Opinion

Could this be the change that’s helped Alex Gordon?

Kansas City Royals left fielder Alex Gordon followed through on a double during last Saturday’s game.
Kansas City Royals left fielder Alex Gordon followed through on a double during last Saturday’s game. jsleezer@kcstar.com

This is the continuation of a weekly stats column to examine how this year’s Royals compare to the 2015 World Series champions. All numbers through Tuesday’s game.

One of the biggest reasons for the Royals’ recent surge has been Alex Gordon. As in the last two weeks, he’s hit .386 with five home runs and has been 132-percent better than a league-average hitter, according to Weighted Runs Created Plus.

So how has he done it?

I have a guess, but let’s be clear up front that it’s only that. I am not a hitting coach or a swing expert (and if I was, I’d hit a few more doubles for my slow-pitch softball team).

Still, looking back at video from before and after this streak, something appears to stand out.

From the beginning of the clip, we can see that Gordon’s hands seem to start in a lower position on the right. Instead of his top hand being up near his ear, like it is in on the left, it’s closer to below his chin.

Is this making him quicker to the ball? Some of Gordon’s struggles this year had been that he wasn’t hitting fastballs like he had in the past, and there have been previous examples of players lowering their hands to try to streamline their swing.

It’s important to note that this is just a random sample of two pitches before and after Gordon’s streak, but these circumstances appear to be similar. In both, Gordon is facing a left-hander who misses location and leaves him a fastball up.

If we speed up to the point of contact, we can see a difference.

  

On the left, Gordon can’t quite get his bat through the zone and hits it off the handle, skying a popup to the shortstop. On the right, he is able to pull his hands through to get the barrel on the ball for a home run.

A big reason for Gordon’s improvement has been his pull power. The two spray charts here compare the start of Gordon’s season to the last two weeks. Notice especially the increase in balls hit to the black circle.

  

Gordon was vague last week when talking about what had led to his breakout.

“There’s a lot of things going into it,” he said. “I’m not going to go into details. I’ve been working hard with Dale (Sveum), our hitting coach, trying to get out of (the slump). Just trying to keep my head up, working hard.”

Is part of that work a small change in his hitting mechanics?

It’s hard to know for sure, but the video indicates there might be something there.

Let’s take a look at this week’s team numbers.

Hitting

2015 — .269/.322/.412 (Batting average/On-base percentage/Slugging percentage)

2016 — .263/.313/.399

Last 7 days — .267/.335/.436

KC’s offensive numbers haven’t been as good as you might expect in the last week for a team that won all of its games. The Royals offense, as a whole, was 4 percent better than league average this week according to wRC+ — a number that ranked 16th out of 30 MLB teams.

Hitting with runners in scoring position

2015 — .282/.347/.426

2016 — .265/.326/.389

In case you were wondering, KC has hit .274/.325/.398 in situations with any men on base. That on-base percentage ranks 23rd among all teams, while the slugging percentage is 24th.

Starting pitching

2015 — 4.34 ERA, 16.8 K%, 7.6 BB%

2016 — 4.51, 20.6, 8.2

Last 7 days — 1.64, 22.4, 4.5

This tweet combines the starting and relief pitching, but I thought it summed up the Royals’ recent run well:

Relief pitching

2015 — 2.72, 22.9, 8.7

2016 — 3.17, 23.3, 8.2

Last 7 days — 0.00, 28.3, 8.3

Rustin has more on the amazing bullpen run here, so I’ll just add this stat: In the last week, opponents are hitting .055 against the Royals’ relievers. .055!

So the Royals’ ’pen last week basically turned major-league hitters into ... Bartolo Colon (.068 average this year; .088 average in career).

And no, Colon’s probably not getting paid $7.2 million for his work in the batter’s box.

Defense

2015 — 51 defensive runs saved (.315 per game, 2nd in MLB)

2016 — 30 defensive runs saved (.240 per game, 5th in MLB)

The Royals continue to be the class of the AL Central when it comes to defense, as outside of Cleveland (11th), no other division team ranks in the top half of DRS (Chicago 21st, Detroit 28th, Minnesota 29th).

Top 5 in Fangraphs WAR

2015 — Cain 6.6, Moustakas 3.8, Hosmer 3.5, Gordon 2.8, Ventura 2.7

2016 — Duffy 3.2, Cain 2.1, Perez 1.9, Herrera 1.9, Volquez 1.5

Lorenzo Cain has quietly been KC’s second-most productive player behind Gordon the last two weeks, hitting .380/.411/.480 over that time. Though the Royals’ run has been aided by Rally Mantises, Cain’s return from injury has certainly helped too.

Bottom 5 in Fangraphs WAR

2015 — Infante -0.9, Guthrie -0.9, Almonte -0.4, Gomes -0.3, Coleman -0.2

2016 — Young -1.2, Escobar -0.6, Pounders -0.3, Gee -0.3, Mondesi -0.3

If the Royals are serious about making a run, it might be time to send Raul A. Mondesi back down to Class AAA Omaha and bring up Whit Merrifield, as suggested by Rany Jazayerli on Twitter. Merrifield has been heating up at AAA, while Mondesi’s .195/.235/.318 line simply hasn’t been productive enough for a team with playoff aspirations.

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell

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