Good luck finding a better story during this 2014 season, regardless of how it ends, than the Kansas City Royals. That status comes even with the fact that Ned Yost is still calling the shots for this team. Nonetheless, they’ve provided us with a team that is an absolute blast to watch this postseason, first for their speed and now for their newly discovered power. Right in the middle of all of that is Alex Gordon.
Gordon hit the game-winning home run in the top of the 10th inning on Friday night, to give the Royals a 1-0 lead over the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Championship Series. That home run was made possible by the fact that the Royals couldn’t cash in on a bases loaded, no outs situation in the top of the ninth. As far as Gordon is concerned, it just cemented what a lot of us already know about the former blue chip prospect.
Gordon flew under the radar as one of the best all-around players in the American League this year. While the AL MVP award has almost certainly already been handed over to Mike Trout, there is an obvious case to be made for Gordon.
He finished tied for second in the American League among position players with a 6.6 fWAR, behind only Trout. He led the power deficient Royals with 19 home runs and 74 RBIs, while also walking 22 more times than anyone else on the team, with 65. His fielding was on point as well, as he went for a 25.0 UZR and 27 Defensive Runs Saved, both of which were career highs for him. These are just a few things that illustrate how good he was in 2014, and the player he’s become for Kansas City.
At one point, though, many questioned whether or not Alex Gordon would ever be anything significant at the Major League level. Selected no. 2 overall in the 2005 MLB Amateur Draft, Gordon experienced some serious turmoil throughout his first several years, on predominantly bad Royal teams.
Gordon’s first four seasons at the big league level produced a 4.5 WAR in total, including a 2010 in which he was a -0.5, in hitting just .215 and reaching base at a .315 clip, while also struggling in the field. He spent a large chunk of time in the minor leagues, appearing in only 74 games with the Royals. It was at this point that he was ultimately declared a bust, or so the narrative goes. Poor numbers and injuries early on appeared to derail his career.
Then, 2011 came. Gordon moved to the outfield and found the offensive rhythm that had been there in nothing more than short bursts in the seasons prior. He hit .303 for the year, thanks to a .356 BABIP, and reached base at a rate of .376, a career mark. He hit 23 home runs and knocked in 87, while adding 17 swipes to the equation as well. His wOBA sat at .382, while he also posted a 140 wRC+. Even with those numbers, he still finished 21st in MVP voting, mostly due to the fact that the Royals finished near the bottom of the American League Central, yet again.
And here we are in 2014. At this point, we know who Alex Gordon is. He hasn’t returned to those 2011 numbers, but he has continued to produce steadily in a variety of ways. In reality, the signs of the player that Alex Gordon would become were always there. Even early in his career, he regularly posted an ISO over .160 (.167 for his career) and reached base at a pretty steady rate, thanks to his ability to take a walk. His move to the outfield has been an absolute blessing, and he’s become one of the better fielders in the game, at any position.
With that in mind, it isn’t a stretch at all to call Alex Gordon one of the game’s best all-around players. He’s just that. He’s not going to launch 40 home runs in a season, but he brings excitement with the glove and his ability to consistently reach base and hit for extra bases. Most importantly, his emergence over the last few years has helped to illustrate the practice of patience with top prospects. The signs were there. It was just a matter of the right situation, especially position-wise, and maintaining his health.
He’s the franchise player that Kansas City has been looking for for years.