Jul 25, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals left fielder Alex Gordon (1) makes a diving catch against the Baltimore Orioles in the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium.. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Gordon's Place in Royals WAR Lore


Last winter, I took a look at Alex Gordon‘s 2011 and 2012 seasons in the context of other Royals hitters in history.

I had concluded that another strong season would put Gordon in esteemed company. To that point, George Brett and Willie Wilson had been the only position players to have three straight seasons of 5 bWAR or better. Gordon’s 2011-2012 stretch put him at 13.5 bWAR and a 6 WAR season could put him behind just Brett in three year stretches.

Actually it’d put him behind five different three-year stretches by Brett, since from 1975 until 1982, he was arguably the best hitter in the game.

For a reminder, here’s the table I’d put together last December ranking those three year stretches. I’ve updated it in two ways:

  1. I’ve added Gordon’s 2013 bWAR of 4.2 and
  2. I’ve updated the WAR figures for Brett and Wilson since Baseball-Reference adjusted their calculation of replacement level and distributed more “wins” across time to account for that change. That actually gave Gordon an additional 0.5 bWAR since his 2011 and 2012 seasons ended up even better than the new replacement level.
Player Season 1 Season 2 Season 3 Total
Brett 5.3 (1978) 8.6 (1979) 9.4 (1980) 23.3
Brett 7.6 (1977) 5.3 (1978) 8.6 (1979) 21.5
Brett 8.6 (1979) 9.4 (1980) 3.3 (1981) 21.3
Brett 5.8 (1975) 7.5 (1976) 7.6 (1977) 21.0
Brett 7.5 (1976) 7.6 (1977) 5.3 (1978) 20.4
Wilson 8.5 (1980) 4.1 (1981) 6.3 (1982) 18.9
Wilson 6.3 (1979) 8.5 (1980) 4.1 (1981) 18.9
Brett 9.4 (1980) 3.3 (1981) 6.0 (1982) 18.7
Gordon 7.3 (2011) 6.5 (2012) 4.2 (2013) 18.0

So Gordon didn’t quite reach the same levels as Brett and Wilson, but there’s obviously no shame in three straight seasons that average six wins a year above replacement.

Gordon’s defensive WAR made up a significant part of this stretch, as he totaled 4.5 dWAR from 2011 to 2013. He should easily win a third Gold Glove Award. His offense has dropped in each of the past three seasons, though, from 5.4 oWAR in 2011 to 2.3 oWAR this year. But, if it’s a consolation, Gordon is nearly the same age as Brett was after the 1982.

I’d predicted 5.0 bWAR from Gordon in 2013 if he could stay healthy. He played in 156 games but had a scare in July when he hit the wall in left field on a Jason Kipnis drive. It looked like he would miss time for a concussion, but he passed all tests and played nearly every game of the season.

An awful June and a slightly better July sunk his numbers this year and he still put together a 4.2 WAR.

This is likely his peak and going forward, the 4-6 WAR range is as good as we should expect (which is still very good) in a given year. Gordon’s under contract for two more years, then the Royals have an option year for 2016. If he stays in good shape (and he’s a tireless worker in that regard) and stays healthy, he should be able to maintain productivity, but if there’s a decline, it shouldn’t be too surprising either.

Looking at some comparable players at Gordon’s age, some, like Luis Gonzalez, Ray Lankford, and Torii Hunter, continued to have productive and valuable seasons. Others, like Mel Hall, Ben Grieve, and Derek Bell, fell off the baseball map and scraped together just a few seasons of relevance.

I’d bet Gordon’s more of the former than the latter. The Royals contract with him suggests they feel the same.

And why not have optimism? As the table shows above, Gordon has put together the 10th best stretch of three straight years of any position player in franchise history.

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  • jimfetterolf

    Looks like a peak was a few years ago and the trend is downish. i think one thing the chart shows is how important Melky was batting 2nd in ’11. With weak on deck hitters, Gordon, like Billy, can be worked around. If Hosmer gets hot early and hits 2nd, Alex should break 5 fairly easily again. Best might be Gordon, Butler, Hosmer, and Perez.

    • Michael Engel

      His BB% was lower than it’s ever been since he was a rookie. His swing % on pitches outside the zone was higher than it’s ever been as a big leaguer. Maybe they were trying to pitch around him, but he sure was willing to help them out.

      I’ve said it before, it doesn’t matter if they’re pitching around you if you’re not willing to take the walk. In Gordon’s case, 2013 is the anomaly, so I’d guess he’ll be better in both of those categories next year.

      I’d be open to Butler batting second. The casual fans would just go nuts because he’s so slow and decades of baseball dogma say that has to be a fast guy, but he gets on base. Two high OBP guys on base for Hosmer? I’ll take my chances. I’m definitely comfortable with that top 4 barring any new hitters joining the team.

      • Eric Akers

        True. We will be seeing Bonifacio batting second all year long is my guess. We might get lucky and he could put Hosmer back at number 2. But we will never see Butler there,

        • jimfetterolf

          Bonafacio does have a little OBP skills.

          Mike, Butler is slow. Ideas become dogma for a reason and Billy on 1st with no outs tends to not produce runs, as it takes three singles to get him home. But with him hitting ahead of Hosmer and Perez he might get a few more pitches to drive, as both can get an XBH. If Billy has no protection he won’t see strikes because not all OBP is created equally.

          • Zack Daddy

            I think Alex Gordon still suffered from issues related to his concussion the second half of the season. Had to be lingering effects.

          • Michael Engel

            I think so too. Doesn’t excuse his June, but does help explain some of the problems. Dave at Pine Tar Press put together some ideas about Gordon, struggles against offspeed pitches, and similar struggles in concussed players.

            Of course, that assumes he was concussed (which I think he was) even though he passed the tests to be cleared by MLB and return to action.

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  • jimfetterolf

    Just noticed that Brett and Wilson both peaked in ’80, both dropped over half in ’81, and both rebounded strongly in ’82.

    • Michael Engel

      81 was also the year of the strike — Royals played 103 games that year

      • Michael Engel

        That was in the original piece but I’d neglected to put it in here. May add a note.

  • KCMOWHOA

    Love Alex, but I’ve always been confused why he keeps being forced into the leadoff spot. I get that we may not have a better option, but I think it hurts some of his run production. Hitting second or third gives him more RBI’s with the 20 HRs he hit this season, and deals with the issue you bring up about protecting him in the hitting order if he’s followed by Hosmer or Butler. I think we need to try Bonafacio, Dyson or even Lough in leadoff more often and just see what happens. Dyson or Lough need to be more of a regular asset if they’re going to stay on the team. If that tanks then I guess we have to put Gordon back in at the top of the order.