Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Toward the end of August, Alex Gordon started to get quite a bit of national attention as a contender in the MVP discussion. Most people were confident Mike Trout had already locked that award up, but there was a small chance that Gordon could steal some votes, if he could muster another outstanding month while carrying the Royals to a division title.
What a difference three weeks can make.
The Royals are still very much in the division race, but they’ve stayed there without the help of Gordon, who is having a simply dreadful September. In 65 plate appearances, he’s hitting .170/.323/.264, which calculates out to a 77 wRC+. For reference, Mike Moustakas is hitting .292/.314/.354 this month, which is a wRC+ of 86.
Gordon’s struck out in 27.7% of his plate appearances, and he hasn’t countered that with any kind of significant power, as he’s collected only 2 doubles and 1 home run since September began. At one point, Gordon went hitless for six consecutive games, and had a 1-25 stretch just last week. Any way you slice it, Gordon has had a terrible month at the plate, and he’s basically waved goodbye to any sliver of hope he had for the MVP award.
Call to the Pen
However, there are some signs that the Royals’ star left fielder could bounce back soon.
For starters, Gordon has shown terrific plate discipline, drawing walks in 16.9% of his plate appearances, up from 9.9% for the season. And even though his strikeouts are way up, he isn’t swinging and missing that much more frequently. On the year, Gordon’s swinging strike rate is 9.0%, and in September, it’s 9.4%. It’s an increase, of course, but it isn’t drastic enough to be alarming.
Instead, Gordon has been taking many more pitches, dropping his Swing% three full points this month, down to 40.2%. The largest decrease has come on pitches out of the strike zone, which is a good thing. Gordon’s always had a good eye, but he’s swinging at 20.7% of balls out of the zone this month, as opposed to 26.2% on the year. He’s also swinging at fewer balls in the strike zone, but he’s making less contact on those pitches this month, which is contributing to his struggles.
The other factor that is related to those is that Gordon is seeing more pitches in the strike zone than he has the rest of the season. In other words: he’s seeing more pitches in the zone, not swinging as often (which leads to called strikes and strikeouts), and when he does swing, he’s making less contact (which leads to swinging strikes and strikeouts).
Considering Gordon’s history, though, that trend seems unlikely to continue. He may start to swing at a few more pitches out of the zone, but he’ll start making more contact on strikes as well.
Besides, the type of contact he’s been making this month indicates he’s been the victim of a bit of bad luck.
In September, Gordon’s line drive rate is 31.4%, and yet, his BABIP is only .235. At first glance, that certainly doesn’t look sustainable. Granted, there are some things contributing to such a low average on balls in play that Gordon does need to correct. First of all, he’s hitting too many popups, with an infield fly ball rate of 20%. But on the other hand, Gordon’s not hitting as many fly balls this month (28.6% FB%), so the total number of flies and popups isn’t great enough to drive his BABIP down all by itself.
Gordon’s ground ball rate is down as well, which is probably a good thing, because teams have been shifting against him quite a bit, and the vast majority of his grounders go to the right side. Grounding the ball into the shift is a very easy way to destroy your BABIP – just ask Moose. Even when Gordon is hitting line drives, he’s hitting many of them toward the shift as well, which also hurts his average.
Still, one would expect better luck moving forward, particularly if Gordon continues to hit line drives at a high rate. Hard-hit balls find holes more often than not, and even with the shifts being played against him, Gordon should start to see more of them fall. He’s showing patience at the plate and hitting the ball hard enough. The results should be there soon.
Obviously there is less time for the current trend to correct itself, but Gordon is too good of a hitter to struggle for much longer. He’s played himself out of MVP contention, although a strong final week and a half could put him back in the middle of a few ballots. More importantly, though, if Gordon rebounds soon, the Royals will likely find themselves back at the top of the division standings by the end of the season. I have a hunch Gordon would be just fine with that scenario.