The acquisition of Norichika Aoki was intended to have a twofold impact on the Royals’ lineup.
Aoki would give the Royals their first true leadoff hitter since probably Johnny Damon, who left the team after the 2000 season.
Additionally, Alex Gordon would drop to the middle of the order, where he could add some much needed pop (the Royals’ 3-4-5 hitters combined for 41 home runs in 2013, just 12 shy of Chris Davis’ total for the Orioles).
“When you look at what Alex is capable of doing, in my mind, I think he’s capable of 20-plus home runs every year, he’s capable of getting on base,” general manager Dayton Moore said.
“There’s always been a little bit of strikeouts with Alex, but that’s OK, that’s just how his swing works. He’s got some natural loft in that swing. So he’s capable of hitting a lot more home runs and hopefully it’ll free him up to do that.”
Batting primarily in the leadoff spot, Gordon finished last season with 20 home runs (half came in the last two months of the season) with 81 RBIs and a slash line of .265/.327/.422.
Manager Ned Yost’s preseason lineup had Gordon in the five-hole, and simply replicating last year’s numbers would be a step up for the Royals. Last year, the team’s No. 5 hitters batted .276/.325/.395 with 11 home runs (which tied for the fewest in baseball at that spot) and 69 RBIs.
Gordon acknowledged that he will take a different approach at the plate this year.
“Every spot is a little different,” Gordon said. “I think my approach might be a little different, just because I was trying to get on base (as the leadoff hitter), trying to make something happen, let guys see pitches. I’m still going to try to see pitches, but I think my job is to drive guys in. Maybe hit with some more power, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Preseason projections all seem to be in the same ballpark for Gordon:
• ZiPS: .267/.339/.432 with 19 home runs and 73 RBIs.
• Baseball Prospectus: .268/.348/.425 with 17 home runs and 70 RBIs.
• Steamer: .274/.348/.442 with 18 home runs and 75 RBIs.
ZiPS and Steamer projections both show a bit of a bounce back in Gordon’s power. ZiPS had his ISO* projected to be .165, while Steamer had it at .168. That would reverse a troubling trend that has seen Gordon’s ISO has gone from .200 in 2011 to .160 in 2012 to .156 last year.
*This measures a batter’s raw power. Last year, Davis led baseball at .348, followed by Miguel Cabrera (.288) and Brandon Moss (.267).
The Royals need to hope that Gordon has figured out what caused him to slump over the last four months of the season.
On June 2, Gordon had a slash line of .326/.369/.482 in 54 games, a big reason why he made his first All-Star appearance. From there out, however, Gordon had a slash line of .232/.305/.389.
“Looking back, I wish it hadn’t happened,” Gordon said. “But I had a great start to the season. Unfortunately I kind of a had a little slide at the end, but having different hitting coaches is never easy. I’m not saying that’s the problem, but it’s good to have Pedro (Grifol) on board (for a full season).”
Gordon said that after the season he was able to look back and see a few reasons for his decline, although he didn’t reveal what those were.
If the Royals are to make it over the hump and get back to the playoffs for the first time since 1985, they’ll likely need Gordon to avoid another second-half letdown.
“Baseball’s not an easy game, and I’ve experienced that first-hand,” Gordon said. “Unfortunately it happened, but what are you going to do? You’re going to move on and try and learn from it and hopefully not let it happen again.”