As a Royals fan, I try my hardest to not roster any to make sure I limit my hometown bias. Two bats, Alex Gordon and Jorge Soler, are heating up to the point they are being rostered in 15-team leagues and even some shallower ones with Soler. It’s time to perform an unbiased examination of the pair.
All I’ve been able to hear when Alex Gordon’s name is brought up is:
“F’ it, I guess I’ll take Alex Gordon.”
One of my league mates blurted this statement after struggling to locate an available outfielder in my home AL-only league auction.
No one wanted the injury-plagued 34-year-old outfielder to start the season. His NFBC ADP was 527. Now he’s starting to get on owner’s radars and was picked up in my Tout Wars league yesterday. Even after looking at his stats, I don’t understand why the new found love. I’m wondering if he didn’t hit a homer off Craig Kimbrell, no one would notice.
So far, he’s hitting .288/.333/.411 with 2 HR and 1 SB. He has heated up in May when he’s hit both home runs with a .381/.381/1.048 line. I’m not changing my opinion of him off this one hot week.
I’m not sure Gordon has changed much as he’s taking what pitchers are giving him. His walk (3%) and strikeout rate (17%) are both down as pitchers don’t fear him. They’ve thrown into the strike zone at a career-high 54% clip this year. He’s being forced to put the bat on the ball.
When he hits the ball, it’s on the ground 50% of the time which has helped lead to .328 BABIP. He’s had some health issue the past three season (torn labrum earlier this season) but may have finally stumbled onto some health. To determine his current power potential, here are his last three seasons of batted ball data grades with 50 being average and bigger numbers being better.
There’s no breakout power happening but the one telling sign is the low average distance. Groundballs don’t travel far. He’s likely sacrificing what power he has to put the ball in play.
What are owners expecting from him? A .270 AVG, 12 HR, and 6 steals? This is close to his 2015 season when he was a -$3 value in 12-team leagues. A little better than I thought. His best case is replacement level player. The worst case is downright horrible.
The 26-year-old Soler (364 NFBC ADP) is more interesting than Gordon based on youth upside. Last season, Soler was a Royal disappointment with a slash line at .144/.245/.258. but a .203 BABIP and .113 ISO. Soler has always had strikeout issues and when the balls are falling in, he struggles.
This season, the balls are falling in as seen by his .406 BABIP and .308/.425/.510 slash line. The nice shiny triple slash isn’t all BABIP driven with a new approach and swing. He’s walking (16%) at a career-high pace and his strikeouts (25%) are just above his career low. His contact numbers are at his career rates (67% vs 68%) but he is being more selective in what he swings at. His outside swing rate is down to 20% (29% for career) while his in-the-zone at 64% is near his career rate (66%). His whole game is changing by swinging at better pitches.
As for his swing, he’s leveled it off more for a more line drive swing with his GB% up to 44%. Also, his pop-up rate is down from 6.6% to 4.1%. His power grades are more in line with 2016 than last season.
With Soler, the most important factor in determining his value will be where is his true talent BABIP. Our projection systems are assuming somewhere around .300 to .315. Xstats, which just uses batted ball data, has it at .291 for this season. A BABIP in this range will put his batting average in the .240 to .260 range depending on how much of the strikeout gains he keeps. With the line drive approach, I’m thinking his home runs will be closer to maxing out at 25 instead of some of his early prospect hope of 40+.
I have a tough time putting a value on him. Currently, his Fantrax ownership is at 66% which is near outfielders Matt Kemp and Stephen Piscotty. I think I’d value him near the outfielders with an 83% ownership rate (Adam Duvall, Domingo Santana, and Teoscar Hernandez). His ownership is near the 60th overall outfielder putting him in play in all but ten-team leagues.
Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.