KC Royals shortstop Adalberto Mondesi is in a deep slump. Alex Gordon is in one of his own, and it’s every bit the problem Mondesi’s is.
The misery of Adalberto Mondesi’s season continued Sunday when, in the KC Royals‘ 5-4 loss to Minnesota, the struggling shortstop went hitless for the 12th time in 28 games. His is a slump so well-chronicled that it at times overshadows the club’s other issues.
But there is a similar story to be told about another Royal. Though the evidence isn’t hidden, the problem somehow escapes the intense scrutiny Mondesi’s slump receives.
Perhaps that’s because the other player is Alex Gordon, a revered and beloved Kansas City icon so adored that he avoids acquiring his own slide under the microscopes of fans and media alike, a common privilege sports bestows on aging stars.
Perhaps it’s because Mondesi is the future and Gordon the past, and we want to talk more of the former than the latter.
Or perhaps it’s simply because the end is nearing for Gordon and we just don’t want to acknowledge the inevitable.
After his 0-for-4 Sunday, Mondesi is slashing .220/.243/.290. Despite his good power, he hasn’t homered yet. He has two RBIs. Usually a prodigious base stealer, he’s been caught four of the 10 times he’s tried. Mondesi’s played in every one of the KC Royals’ 28 games, and his perplexing slump is one of the reasons the club is 11-17.
Gordon also went 0-for-4 Sunday and is slashing .190/.273/.329 in 25 games. He does have three home runs but only six RBIs. The veteran’s stats tell us he isn’t hitting as well as Mondesi, but gets on base more–in 21 fewer at-bats, Gordon has seven walks and has been hit twice, while Mondesi’s walked twice and been hit once.
Mondesi looks lost and bewildered at the plate; Gordon looks a bit tired and, from time to time, seems unable to catch up to pitches he used to pound.
Mondesi will eventually overcome his slump. He has too much talent and potential not to and is still learning how to hit and adjust. Gordon’s funk, however, too closely resembles the agonizing first three years of his club record four-year, $72 million contract that ended after last season. He hit .220, .208 and .245 those years, then bounced back in 2019 with a much better .266, 13 homers and 76 RBIs. But Gordon is 11 years older than Mondesi; slumps are harder to beat with age.
Mondesi is the can’t miss, five-tool complete player Gordon no longer is. Gordon never lived up to the “Next George Brett” label some saddled him with when he came up as a third baseman. Nor should he have been expected to—the comparison was unfair and, in hindsight, unwarranted. Gordon was never going to hit like Brett, homer like Brett, or drive in runs like Brett. And he just couldn’t play third base like Brett.
But through hard work that foretold the now famous Gordon work ethic, he made himself the finest left fielder the Royals have ever had, and may ever have. He’s won seven Gold Gloves and one Platinum, and been selected to three All-Star teams. He became a good and reliable hitter. Last season’s return to respectability at the plate justified the one-year contract the KC Royals gave Gordon to come back this season.
Now, however, 2019 seems far, and his better days even farther, in the past. It’s just not the stats that say so–that his struggles impact the team and his manager’s decisions became painfully evident several games ago when, in a high-leverage, late-inning situation, Mike Matheny pulled Gordon for a pinch hitter, electing to sacrifice Gordon’s still superb late-game defense for a better batter. (Gordon pinch-hit the next night in a similar situation, but flailed at a third strike after fouling off two pitches with weak swings).
Like several of his teammates, Gordon is miserable with runners in scoring position (3-for 20 after Sunday). Too many of his swings seem to lack power and he appears over-anxious at times; he swings at pitches he used to ignore.
Gordon has been hitting better the past few days; more hope came over the weekend when he went 2-for-3 with a homer Saturday and Kansas City Star writer Lynn Worthy noted Gordon feels good about his progress.
Then he went 0-for-4 Sunday.
Maybe things will get better. But at this point, with the KC Royals still in the hunt for this season’s expanded playoffs, Matheny would be justified, and not in need of forgiveness, if he chooses to find out if another outfielder can add badly needed juice to the lineup and moves Gordon to a reserve role. Gordon could work on his hitting before games and still be available for late inning defense in close contests.
Matheny, though, will likely give Gordon a bit more time to improve at the plate—it would be difficult, and perhaps unwise, for the first-year KC manager to take the bat out of Gordon’s hands when his attitude is positive and he likes his at-bats.
But Matheny may not be able to wait long if his club starts winning and gets in the thick of the race for October. A contending club can’t afford the kind of slump Gordon has yet to break out of, even if his batting mind is right.
Hopefully, performance will soon match attitude. At Gordon’s age, and considering his last few seasons, however, that might be asking a bit much. If it is, and as I wrote in this space before the season started, the KC Royals may have to make a move.
The season is almost half over for the KC Royals and Alex Gordon remains in a campaign-long slump. The club needs him to break out of it soon.