How much of this will we see from Alex this year? Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Royals Alex Gordon's Power Potential (Part One)

In the Kansas City Royals 3-2 spring training win over the Cincinnati Reds Friday , Chris Getz hit a home run.  This is significant because Getz hasn’t homered in a major league game since 2009, and the Royals are trying to increase their power production, from all possible sources.  Last year, the Royals finished tied for last in the AL with 131 home runs and 12th in runs scored.  Obviously, if Kansas City expects to compete, they must score more runs.  Based on the hiring of Jack Maloof, they intend to do this by hitting more homers.  This brings up an interesting question.  How many home runs can we expect from Alex Gordon?

In 2011, Gordon had his much anticipated breakout season, hitting 23 home runs while playing well in all other aspects of the game.  Last season however, Gordon’s home run production dropped to 14.  Which of these numbers are more accurate?  To get a sense of Alex Gordon’s power, I looked at the average distance of his home runs.  The reason that this is such an effective measurement is that batters who tend to hit the ball longer distances also tend to hit more home runs.  What follows is a table of average home run distance along with relevant or interesting stats.  These stats are courtesy of Fangraphs and ESPN’s Hit Tracker.

Gordon 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Avg. HR Dist. 405.3 397 401.5 414.7 398.1
AL Average 395.3 396.9 395.7 394.6 397.2
FB% 47.6% 42% 39.2% 38.5% 32.7%
HR/FB 8.9% 12% 11.3% 12.6% 8.5%
Home/Road 9/7 2/4 5/3 12/11 6/8

There are a few interesting items to pull out of here

  • Gordon seems either unaffected by Kauffman Stadium’s home run suppression or he has trouble hitting homers on the road.
  • Since 2008, Gordon has seen a year by year decline in FB%.  This is worrisome because his fly balls have been replaced with ground balls and flies produce more runs on average than grounders.

The meat of this topic comes from looking at the variations in Gordon’s home run distance and comparing them to his HR/FB ratios.  Aside from 2011, Gordon’s average home run distance has been incredibly consistent.  His HR/FB, however, has not.  When keeping this data in mind, Gordon’s 2008 seems very strange.  9.5% tends to be around the league average for HR/FB, yet in both 2008 and 2012, his was below this despite have above average (or well above average in the case of 2008) average HR distance.  Under normal circumstances, this could be dismissed as a case of Kauffman Stadium suppressing home runs, but two important pieces of data work against this argument.  The first is that Alex hits as many home run at home as on the road, despite playing frequently in places like U.S. Cellular and Progressive Field.  The second is that in the other three seasons of this sample, Alex has posted above average HR/FB rates to go with his above average HR distance.

There is one thing about Gordon’s 2012 which might help explain his precipitous drop in home runs.  In 2012, Gordon had a career high IFFB% (infield fly ball percentage) of 9.1% compared to 4.4% in 2011 and a career percentage of 7.5%.  This increase in fly balls surely hurt his average fly ball distance, which in turn affected his HR/FB.

Gordon’s downward trend in FB% may portend a decrease in the total number of home runs he hits, however, his history of hitting home runs an above average distance combined with regression to the mean leads me to believe that he will hit more home runs than next year.  If Gordon stays healthy and plays, say, 150 games this year, he should hit around 21 home runs. It is also entirely possible that Alex completely goes off and hits close to 30 home runs.  This is because the road parks that he plays in should allow for more home runs.  What shouldn’t happen is a repeat of last year’ slow  home run total.  It’s should be safe to say that a healthy Alex Gordon will contribute his fair share of home run production this year.

Tags: Alex Gordon Kansas City Royals

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