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Alex Gordon’s Place in Royals WAR Lore


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

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.
PlayerSeason 1Season 2Season 3Total
Brett5.3 (1978)8.6 (1979)9.4 (1980)23.3
Brett7.6 (1977)5.3 (1978)8.6 (1979)21.5
Brett8.6 (1979)9.4 (1980)3.3 (1981)21.3
Brett5.8 (1975)7.5 (1976)7.6 (1977)21.0
Brett7.5 (1976)7.6 (1977)5.3 (1978)20.4
Wilson8.5 (1980)4.1 (1981)6.3 (1982)18.9
Wilson6.3 (1979)8.5 (1980)4.1 (1981)18.9
Brett9.4 (1980)3.3 (1981)6.0 (1982)18.7
Gordon7.3 (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.