The Kansas City Royals left fielder Alex Gordon spent a lot of time working on his swing with former hitting coach Kevin Seitzer prior to his breakout 2011 campaign. One of the main emphases of that off season was a focus on making better contact. When asked by Seitzer whether he would rather hit .300 with 10 home runs or .230 with 20 home runs, Gordon said .300 and 10. As it turns out, Gordon hit .303 with 23 homers.
In part one of this article, I looked at the distance Gordon hit his home runs, and determined that because of this we should expect positive regression to a higher number of homers. This part concerns whether Gordon’s change in approach leads to fewer home runs. As the following table shows, Gordon has hit for more contact and swung through less pitches over the last five years.
It’s pretty easy to see the correlation between the increased Contact% and decreased Swinging strike% (SwSt%), but what is harder to understand is the relationship between the change in Contact% and the change in the rates at which Gordon hits line drives, fly balls and ground balls. Thanks to this fantastic study by Bill Petti at Behind the Box Score, we know that Contact% and SwSt% correlate very well between seasons. This gives further statistical merit to the fact that Gordon’s increase in production was due to an actual change rather than just some strange fluctuation. However, this change in approach lends itself less to hitting fly balls. Gordon has become less of a fly ball hitter and more of a contact hitter. Now, Gordon still has the ability to hit for power as evidenced by his career high 23 home runs in 2011 and his major league leading 51 doubles in 2012, but don’t expect the fly ball numbers to bounce back up. Gordon isn’t that type of hitter anymore. This likely means that while we will still some hard hit line drives into the bullpen, we will also see less of this than the typical Royals fan would like.
To sum up these two articles, Alex Gordon should hit more home runs this year than he did last year, however, Gordon probably will not see a large increase in the number of fly balls he hits. This means that Gordon should hit somewhere between the 14 he hit in 2012 and the 23 he hit in 2011. 21 is probably a reasonable number to expect. Should Gordon combine his improved ability to make contact and hit lines drive with more fly balls, all bets are off.