After the Royals lost to the Texas Rangers on May 31, Alex Gordon was hitting .329/.371/.486. He’d cooled a bit from a ridiculous stretch in the middle of May when he hit in 16 of 17 games from May 5 to May 22 during which he hit .420/.461/.623, but he was still rolling pretty well.
Once the calendar flipped over to June, Gordon went 0-4 in the second game of the Rangers series. From there, he chipped in some one hit days, then went on a four game hitting streak, but followed that with an 0-15 streak that only recently ended after he led off the bottom of the first on Sunday with a single to right.
At one point this year, Gordon looked like a surefire All-Star, perhaps even one who might gain some steam nationally and get voted in. Instead, after a .167/.274/.194 month of June through 84 plate appearances, he’s at a still-good .288/.345/.758 line. Good, but not All-Star caliber, and disappointing considering his last two seasons and first two months this year.
There are a few reasons I see for his decline in June.
Oh, I know. Luck is such a crutch to fall back on. But in Gordon’s case, his June looks like an outlier. He’s struck out in 19.3% of his plate appearances in 2013. That’s down from 19.4% last year and 20.1% in 2011. He’s putting the ball in play. This month, though, it happens to be at fielders.
|April/March 2011||0.407||0.936||April 2012||0.259||0.764||April 2013||0.395||0.849|
|May 2011||0.266||0.749||May 2012||0.314||0.647||May 2013||0.398||0.863|
|June 2011||0.350||0.844||June 2012||0.404||0.953||June 2013||0.203||0.468|
|July 2011||0.408||0.959||July 2012||0.422||0.868|
|August 2011||0.395||0.925||August 2012||0.370||0.849|
|Sept/Oct 2011||0.317||0.854||September 2012||0.333||0.840|
After 2011, it seemed like Gordon had figured things out, but there was skepticism that he’d be able to maintain a batting average on balls put in play of .358 in 2012. And to be fair, he didn’t. He hit .356 on balls put into play.
The average BABIP throughout the league is about .300, but some players can exceed that average routinely. You’ll see it in guys with high strikeouts (since their outs are often made at the plate and not on a ball in play – see Austin Jackson) or players who hit a lot of line drives. Gordon hit a line drive 22% of the time according to FanGraphs in 2011. He hit 25% of the balls he put into play on a line in 2012. This year, he’s at 23.6%. Since line drives fall for hits about 70% of the time (while fly balls and grounders are outs about 70% of the time), it’s a logical step to say a player who hits line drives a high percentage of the time will see a lot of hits.
And Gordon’s followed that pattern. His BABIP this year is still .345.
(Disclaimer: In Gordon’s previous years, he was right around the .300 BABIP average in both 2007 and 2008 and was a pretty average player – he had an OPS+ of 99. His 2009 and 2010 BABIP fell below .300 both years and he didn’t have very good numbers. He faced injuries both years, too. Fully healthy, he not only rebounded but crushed his previous performance.)
This month, though, Gordon has hit a line drive 27% of the time according to FirstInning and yet his BABIP is barely above .200. It should be higher than that.
An easy way to keep fielders from getting you out is to just hit the ball over the wall. Gordon, though, hasn’t done that since May 9. He has two extra base hits, both doubles, for a slugging percentage of .194.
This month, he hasn’t even threatened the seats. He really hasn’t even gotten close to the fence.
He’s still been going to all fields most of the time when he’s hitting the ball into the outfield, though he’s showing a troubling tendency to ground out to the right side, an old demon from his early days when he’d get pull-happy and chop the ball to second.
It’s fair to suggest that he’s just not making solid contact with the ball this month, so that even while he’s hit some line drives, they haven’t all been screamers like the one Mark Reynolds snagged in Cleveland. FanGraphs categorizes five of Gordon’s line drivers as “fliners” – not quite a line drive, but not quite a fly ball either. They even distinguish between fliners that are more liner than fly ball and vice versa. At any rate, Gordon has five fliner-flies, suggesting that those weren’t solidly hit balls.
So far, I’ve pointed out that Gordon is 1) not getting the base hits one would expect based on his line drive percentages and 2) that perhaps it’s because he’s not hitting those liners that hard.
There’s a good reason for that, too. Gordon has been more than happy to go after the low and away pitch in the month of June.
From Baseball Heat Maps, here’s his (combined) April and May heat map:
And his June heat map:
Looking back at Gordon’s spray chart for June, he’s got many ground outs to the right side and fly outs to the left side. To me, that seems like a case of trying to pull the ball again and getting too far out and chopping it to the right side, or getting it elevated and floating it out to left. Whatever it is, he isn’t squaring the ball up right now.
He’s looked vulnerable against changeups. Early in the year, according to Texas Leaguers, he saw a changeup 13.4% of the time in a plate appearance. In June, it’s risen to 17.4%. Even when he was going good, he’d whiff 20% of the time and it’s still his highest whiff pitch in June. It’s easily his most troublesome pitch. He hasn’t hit it well, but he hasn’t been able to lay off of it either.
So what does it all add up to? Gordon’s still having a good year by the numbers, but he should hit for more power, should be walking more, and seems to be out of sync right now. He’s a tireless worker and like Billy Butler, watches his own tapes to keep working on his swing. If this were June 2011 and Gordon were having these struggles there may be more reason for panic. After two strong years, however, it shouldn’t be more than a small speedbump.