Young Players Who Aren't Rookies
I'm going to start a series of pieces about Young Players who Aren't Rookies, looking at where I think they are headed in their careers. We will start with Alex Gordon.
Gordon hit .247/.314/.411 last year for the Royals, certainly much less than anticipated. This was the worst-case scenario, the 10th percentile expectation according to BP's PECOTA for example: .243/.320/.432 was the worst PECOTA expected.
What happened? He struggled in March, April, and May, but the Royals stuck with him and let him work out the kinks. He hit .327 in June, then settled into adequate production the rest of the year. hitting .264/.305/.472 in the second half. The power was good but note the poor on-base percentage. Overall even in the second half, he was still not as good as what was anticipated, but it was clear that Gordon had a better idea of what he was doing and was playing with better confidence as the season wore on. Additional positive markers: 36 doubles, 14 steals in 18 attempts, and solid defense at third base. Overall, though, it's hard to spin a +87 OPS+ into something to be happy about.
He did fine with the glove, ranked slightly above average in traditional fielding percentage, range factor, and zone rating. He comes out at least average or better than average using the more sophisticated metrics that are out there. Overall his defense is of net benefit to the Royals: he is a good defender, though not Gold Glove quality.
So what we have here is a guy who got off to a slow start, rebounded, then stabilized, though his production was less than anticipated overall. He has a good glove and by all accounts is a hard worker. The question: will his hitting improve to the star level originally expected?
Bill James thinks Gordon will improve, projecting him at .277/.349/.471 with 40 doubles, 20 homers, and 18 steals for 2008. ZIPS has him at .264/.339/.453. My own projection system did not have a very good year in '07, but for what it's worth here is what I come up with for Gordon in `08
Same ballpark as ZIPS and James, though no one has him putting up star numbers this year either.
I think Gordon can beat that. Living in the Kansas City area, I've seen Gordon a lot. Watching him last year, it was hard to diagnose his exact problem. At times, he was having trouble with breaking pitches and was too impatient. At other times, he handled breaking stuff just fine and controlled the zone well. He pulled most of his home runs, but sometimes he'd show good opposite field pop.
From watching him play, Gordon appeared to be a young player who was simply having some adjustment issues to the majors, perhaps feeling the weight of the franchise on his shoulders. One thing I noticed visually, was that he appeared to be more aggressive in the second half of the season. The numbers bear this out, as his SLG was better in the second half, but his walk rate dropped. He needs to find a middle ground there. Sometimes young players who have good strike zone judgment get caught up between being too aggressive and not aggressive enough when adjusting to a new level.
My personal opinion is that there isn't anything wrong with Gordon that more at-bats won't cure. I suspect he'll match that projection or exceed it slightly, then have a massive breakout in 2009. Most scouts still love him, and as long as he keeps his head screwed on straight, I think he'll be fine.
Tomorrow: the newest Twin, Delmon Young.