Aug 30, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals left fielder Alex Gordon (4) hits a home run in the sixth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Gordon Could Join Exclusive Company in 2013

It seemed to come out of nowhere after years of struggles and frustrating injuries, but in 2011 Alex Gordon broke out in a big way. He hit for average (.303), got on base (.374) and showed extra base ability (45 doubles, 23 homers). He even stole 17 bases and scored 101 runs. Then he capped it off with a Gold Glove.

Last year, his numbers were largely unchanged. He hit less homers but led the league in doubles. He only stole 10 bases, but he also won the Gold Glove again. According to Baseball-Reference.com, he accumulated 7.1 WAR in 2011 and 6.2 WAR in 2012.

I started to think about how he might fare next season. Even though he’ll turn 29 during the 2013 season, he doesn’t have a huge body of work to go off of. Despite early struggles as a rookie in 2007, he salvaged his year and turned out to be not that bad. In 2008, he was above average. But 2009 and 2010 were lost to various injuries and the outfield conversion project. My thought has been that the combination of a healthy season that allowed him to play every day and the move to left field, which may have given him something to put his mental energy towards besides any struggles at the plate, were the biggest factors that allowed his natural talent (and his noteworthy work ethic) to turn into results.

Even if there’s a slight question, though, he’s definitely trending upward. His BABIP is high (.358 and .356) the last two seasons but he’s also had reasonable line drive rates that led to those numbers. He’s more prone to the strikeout than anyone (139 and 140 the last two years), so that’ll impact how many balls make it into play so more hits and less balls in play…you see how it can work out to a high BABIP that isn’t a big regression red flag.

Gordon’s two great seasons stand out in Royals history. There have been 49 seasons in which a player reached 5 bWAR or better. Only 23 different players have hit that point and only 13 of those have had more than one 5+ bWAR season. If Gordon can reach that level again in 2013, he’ll join George Brett, Willie Wilson, Bret Saberhagen and Kevin Appier as the only players with more than two.

Should he reach 5 or better bWAR in 2013, he’ll be the second Royal to do so in three straight seasons. The only other Royals player to do so is obvious (Brett), who had six straight 5+ bWAR seasons from 1975 to 1980, and the only reason he didn’t have eight was because the 1981 season was shortened due to a player strike. In 89 games, Brett had 3.2 bWAR. On that point, Wilson was very close to four straight 5+ bWAR seasons too, as he had 4.1 bWAR in 1981 after hitting the 5+ mark in 1979 and 1980, then attaining 6.2 bWAR in 1982.

A 5+ bWAR season in 2013 from Gordon would make his 2011-2013 stretch one of the top three-season offensive* stretches in franchise history:

Player Season 1 Season 2 Season 3 Total
Brett 5.1 (1978) 8.4 (1979) 9.3 (1980) 22.8
Brett 7.4 (1977) 5.1 (1978) 8.4 (1979) 20.9
Brett 8.4 (1979) 9.3 (1980) 3.2 (1981) 20.9
Brett 5.5 (1975) 7.2 (1976) 7.4 (1977) 20.1
Brett 7.2 (1976) 7.4 (1977) 5.1 (1978) 19.7
Wilson 8.3 (1980) 4.1 (1981) 6.2 (1982) 18.6
Wilson 6.0 (1979) 8.3 (1980) 4.1 (1981) 18.4
Brett 9.3 (1980) 3.2 (1981) 5.8 (1982) 18.3
Gordon 7.1 (2011) 6.2 (2012) ?? 13.5

Gordon’s gotten 1.3 and 1.8 bWAR from his defense the last two years, so to get another 5 bWAR season in 2013, let’s say he needs 3.5 offensive bWAR. He may not hit 51 doubles again, but he could surpass 20 homers as in 2011. If he steals more bases, that adds value, too. His 2012 gave him 3.8 bWAR from the plate and 2011 gave him 5.1. I’d say that 5 bWAR in 2013 is conservative if he’s healthy.

Wilson’s 1979-1982 stretch ended in the season during which he turned 27. Brett’s 1980-1982 stretch fits Gordon’s best as he turned 29 on May 15, 1982 and Gordon will turn 29 next February, though Brett’s age 27 season (1980) was significantly better than Gordon’s (and just about anyone’s in baseball history for that matter, and Brett’s third base position had more demands offensively as well). And I don’t want to get carried away and try to compare Gordon to Brett – that comparison was forced upon him from the minute his name was called in the 2005 draft – but another season of 5.5 bWAR or better would leave Brett and Gordon as the only two hitters to have a three-year stretch of 19 bWAR or better.

And you know what? That’s plenty good. If he does it, I say let someone go out and strive to be the next Alex Gordon down the line.

*Bret Saberhagen’s 1987-1989 accumulated 20.4 bWAR. Kevin Appier’s 1991-1993 accumulated 19.8 bWAR which he then bested in a 1992-1994 stretch with 21.0 bWAR.

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