starting role. The Royals lose some power, but don’t lose much if anything in terms of baserunners – a few of Gordon’s walks get exchanged for singles. Jose Guillen should be back in right field in a week or so, and in the meantime we may get to see a little Mitch Maier – who’s perfectly capable of filling in for the short-term. Maier is a very good defensive outfielder – a DeJesus-Crisp-Maier outfield is as much an asset as the infield (in whatever permutation) is a liability.
Finally, I hope the Royals use this injury as an excuse to give Gordon something they should have given him two years ago – some more reps against minor-league pitching. So much of Gordon’s struggles have always seemed more mental than physical to me, the way he’ll occasionally let a perfectly hittable fastball go by and then swing wildly at a pitch he has no hope of reaching. Much like Teahen benefited from a refresher course in Omaha in 2006, I think a few weeks (20 days is the maximum length for a rehab assignment) of batting against Triple-A pitchers may help to remind Gordon that hey, he’s better than these guys. A little confidence boost may help Gordon when he returns to the majors. Major league pitchers make mistake pitchers just like minor league pitchers do – they just make fewer of them. Gordon needs to stop giving opposing pitchers so much credit. He needs to be ready to turn on those mistakes, while remembering that if they don’t make a mistake, he’s good enough to find a way to hit them anyway.
All of this is just fishing for straws. This injury hurts. But as I write this, the Royals are destroying the Rangers 9-0 in the seventh. If Coco Crisp keeps taking his walks (he’s up to 10 now, second in the league, after leading the majors in spring training), and if Teahen keeps hitting and John Buck keeps bashing and if Meche keeps spinning zeroes…I think that, with or without Gordon, the Royals are going to be competitive.
Alex Gordon might be the most important player on the roster. But he’s just one player. More than they have been in a long time, the Royals are a team built to survive the loss of any player.