WAR stands for Wins Above Replacement, and the WARs of Alex Gordon and Billy Butler have been getting a little run among Royals fans today. Another thing that has gotten some attention is Alex Gordon’s disposition while he was in AAA recently.
This was posted over on Number 4 – The Smirk this afternoon, and I felt compelled to react because it paints an incomplete picture.
Posnanski wrote this about Alex Gordon:
In Omaha, I watch Alex Gordon mope his way through a Class AAA game. Gordon, of course, was the second pick in the 2005 amateur draft, the can’t-miss prospect, the Midwestern kid with the George Brett swing and the swagger in his walk. Now, after two patchy big-leagues seasons and a third scarred by injuries and strikeouts, he’s here in Omaha, barking at umpires seemingly after every pitch, walking with his shoulders slumped, looking for all the world like someone who has been wronged by life.
Collin, author of Number 4 – The Smirk, reacted to that with the following:
I believe(d) Posnanski when he wrote that. I figured Alex was upset at his frustrating season and the way the Royals have handled him, especially this year. I didn’t like the implications, however, on Gordon’s character. Obviously those words don’t portray him in a positive light.
(thanks to devil_fingers for pointing out that last year Gordon was a 2.6 WAR player and 2.1 WAR player in 2007. This year, Billy Butler has been a 1.9 WAR player so far. I say this only to bring into question Poz’s description of Gordon’s career as “two patchy seasons”… maybe Poz has a point if he’s talking about hype and potential, but not so much if he’s talking about actual value.)
Posnanski wasn’t the only one to observe Gordon’s “moping” when he was sent down. When push comes to shove, I’m going to take Jo-Po’s word on the subject matter over that of Trey Hillman or Omaha manager Mike Jirschele. Joe, unlike Trey and Mike, is not employed by the Kansas City Royals and is therefore not required to spin everything in a positive light. I’ve read enough positive quotes from Trey about TPJ and Sidney Ponson this year to last a lifetime, so if he came out in a press conference and said that the Royals helmets are blue, I’d have to look for myself because I’m sure not going to take his word on anything. When it comes to Gordon, what are they supposed to say? “Well, Alex was acting like a petulant little child when he was sent down, but he got over it and we’re glad he’s back up now.” I wonder how that would fly with Alex and his agent in the offseason. Trey and Mike, and the Royals organization as a whole, have plenty of reason to spin Alex’s attitude and demeanor in a positive light, but anyone who is buying into it is just kidding themselves.
On top of all that, frankly I’d be a little worried about Alex Gordon if he wasn’t a little disappointed and pissed about his demotion. After all, it came from the same organization that rushed him to the majors, stood by him in 2007 and 2008, and rushed him back to the majors after his hip injury this year. Any competitive person, especially one who is just 25, would be perfectly justified in feeling a little bit let down. I’m sure he was disappointed in himself, in the organization, in the business aspects of the move, and in the circumstances surrounding the course of events as a whole. He scuffled a bit when he was first sent down, but it appears that he got over it, righted himself mentally, and worked to get his career back on track. It was a gut-check moment for Alex and it looks like he made it through. Now we have to watch and see if he can make good on his potential.
Before I go any further I want to restate my belief that I still believe Alex has already been a productive major league player, and that he will continue to improve in the coming years. I believe in him to the extent that I wrote this back in December in what was effectively the second blog post in my writing career.
Now let’s tackle the WAR issue.
Gordon’s 2.1 WAR in 2007 is most applicable to Butler’s 1.9 WAR this season because each player was 23 years old at the time they put up their numbers. In 2007 Alex posted an OPS+ of 89 in the first half of the season, and improved upon that with an OPS+ of 112 in the second half. He finished the season with a 0.247/.314/.411 slash line thanks to his strong second half. His end of the year OPS+ was 87. This was below league average, but for a 23-year old rookie who fought through the first half of the season, it was not a disappointment in my eyes.
Billy Butler, en route to a WAR of 1.9, posted an OPS+ of 110 with a slash line of 0.290/.340/.449 which I would have taken for an entire season. Butler, however has cranked it up in the second half with an OPS+ of 144 and a slash line of 0.321/.380/.549. On the season as a whole, he has hit 0.302/.355/.486 with and OPS+ of 123. He has also already surpassed Alex’s season highs in HR (16), 2B (36), RBI (60), and TB (223). Billy’s 2009 season in those same categories: HR (17), 2B (42), RBI (74), and TB (250). Of course it goes without saying that Butler still has 24 games left in the season and a potential 50 2B, 20 HR, 90 RBI season is a very realistic possibility.
Gordon’s WARs compared to Butler are deceptive because one of the components of WAR is defensive ability, and it is in this component that Alex makes up all of the ground. Still this should not detract from Billy Butler’s season. Personally, I have been pleasantly surprised with Butler’s defensive play at 1B. His lack of polish at the position is through no fault of his own. The Royals organization did Billy a huge disservice by trying him at 3B in 2004 and part of 2005. They further compounded the problem by playing him in the OF for part of 2005, all of 2006 and part of 2007 before placing him in the 1B/DH role that he was clearly best suited for on the day he was drafted. Think about that for a second. The Royals cost Butler three and a half years of development time at 1B, because they were trying to make him into something he was not suited to be. After watching him grow at the position this year, I have no doubt in my mind that with another 3.5 years of experience at 1B, he can become ML average at the position.
Gordon’s 2007 Adjusted Batting Runs -11.3. Butler’s 2009 Adjusted Batting Runs 16.9. When it comes to their offensive output at age 23, there is absolutely no doubt that Butler is by far the superior player. What the Royals need more than anything right now is an impact, middle of the order bat, and that is what Butler provides. I still hold out hope that Alex Gordon will emerge as an All-Star caliber player, but in the case of Gordon versus Butler, perception equals reality.
Oh, and to give an update on tonight’s game, Butler has 3 more doubles, a run scored, and an 2 RBI. The Royals are winning 5-0 in the bottom of the 8th thanks to the Billy Butler doubles show.