Mar 272014

by John Viril—

Kansas City Royals LF Alex Gordon is a key player for the team’s 2014 playoff hopes. When Royals GM Dayton Moore acquired RF Norichika Aoki from the Brewers this winter, one of the key benefits mentioned was that the trade would allow manager Ned Yost to move Gordon into an RBI position rather than bat leadoff.

This rationale makes sense. Gordon possesses good power from the left side. He certainly seems like he’d be more valuable protecting cleanup hitter Billy Butler—as long as Aoki produces at the top of the order.

Moore’s grand plan, however, will fail if Yost wears Gordon down by playing him too much.

Last season, Alex Gordon came blazing out of the gate. He hit .317/.349/.500 in April and followed up his hot start with a .339/.390/.473 month of May. He looked poised to have his best overall season.

He hit the wall in June.

That month, Gordon put up a paltry .188/.292/.240 line. His season never really recovered. His highest OPS the rest of the way was his mediocre .765 mark in August.

Last August, I wrote a long article about Gordon’s 2nd half slump. I noted that Gordon’s average batted ball distance on fly balls had declined from 288.96 ft in the first two months, down to 280.87 ft by August. If you include September, Gordon’s average batted ball distance declined to an even worse 276.22.

                            1st 2 months   rest of season
                  2011          288.51         287.73
                  2012          287.37         281.83
                  2013          288.96         276.22

This result shows Gordon’s in-season decline in batted ball distance has gotten worse over the last three seasons. Add this evidence to a recent study by the Hardball Times which showed that batted ball distance tends to decline with age, and this decline mirrors reduced production, we can see Father Time catching up to Gordon.

Manager Ned Yost hasn’t helped relieve Gordon’s fatigue at all the last few seasons. Alex has logged 151, 161, 156 games played with 690, 721, 700 Plate Appearances over the last three years. I don’t think it’s any accident that Gordon had his best season at the plate in the year he played the fewest games and had the fewest Plate Appearances.

                               Games        PA          OPS
                  2011          151         690        .879
                  2012          161         721        .822
                  2013          156         700        .749

As I suggested in August, the obvious solution would be to give Gordon more off days in the 2014 season to fight the in-season decline in his batted ball distance. Now, we have even stronger indications that this approach is correct.

The good news is that the Royals might have figured this out. Perhaps the above analysis explains why Dayton Moore chose to open the season with two reserve outfielders and no utility infielder. This odd roster construction has allowed the Royals to add the right-handed hitting reserve OF Justin Maxwell—a perfect compliment to give the left-handed Gordon some off days against a tough lefty pitcher. Meanwhile, they also have Jarrod Dyson as insurance in case the oft-injured CF Lorenzo Cain has more problems with staying in the lineup.

I hope keeping Gordon rested is the reason behind Moore’s strange decision to field a roster with two reserve outfielders and 12 pitchers. A strong season from Alex Gordon is one of the keys to breaking Kansas City’s 29-year playoff drought.

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 Posted by at 3:43 am

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