A quick case against Alex Gordon hitting third
Man, the day was going so well, too. I mean, sure, I wasn’t even out of bed yet and been up for all of 20 minutes.
But I’d already read a couple of really interesting stories on my iPad and knew that coffee and Cinnamon Life were in my very near future, beer with a friend I haven’t seen in a while tonight, and what part of that can a guy complain about?
Then I read Dutton’s story about how a hot spring training will have Alex Gordon hitting third when the Royals start their season tomorrow.
Now, I do like Royals manager Ned Yost, think he’s absolutely as right a guy for this team at this time as Trey Hillman was the wrong guy and it goes without saying that my baseball knowledge and feel for that team wouldn’t fill one of Ned’s turf shoes.
But there are two red flags here.
The first is that one of the most basic and accepted tenets of spring training is that the performances there — especially hitting numbers in the light air and against dubious pitching of the Cactus League — are incredibly misleading. Locally, the famous example is Zack Greinke going all Albie Lopez with a 9.00-plus ERA the spring training before going all Pedro Martinez on the American League two years ago.
But that is the rule, not the exception.
Remember Mitch Maier’s Ted Williams impersonation during last year’s spring training?
So while it’s great that Gordon is hitting .343/.459/.729 this spring, we should all hold off on crowning him. That’s over 70 at bats. It’s not hard to find a 50 at-bat stretch of last season when Gordon hit .320/.414/.500, which you might notice looks pretty good, too, until you also notice he hit .215/.315/.355 over the entire season.
But that’s not the most concerning part*. You have to trust that Yost has seen something different in Gordon this spring to believe in, a shortened swing, a better approach, something much more real than a small sample size that roughly equates to three weeks’ worth of at bats.
* The smart-As among you might point out that the most concerning part of this is that a guy who hit .215/.315/.355 last year will hit third for a major league franchise and you would be correct, but all that proves is that the Royals will be bad this year, and didn’t we know that already?
No, the other part of this is what hitting third in the lineup might do to Gordon. He’s had so much put on him since his big league debut four years ago and none of it has gone particularly well.
Yost’s points about balancing the lineup between lefties and righties is well taken, but in a season that will be judged more on the progress of key players than the end-of-the-year win total, it makes sense to protect the interests of those key players. Gordon is absolutely one of them, in as close to a make-or-break season as he’s had in the big leagues.
With Gordon’s track record, it looks like a risk to ask him to “dominate” from the marquee spot in the lineup — right from the start — where he figures to put more pressure on himself.
He hasn’t handled that well so far. You have to assume Yost has seen something beyond the spring stats to believe that will change.