Alex Gordon: Post-hype Sleeper or Bust?

by Eno Sarris

Think back to 2006. That quaint comedy Beerfest was taking the country by storm while we were all saying prayers for Barbaro’s quick recovery. Faint memories of a movie called Little Miss Sunshine waft through the house like the scent of apple cobbler. Ah, those were the days.

Those were also the last days that featured Alex Gordon as The Future of the Royals Franchise. He was tearing up the minor leagues at the time, a number-two pick overall making good on his promise with a stellar .325/.427/.588 (AVG/OBP/SLG) line in Double-A. Fans of the powde -blue were practically salivating at the thought of the new George Brett rescuing the franchise. Gordon was the epitome of the hyped prospect and was being penciled in for the 2007 Rookie of the Year hardware before the season began.

Unfortunately this story was not going to be without some speed bumps. Gordon produced an underwhelming .247/.314/.411 major league stat line in 2007. Though he played a decent third base and was actually an above-average player when appraised as a whole, the hype balloon was popped. If his second season’s line, .260/.351/.432, was also not very inspiring, and last season his year was cut short by an injury, why is there hope for Gordon to have a good year thisGordonGrab.jpg season? He’s currently hurt – could his stock fall  any lower? Take a look at the graphical representation of his 2009 compared to other major league batters in the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Kit. Yuck.

Taking
a player on the hopes of a rags-to-riches journey is always enticing for a fantasy player
looking for value. Consider that Gordon actually showed some signs of
life between his first two years, and you’ll find that his 189-plate appearance season in 2009 is not enough to write those gains
off. If you instead focus on his first two years, here’s a short list
of underlying statistics that Gordon improved in his sneaky-good
sophomore season: walk rate, strikeout rate, isolated power, line drive
percentage, fly ball percentage, home runs per fly ball, reach rate,
and contact percentage.

That’s a lot of improvement. In other
words, Gordon walked more, struck out less, reached at fewer balls outside the strike zone, and hit the
ball higher, further and harder. Isn’t that the kind of improvement you want from your best prospect? There’s reason for a bit of concern after last season, and Gordon’s health needs to be watched. Still, there’s reason for hope too.

Looking at his minor league
numbers and you might still expect super-stardom from Gordon, but there is
a slight asterisk that must come into play. As an accomplished college
star, Gordon hit Double-A at 22 years old (the average age of his league that year was 24).
Age matters when considering a player’s statistics in the minor leagues
– if a teenager is holding his own against top talent (like Elvis Andrus, who was 19 in the same league in 2008, or Jason Heyward
hitting the majors at 19), he gets extra credit. If a guy in his
mid-20s comes in and destroys younger pitching, his stats lose a
tiny bit of luster. Have some fun and check Kevin Maasminor league statistics and the picture becomes clearer.

In
any case, the positives here still outweigh the negatives, as nebulous
as Gordon’s future may seem. Gordon has a good bit of power, a little
bit of speed, plays an important position, and has an improving
approach at the plate. The ending of this movie has not yet been
written, and it may just yet be the story of a Post-Hype Sleeper that
made good.

For more information on Alex Gordon and other cheap third-sackers this year, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kit for yourself.   

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