That Royals left fielder Alex Gordon hit a leadoff home run in Wednesdays 6-2 win at Cleveland wasnt surprising. After all, it was the 13th time hes led off a game with a homer.
By PETE GRATHOFF
The Kansas City Star
That it came off a left-hander (Scott Kazmir) shouldnt be a surprise either. Not in 2013, at least.
Gordon has feasted on lefties this year, and his splits are so lopsided that he may finish with the most remarkable season in baseball history for a left-handed hitter. Ever.
Gordons slash line against right-handers: .245/.305/.379 for an OPS of .684.
His slash line against left-handers: .323/.377/.547 for an OPS of .924.
Aren't lefties supposed to struggle against left-handed pitchers? Isn't that why Tony La Russa would make so many pitching changes during his managerial career?
Gordon hasn't. According to the Play Index at Baseball-Reference.com (which may be as indispensable as my phone), his numbers rank high for left-handed hitters against left-handed pitchers in baseball history (minimum 200 plate appearances):
• Average: 74th
• OPS: 53rd
• Slugging percentage: 43rd.
There is a stat at Baseball Reference called tOPS+, which provides a number for a particular split with 100 being the median. The higher the number, the better the player does in that split. Of course, it helps to be worse in the other split, but theres no need to go down that road.
Thats because Gordons tOPS+ of 139 (before Wednesdays game) was the highest of any left-handed hitter against left-handed pitching in the history of baseball (minimum of 200 plate appearances).
Nellie Foxs 1958 season with the White Sox is second (136), while Ichiro Suzuki in 2005 with the Mariners was third (128).
While tOPS+ is not the most recognizable stat out there, its still impressive that Gordons tOPS+ could be the highest in the lefty-versus-lefty split. I mean, we are talking about the history of the game. And just look at the top 10 list and youll see Ichiro Suzukis name in there three times.
In June, after Gordon hit a walk-off RBI single against Atlanta lefty Alex Wood, Royals manager Ned Yost was asked whether he was surprised that opposing managers still went with the lefty-on-lefty matchup when Gordon came up.
Yost said no, that most managers would go by the book. Yost also said that Gordon sometimes found it useful to get back on track at the plate by facing lefties. That just seems crazy.
At the time, Gordon brushed aside that assertion, but he's a modest fellow.
After unearthing this tOPS+ nugget, I asked David Lough, another left-hander, for his thoughts on Gordons surprising success.
In this game, you know, a lefty-on-lefty matchup is not as easy as seeing a righty, so its very impressive what he can do, Lough said.
And this season has been remarkable, because Gordons lifetime splits (.277/.355/.448 with a tOPS+ of 105 vs. right-handers and .254/.323/.416 with a tOPS+ of 89 vs. left-handers) dont suggest such a disparity.
But this season stands out as his splits show. But Lough did offer one explanation.
It doesnt surprise me, Lough added. Hes a good player.
To reach Pete Grathoff, call 816-234-4330 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/pgrathoff