Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Alex Gordon's Down Year

Alex Gordon is up for another Gold Glove, which is great. While the Gold Glove historically may not represent who is actually the best defender at each position, the 3rd consecutive nomination at least represents that Gordon is appreciated and recognized for what he does. On the other hand, appreciation and recognition can sometimes disguise actual results. On the offensive front, Gordon again experienced a decline and put up a performance that was only slightly above average. Unfortunately, slightly above average was good enough for 3rd best (behind Hosmer and Butler) on the Royals. 

Gordon had a down year, fueled mostly by a BABIP decrease and BB% decrease. His ISO, which is slugging minus batting average and measures power, was almost the same as 2012, but still lower than 2011; 2011 appears to be the outlier, not the norm. However, his ISO was the highest on the team of players who played the whole season, so his power remains fine.  
The BABIP decrease is far more interesting. In 2011 and 2012, his BABIP was virtually the same despite a difference in line drives and ground balls, which go for hits more often than fly balls. In 2013, his LD% and GB% were closer to 2011 levels, yet his BABIP was much lower. Was 2011 lucky, or was 2013 unlucky? According to the xBABIP formula, which attempts to predict an expected BABIP from a given batted ball distribution, his 2013 BABIP was exactly what it should have been. His 2011 BABIP was much higher than it should have been. Going forward, we can expect Gordon's offensive performance to be closer to 2013 than 2011. Gordon will retain offensive value even if his BABIP doesn't increase; Gordon just needs to increase his BB% back to career levels. Gordon's plate discipline metrics didn't suggest a significant reduction in skill, so it is likely that Gordon's BB% will rebound to career levels in 2014. 
The defensive numbers didn't like him as much as 2011 and 2012, but he was still an above average fielder in 2013, which led to the Gold Glove nomination. Gordon will be 30 for the 2014 season; I expect his defensive numbers to continue to regress, but he should still be an above average or at least average fielder in 2014.  
Supposedly, Gordon keeps himself in excellent shape, so aging may not affect him as much as other players yet. On the offensive side, I think he will rebound in 2014. I think his walk rate will reflect something closer to his career rate than his 2013 rate. I think we can pencil him in for 3-4 fWAR in 2014 with a stronger offensive  contribution but weaker defensive contribution. However, because defensive statistics aren't perfect yet, it's easily possible that the defensive numbers like him more in 2014; it takes about 3 years for individual defensive numbers to start stabilizing and reflecting true talent levels. 4-5 WAR is his upside if his offense REALLY rebounds or the defensive numbers like him more. Gordon is still one of the most reliable and good players on the team, and I'm happy to have him. 

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