Jul 19, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals left fielder Alex Gordon (4) connects for a single in the first inning of the game against the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Is Alex Gordon Elite?


The rise of advanced statistics has changed a lot of perceptions about how good specific players are or were.  It has led to a contingent of people saying a triple crown winner should not win the MVP award.  And it also has lead to a lot of love for a guy like Ben Zobrist who would not have stood out in any way when I was a child.  The Royals have a guy who may need to be regarded in a similar light in Alex Gordon.

Over the last three years Gordon has cemented himself as a solid hitter and a great left fielder.  Based on WAR, Fangraphs has him as accumulating the 12th most of any position player over that time period, and Baseball-Reference has him at 9th.  That’s right, he might be one of the 10 best position players over the past three seasons ahead of guys like Evan Longoria or Matt Holliday.  If you break apart how those WAR are being accumulated you will see that Alex is a top 30 hitter overall who can also defend and run bases better than most players:

Alex Gordon

2011 – 2013 overall value  rank
Fangraphs B-R
Offense 23rd 29th
Defense 140th 18th
Base Running 39th 52nd

The only place he doesn’t rank well is that Fangraphs’ defensive ratings don’t like him as much.  We can discuss the good and bad of advanced defensive metrics on another day, but he is valuable in any defensive valuation system just less valuable by the system Fangraphs reports.

What it starts to show more importantly is that Gordon is basically good at everything.  Even more, he is good at every sub-category as well.  Over this time period he hit .287/.357/.459, and those correspond to ranks of 42nd/42nd/55th (min. 1000 PAs which includes 226 players) in the majors.  He can hit, hit for power, and get on base at a significantly above average rate.  There is one more above average skill we need to consider as well, durability.  He is tied for the most plate appearances since 2011 with 2111 (Starlin Castro is the other), and he has played in 468 games which is 15th.  So his list of above average skills includes:

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

  • Average
  • OBP
  • Slugging
  • Fielding
  • Running Bases
  • Durability

That is quite a list.  Try and come up with other major leagues who can claim this.  It is not a large group that can do it all.  Should we therefore consider Alex Gordon elite?

It is a tough question and a lot of it depends on what you mean by elite.  I think that he is slightly behind a group of players that are clearly better than Gordon even as good as he is, most of them because they are large jump ahead in hitting.  That group is small though, only including Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Robinson Cano, Joey Votto, Ryan Braun, and Buster Posey.  Only those seven are clearly better right now.  There are some others like Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Kemp, and Jose Bautista that might deserve a nod as well due to their recent peaks being higher.  Then you have a few guys like Chris Davis and Paul Goldschmidt who are looking poised to jump up into the first group.

Any way I look at it, I can make a strong argument that Alex is in the top 15 to 25 position players in major league baseball at the current time.  Is that elite?  It might be, and another great season would make me lean in that direction.  Preferably more 2011 and 12 than last year which wasn’t quite as good.  Regardless, the Royals have quite a player in Gordon and I hope that we as fans can appreciate just how good he truly is.

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Tags: AL Central Alex Gordon Baseball Kansas City Royals MLB

  • jimfetterolf

    Very interesting piece. I would mention that I think fg’s defensive metrics are are pretty much garbage. The eyeballs have Gordon as a very good LF, if he was any better he’ld be be an RF or CF. Hope he’s over the concussion and ready to go this year.

    • Brian Henry

      I am working on a comparison of the metric only versus eyes and stats defensive metrics. Not sure this will be the place to publish such a thing, but I think I agree with you that they are not amazing.

      • jimfetterolf

        They seem kind of random. In ’12 Hosmer stunk, in ’13 he stunk less, yet won a Gold Glove, and the eyeballs saw the same player. Escobar went from -6.4 to +18 and I thought he actually decayed a little bit. Alex dropped from 7.3 to 1.6 and won a Gold Glove while the eyeballs saw a well above average, probably an elite defender with good speed, great jumps, a sniper rifle for an arm, and great intelligence for the position. FG had Lough worth as much per game as Cain. Lough was very good, but he was no Lorenzo Cain out there and his defense probably wasn’t worth a win and a half more than Gordon’s in a shorter season..

  • moretrouble

    Very nice use of statistics and, yes, Alex Gordon is an elite player. Thanks for a very good article.