Monday, May 3, 2010

Alex Gordon a Giant? A Good or Bad Idea?

I'm very interested in the news about Alex Gordon getting sent down to Omaha this weekend. In many ways, it is a peculiar move by Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore (who may be on par with Brian Sabean in terms of general managing ineffectiveness).

Gordon started the year on the disabled list and has only played in 12 games and had 38 plate appearances this season. However, while his batting average (.194) or wOBA (.299) aren't that impressive, Gordon does have an OBP of .342 and a BB/K ratio of 0.88.

What has been the problem for Gordon this year? Two things really.

1.) He hasn't gotten very lucky in terms of finding hits (.227 BABIP).
2.) The infield in Kansas City is extremely crowded. (Gordon is competing with Chris Getz, Yuniesky Betancourt, Willie Bloomquist, Mike Aviles and Alberto Callaspo...yes, that's one DEEP infield baseball fans!)

In terms of point number two, in my opinion, Gordon is a better option than Getz, Betancourt and Bloomquist (and perhaps better than Aviles). However, that doesn't seem to be an opinion Moore shares, as evidenced by Gordon's demotion.

Hence, the debate amongst the baseball world is whether or not Moore is going to trade Gordon. Considering he's only 26 years old, Gordon still has some value, even if it isn't quite as high as it was when he was deemed the No. 2 prospect in baseball according to Baseball America before the 2007 season.

So, with Gordon maybe available, that begs Bay Area baseball fans to ask this question: should Sabean and the Giants pull a trade with Kansas City for the young third baseman? (If you don't think that's a possibility, you might be mistaken, as this is already a hot topic in the Giants blogosphere.)

Let's look at the positives and negatives of this "hypothetical" deal.


1.) Gordon's Plate Patience

Like I said before, Gordon is posting a BB/K ratio of 0.88. He has seven walks (which would tie him for fourth on this current Giants team) in 38 plate appearances (in comparison, Edgar Renteria, who also has seven walks, has earned those totals in 84 plate appearances).

Over his career, Gordon has shown a patient eye at the plate. Last season, despite dealing with injury most of the season, and only posting a .232 average and a .321 wOBA, he had a 0.49 BB/K ratio (which would have been sixth best on last year's Giants roster in term of players with 50 or more plate appearances). In 2008, his second full big-league season, he posted a 0.55 BB/K ratio.

The only season where he struggled in terms of plate patience was his first full rookie season in 2007, when he posted a BB/K ratio of 0.30. However, since that rookie year, Gordon has honed his approach, mainly by cutting down on swinging at pitches outside the strike zone. In 2007 and 2008, Gordon only swung at 24.1 and 24.3 percent of pitches outside the strike zone (the league average was 25.4 and 25.1 percent, respectively).

This season? He has been even better, as his O-Swing percentage stands at 19.8 percent. This season, nobody on the Giants roster with 20 or more plate appearances has an O-Swing percentage under 20 percent (Andres Torres has the best percentage at 20.9 percent). The only guy who had an O-Swing percentage under 20 percent last year (Fred Lewis, who had a 19.4 percent O-Swing percentage) is now a Toronto Blue Jay.

2.) Gordon is developing his power.

In 2008, Gordon posted his best offensive season. He hit .260 with a .351 OBP and hit 16 home runs and scored 72 runs. His wOBA was .344 and he had a WAR (Wins Above Replacement) value of 2.3.

However, he only had a HR/FB rate of 8.9 percent in 2008.

In 2009, he had a much worse statistical season. His wOBA was .321 and he hit only six home runs in 189 plate appearances. However, his HR/FB rate dramatically improved to 12.0 percent in 2009, despite dealing with injury and ineffectiveness all season.

This season has been very similar. Despite dealing with injury and being flip-flopped in and out of the roster, Gordon has hit one home run, which puts his HR/FB ratio at 11.1 percent this season (he has hit nine fly balls and six line drives in comparison to eight groundballs).

Sure, the numbers don't look as good in 2009 or in 2010 as they did in 2008. But Gordon is developing power. All he needs is more at-bats.


1.) Gordon strikes out a lot.

Despite a strong ability to draw a walk, Gordon unfortunately strikes out a good amount. From 2007 through 2010, his strikeout percentage has been 25.2 percent, 24.3 percent, 26.2 percent, and 25.8 percent. All those totals were higher than the league average each season.

Furthermore, Gordon isn't exactly strong in terms of making contact. From 2007 through 2010, his contact rate has ranged from 75.4 percent (this season) to 76.7 percent (last year). To put it in perspective, the league average for hitters in terms of contact percentage is a little over 80 percent generally.

Striking out isn't something that Giants management or fans seem to tolerate very well. Here is a post by jasomack, a member of the McCovey Chronicles blog, concerning the idea of the Giants getting Gordon:

"I’d love the Giants to try something like this. If he played to his career averages, the uptick in defense bump probably makes him comparable to Huff, and he has some real upside. But it’s just a dumb fantasy. Gordon has the attributes the Giants brass undervalues most: patience and youth. He also strikes out a lot. Those things got Fred Lewis deported."

Unfortunately, he makes a great point. Gordon, offensively at least, seems to be very similar to Lewis. I think it's safe to say that doesn't bode well.

2.) Gordon's questionable defense.

The big argument of moving Pablo to first is that his defense is mediocre, and there is evidence of that (depending on how much you believe in advanced defensive metrics). Last season, Sandoval posted a minus-4.8 UZR and a minus-7.1 UZR/150 ("minus" meaning he cost the team runs; "positive" UZR numbers mean that he saved the team runs). This year, he hasn't been much better, as evidenced by his minus-1.5 UZR and minus-22.7 UZR/150.

Unfortunately though, on paper, Gordon doesn't seem to be much better.

While he posted a solid UZR (6.9) in 137 games at third base in 2007, he struggled "Winona Ryder in Mr. Deeds" style in 2008. In 133 games at third, he posted a minus-4.0 UZR. In 2009, he improved that number a little bit (his UZR was only minus-1.7), but considering he played less games, the projection wasn't much better in 2009 (his UZR/150 was minus-5.3) than in 2008 (his UZR/150 was minus-4.7).

Therefore, the Giants are in a dilemma if they acquire Gordon: do they supplant Sandoval at first for a guy who can't compare offensively and may not be that much better defensively at third than Sandoval?

Doesn't sound enticing does it?


Overall, there is a lot to like about Gordon, and because of his plate patience and youth, I'm inclined to go after him. However, the reality is, despite Moore being the Michael Bay of the baseball management world (e.g. all flash, no substance), he won't give up Gordon without getting a pretty penny on return, and I don't know how much the Giants can offer after they got hosed on Scott Barnes and Tim Alderson last year. I mean, it sounds good to say that "Oh let's give up John Bowker, Jesus Guzman and maybe a Wendell Fairley" for him, but in reality, general managers aren't usually that dumb. (And I emphasize usually.)

It's not completely impossible, but considering the Giants wants (power) and acquisition style (big-name veterans), it doesn't seem likely that Gordon will be sporting a black and orange uniform this season.


  1. As a Royals fan, I don't know the Giants system beyond what BA's Prospect Book tells me. Yes, Gordon hasn't performed well at all, but he's also coming off of a shortened season last year due to hip surgery and a broken thumb he suffered in the first week of spring training. Essentially, he's had a week of rehab and two weeks in the majors - and his time in the majors this year saw him on the bench every game once Chris Getz returned because a) Getz (and almost anyone, myself included) is a better option at second base than Callaspo and b) Callaspo is hitting with consistency far beyond any other Royals hitter.

    Gordon's defensive issues are usually from throwing errors throughout his career, though he does have below average range and instincts. He's never really had a solid, stable opportunity at the major league level, usually bothered by injuries here and there, or, in the case of his rookie season, making the jump from AA to MLB (his rough first month seemed to kill his confidence that year and he didn't turn it on until about July).

    The potential is still there, and the Royals aren't going to sell him at his lowest value - he's still worth asking for a Thomas Neal for starters. So yes, you should want him in SF, but no, he's surely not going for cheap. Dayton Moore can get fleeced but he's no Allard Baird.

  2. I think you have a good point. I don't know why the Royals have seemed to sour on him. Yes, he has gone through some injury and hasn't lived up to his full potential yet, but he still is young and is still a better option at third than a lot of the infielders you currently have in the lineup. Furthermore, his power is coming around, which I think is a nice indicator. He may not be a forty home run guy, but 25 homers minimum a year isn't impossible for him in my mind if he gets and extended shot and stays healthy.

    I like him as a player, but I think you point out exactly why I wouldn't trade for him. He'll cost a Thomas Neal minimum, plus a few other guys. After the last few years, I'm content with keeping our farm system stable for once.