It’s like a mad lib! Alex Gordon is… sexy? Misunderstood? Pretty good with a chance of more? Not as good as last year? Better than this year? Let’s try something else. Let’s try to answer it with another name and find him a ‘fantasy comp.’
Check out the five-by-five roto stats for player a and player b over the last three years:
It’s a comp that came up last week in my Friday chat, and it’s not bad. All by itself, the comp brings to mind the promise of more, the inevitable settling for what you’re going to get, and the all-around “meh”-ness of the package.
Nick Markakis once hit .300 with 23 home runs and 18 stolen bases, and became a sexy roto pick for it. Alex Gordon once hit .300 with 23 home runs and 17 stolen bases, and became a sexy roto pick for it. Neither profiles as a speedster, and neither has above-average home-run power. In fact, they have the exact same home-run-per-fly-ball rate (9.7%) and that number is pretty much exactly league average. So it’s not surprising that they almost have the same isolated slugging percentage (.160 for Markakis and .167 for Gordon). Markakis has stolen 56 career bases, against 21 caught stealings. Gordon? 54 and 24 respectively. Even their teams have had similar results this year — 525 runs scored for the Royals and 532 for the Orioles — so their run and RBI totals should be similar. Alex Gordon is Nick Markakis.
What does a comp like this do for us? After all, Markakis is turning 29 this offseason, Gordon is younger, and his best season came more recently. Maybe the comp is misleading? Well, Gordon is 28 and will be 29 before next season begins. And if you look at a player’s work over the last three years (and over their career) as a whole, it can help you look past recent ups and downs and discover a more steady path. Call seasons arbitrary endpoints, or not, but you can still see that these two players have more in common than it might seem if you just looked at their stats from the last three seasons without combining them.
There is a little difference in terms of seasonal volatility. If you take away Markakis’ best season by ISO (.185 in 2007), his best ISO is .185 (2008). His worst season (.138) is a little worse than Gordon’s worst work (.140 in 2010), but if you take away Gordon’s best season (.200), his best ISO is not as exciting (.172 in 2008). So maybe Gordon has a tad more upside, based on the three months of youth he has, the volatility he’s shown over his career, and his slightly better peak, but this comp still helps you reign in your excitement over the player.
Is there hope in the numbers for Gordon? It doesn’t really seem like more power is coming. His ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio (1.27 this season) is the highest it’s ever been (.94), and while that has helped him put up another great line drive rate (24.8% this year, 21.5% career), it’s not conducive to more home runs. Just ask Markakis, who has a career GB/FB ratio of 1.28 and above-average line drive rates peppered in every other year so far (26.5% this season, 20% career). So Gordon has become even more Markakis-like this season.
And we know not to expect gaudy steals totals from either guy. They take advantage of situations more than they have great speed. Both have below-average Bill James speed scores (4.0 for Markakis, 4.6 for Gordon). Here, Markakis can serve as a cautionary tale. Sure, his speed scores have been consistently lower than Gordon’s, but neither could be pointed to as a strength. And Markakis — though he managed to steal double digit bags three times in the face of mediocre speed scores — has one stolen base against a caught stealing this year. If Gordon produced that many steals next season, he’d be an unqualified bust instead of a player that some fantasy managers are considering keeping.
We use comps all the time to determine a future contract in real-life baseball. It makes sense to use comps in fantasy baseball, too — after all, in both cases, we’re just trying to figure out a player’s true talent. And it looks like, well, it looks like Alex Gordon is Nick Markakis. For better or for worse.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.