The curious case of Alex Gordon
09/12/2013 12:03 AM
09/12/2013 12:28 AM
That Royals left fielder Alex Gordon hit a leadoff home run in Wednesday’s 6-2 win at Cleveland wasn’t surprising. After all, it was the 13th time he’s led off a game with a homer.
That it came off a left-hander (Scott Kazmir) shouldn’t 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.
Gordon’s 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 there’s no need to go down that road.
That’s because Gordon’s tOPS+ of 139 (before Wednesday’s game) was the highest of any left-handed hitter against left-handed pitching in the history of baseball (minimum of 200 plate appearances).
Nellie Fox’s 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, it’s still impressive that Gordon’s 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 you’ll see Ichiro Suzuki’s 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 Gordon’s surprising success.
“In this game, you know, a lefty-on-lefty matchup is not as easy as seeing a righty, so it’s very impressive what he can do,” Lough said.
And this season has been remarkable, because Gordon’s 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) don’t suggest such a disparity.
But this season stands out as his splits show. But Lough did offer one explanation.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Lough added. “He’s a good player.”
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