Alex Gordon's breakout season

September, 10, 2011
9/10/11
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As of Friday morning, Royals outfielder Alex Gordon was hitting .298/.372/.493 with 20 home runs, 93 runs scored, 78 RBI and 16 stolen bases. According to both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference, Gordon has been worth between five or six wins above replacement (WAR) so far this season.

He was supposed to be this type of player back in 2007 or at least 2008. It may have taken longer than expected, but Alex Gordon is having a prodigious yet nevertheless somewhat underrated breakout season.

Before the 2007 season, Baseball America ranked Gordon as the second-best prospect in baseball. Only one year removed from being the second overall pick in the 2005 draft and fresh off of a .325/.427/.588 season while hitting 29 home runs and stealing 22 bases at Double-A Wichita, expectations were clearly sky-high.

Gordon failed to live up to Rookie of the Year predictions, but his sophomore season showed some promise as he hit .260/.351/.432 in 571 plate appearances. Unfortunately, in April of 2009, Gordon was forced to go under the knife due to a hip injury, which would end up costing him 79 games that year and stopped any of the momentum created from his 2008 season. The 2010 season didn't start out any better. Gordon suffered a fractured right thumb late in spring training and started the year on a minor league rehab assignment. His return to the Royals lasted only 12 games before he was optioned to Triple-A, where he would remain until late July.

One of Gordon's biggest issues had been his struggles against left-handed pitching. That particular area of his game has vastly improved in 2011. Eight of Gordon's 20 home runs this season have some against southpaws.

Perhaps one key to Gordon's 2011 success is an adjustment he has made in his batting stance and swing while working with hitting coach Kevin Seitzer in the offseason. You can see the difference in his stance in these two videos from MLB.com.
“We did a major overhaul with his upper body and swing path,” Seitzer says. “It was basically a month of drills. We wanted him to pretty much forget what the old swing felt like, ingrain a whole new path, lose tension in the upper body, stay short through the ball."
“I was kind of an all-effort guy,” Gordon says. “I’m kind of gearing back a little bit, trying to swing nice and easy, nice and free, take what pitchers give me.” -- FoxSports.com

Whether it was one big change or a combination of a few different changes -- on top of the fact that he was able to start the year healthy -- one thing's for sure: Gordon is finally channeling the immense talent that made him one of the best prospects in baseball back in 2006 and 2007.

It seems that baseball fans are aware of Gordon's tremendous season, but sometimes it still feels like he has been somewhat overlooked when discussions or arguments erupt over who the best players in baseball are.

Did you know that Gordon ranks seventh in fWAR in the American League, just slightly behind Adrian Gonzalez, who people are touting for AL MVP? Want more awesome numbers? Gordon currently has the 21st-highest wOBA in baseball (minimum 500 plate appearances), the fifth-best wOBA of any left fielder in baseball (minimum 450 plate appearances) and the second most fWAR of any left fielder in all of baseball.

How about some traditional stats? Gordon ranks ninth among American League outfielders in home runs, fourth in runs scored, 10th in RBIs, fourth in AVG, fourth in OBP and eighth in SLG (minimum of 400 plate appearances).

Gordon hasn't just been one of the best players on the Royals this season, or even one of the best players in the American League. He has been one of the best players in baseball.

It's been a rather bumpy road for Alex Gordon to get where he is today, yet he's still only 27-years old. As he battled through slumps, injuries and the weight of being labeled "The next George Brett," he never stopped trying to get better. All of that hard work and perseverance has finally paid off. It's time to give the man the attention and credit he deserves.

Charlie Saponara writes for Red Sox SweetSpot network blog, "Fire Brand of the AL." You can find all of his writing adventures by following on Twitter.

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