The idea was that Gordon, who was hitting .311/.336/.500 in the leadoff spot, would translate his production at the top of the order to the third spot where, in theory, he would be creating runs. That’s standard baseball strategy. Take your best player and bat him third. Alex Gordon’s the best player, has played well all year, and so third makes sense.
But since the move, the Royals are 4-9 and have lost a number of close games. In the last two series, they’ve scored 18 runs in six games and won only one game.
It’s not Gordon’s fault. He’s hit .460/.508/.620. It seems that Yost’s idea was perfect. Gordon not only continued to produce but advanced into absurd video game kinds of levels of production.
He’s driven in six runs.
Here’s the fundamental problem with the move – Alex Gordon could hit a homer a day from the three spot, and most of the time, he’s only driving himself in. His situation as the #3 hitter illustrates the fickle nature of the RBI statistic. It’s entirely dependent on actually having runners on to drive in.
As the #3 hitter, Gordon has had a runner on base in just 18 of 58 plate appearances. He’s reached base in nine of those appearances and has one sacrifice fly. He’s come up with a runner in scoring position just eight times. He’s come to the plate with more than one runner on base five times. If he comes up with nobody on, it’s tough to drive in runs.
Because that’s what’s happened most of the time. Alex Gordon has found himself, ironically, in a similar position in the #3 spot in the order as he had when he was the leadoff hitter. In his 13 games at the three spot, Gordon has come up in the first inning with nobody on 11 times. Essentially, he’s leading off the inning, but with two outs already in the books. He’s 9-for-12 in the first inning of games as the third hitter in the lineup.
Imagine if Gordon were leading off and going 9-for-12 (or, let’s say, 9-for-13 if we assume his sac fly is just a leadoff fly out). According to the run expectancy chart from Baseball Prospectus, the Royals would be expected to score 0.831 runs by the end of the inning if Gordon just led off with a single. Instead, he’s been coming up with nobody on and two outs. At that point, the Royals could be expected to score .099 runs by the end of the inning.
And one of Gordon’s best hot streaks of his career is just going to waste.
Of course, Gordon isn’t the biggest problem. If Eric Hosmer were hitting for power, there’s probably not much shuffling going on. If Mike Moustakas were hitting anything (other than that one week), there’s less chance of a shuffle. Perhaps if Jarrod Dyson hadn’t gotten hurt, he’d have continued to play well and been on base for Gordon more often (Dyson started three games as the leadoff hitter while Gordon was batting third – Gordon drove him in once, Butler did twice). It doesn’t help that Alcides Escobar fell into a slump right as he was being placed at the leadoff spot, then continued to slump batting second.
The Royals are in a Catch-22 position, as Kevin Agee pointed out. They lose production in the middle of the order if he’s leading off. But if he’s batting third, there’s nobody on for him to drive in.
Until the Royals find more hitters who can either a) get on base at the top of the order or b) hit for enough power in the middle of the order (allowing Gordon to lead off), Gordon will be stuck in the same situation of setting the table for nobody or stranding himself on base.