The faint delusions of contention are washing away in Royals-land. Sensible fans are relaxing their fanaticism to take a more passing interest in the team’s fate for the rest of the season. Those of us too obsessed to look away are returning to our accustomed position of rooting for individual successes, in the hopes that experience garnered during another lost season will pay off with team-wide success in some hazy future. The obvious names to watch are the rookies such as Eric Hosmer, Aaron Crow, Danny Duffy and now Mike Moustakas. But the best story from the first third of this 2011 season may be Alex Gordon. I do not think there is any question he is the team MVP to this point. He is the only legitimate choice to represent the Royals at the All-Star game, in spite of the Royals odd choice to push for back-to-himself Jeff Francoeur. Gordon has clearly been the most productive left-fielder in the AL this season. No other Royals player could make the same claim at their position.
AL Left-Fielders Weighted Runs Created Leaders:
Dude should not just go to the All-Star game, dude should be the starter.
As for defense, Alex has looked solid in left-field to my eyes. Defensive metrics suggest he has been barely below average, which is fairly impressive for a guy who just switched to the outfield last year after a life-time in the infield. His arm especially looks like an asset in the field.
One twist to Alex’s season so far is an extreme home/road split. His wOBA has a 99 point spread between home and enemy territory: .394 at home, .295 on the road. He has consistently fared much better at the K over his career (.348 home/.308 road wOBA).
Some of his success this year can be attributed to good fortune—his .340 average on balls in play is a bit out of whack from his .301 career average. I hope part of that is Gordon squaring up balls better, but according to Fangraphs, his line drive rate is matching his career norms. We can expect to see fewer balls falling in for Alex, though some of the improvement does seem real and sustainable: His contact rate (81%) is a marked improvement from years past, and will hopefully be a long-term effect of retooling his swing this past off-season. For the first time in his career, he is on pace to have a lower swinging strike rate than the league average.
It will be another summer with no scoreboard watching for Royals fans. We are accustomed to hanging our hats on individual bright spots as the losses mount. In addition to watching the kids develop, the renaissance of Gordon’s career should make the remainder of the season bearable.