In 75 spring at-bats Alex Gordon has 8 homeruns and 4 doubles, and an .822 slugging percentage. While Spring Training numbers are in large part meaningless and batters aren’t getting consistent looks at front line arms, or even pitchers that will be seeing bulk innings at the major league level during the regular season, there is at least a kernel of hope that these power numbers are predictive for the Royals left fielder in 2013.
Gordon still has some of the most potential for homerun power out of any batter on the Royals roster. His natural loft swing and patience would normally lend themselves to significant power production, but for most of the past two seasons Gordon’s extra-base pop has been relegated to doubles status, not unlike Billy Butler. The disappointing aspect of that comparison is that Gordon is three years Butler’s senior, and at 29 years-old now, Gordon’s time to fulfill his homerun potential is running thin.
In 2012 Gordon finished 32nd among all outfielders in slugging-percentage, finishing behind power monsters David Murphy and Dexter Fowler, and with only 14 homeruns, his production in the category still leaves a bit to be desired.
Maybe it was the move to lead off that cut Gordon’s development of homerun power, though, you’d be hard pressed to find any objective evidence that Gordon’s approach has really changed much from what he was known for before the 2011 breakout season.
Plus, a hitter’s approach really shouldn’t change much dependent on his position in the lineup. Goal No. 1 is to not make an out; goal No. 2 is to hit the ball really hard. That’s really as far as it should ever go. And the fact that Gordon’s skillset doesn’t make him the prototypical leadoff hitter has to do more with the idea of the “prototypical” leadoff hitter is a really nonsensical ideal more so than any logical reason. Gordon has the most patience and plate-awareness on the team, and is the best base runner. His skills are ideal.
And yet, there’s still a tad missing.
Gordon’s ascension to the game’s elite – if it hasn’t happened already with back-to-back seasons in the top 8 in fWAR among outfielders – hinges on his ability to be a 25-plus-homerun guy, which his talent and swing say he should be.
So why should this spring be indicative of what is to come? Well, other than me being a huge Gordon-homer? Because he’s found left field again.
Gordon is a classic top-hand swinger with an (at times) overactive top hand that causes him to cut balls off resulting in a weekend ball flight. This was a huge problem early in his career, and it’s the same problem Mike Moustakas has now.
By the top rolling too soon (think when you were taught to “shake hands at contact”; that’s wrong, that’s awful, and really, really detrimental to a batters ability to drive the ball) the top hand’s palm doesn’t stay facing upward, allowing the barrel to stay through the hitting zone, resulting in a truer ball flight.
The batters whose top hands are too dominant have a smaller hitting window, finishing the swing around the body too soon, or worse, getting a bad upward angle finish (Moustakas) forcing pop-ups, rolled over ground balls, or well connected pulled balls that hook foul.
In his small-sample at-bats so far this spring, Gordon’s power has shown up, and shown up to left field, which is a huge indicator.
Gordon takes a low-and-away, sinking fastball and hits a homerun to straightaway left. His natural power has never been in question, but his willingness to use that power to all fields has been. Now that he’s shown that willingness, for the most part, the last two season, his ability to keep his swing integrity on opposite field contact is allowing the ball flight to stay true, and carry over the fence.
Here’s another example, this time, off a left hander:
Keeping the front shoulder in and staying through the ball at contact is a tough thing to do for a left-handed hitter and a left-handed pitcher. But it’s swings like these two that show Gordon’s improvement as his career has gone on, and why this year could be yet another step forward for him, this time in the HR column.
Of course, it could also be because he works out like a best.