Saturday, December 29, 2012

Luis Gonzalez was better than you think

Luis Gonzalez has been persona non grata as a spoken name here in the Tasker household. There was that certain bloop hit in 2001 that ruined everything and ended a dynasty. He is used by some to refute the greatness of the great relief pitcher he hit that bloop against (as if). But that was a long time ago. It wasn't Gonzalez's fault that Torre brought the infield in. The fact is that Gonzalez has been gone from the game for five years now. From this seat, his retirement went unnoticed and his career has had little reflection given. The guy was a better player than people remember. May it dare be said that his career was perhaps a hair or a cut below Hall of Fame caliber?

The trouble with Luis Gonzalez has been the whispers. He played in the era of steroid use. His 57 homers in 2001 are treated with smirks and proof of his guilt. Plus, he is Hispanic, so that paints him guilty by association. But Gonzalez has vehemently denied ever using and to this observer's knowledge, has never been painted with a guilty test. Should we believe him? The answer is ambivalent. Does it make any difference? And yet those 57 homers stick out like a sore thumb. They make him the Brady Anderson of his era.

That season was certainly his peak. It was also an outlier. But it should not detract from what was a long and productive career. Fangraphs and differ on the value of his career. B-R has him at 48 rWAR while Fangraphs gives him ten more wins. On the bottom of his B-R page, Gonzalez passes at least one HOF test. He drove in and scored over 1,400 runs. He accumulated over 2,500 hits. His career in left field led to over 90 runs above average on defense (both sites agree on that). He tallied over a thousand extra base hits. And his career triple slash line was: .283/.367/.479.

His career wOBA was .364 and his career WPA came in at 30.98. This was a terrific player!

Many point to the fact that he did not become a star until he came to Arizona. To those who say that, the association again comes down to PEDs or the fact that Arizona is a nice place to hit with its dry, warm air. The fact long forgotten is that before his Arizona days, he played seven seasons with the Houston Astrodome as his home park. That place was murder on hitters.

Gonzalez endured 1,465 plate appearances in the Astrodome. His OPS there was .738. Just for the sake of comparison, in later years, after the Astros moved to Minute Maid Park, Gonzales (SSS) compiled an OPS over one in that park. Imagine his current stats and then adjust for those 1,465 plate appearances and his numbers would look a whole lot better. Gonzalez also spent more than a year with the Dodgers with Dodgers Stadium as his home field and another year in Tigers Stadium. Both could be tough on hitters.

Luis Gonzalez was better than you think. He walked eleven percent of the time in his career and struck out only a little over eleven percent of the time. His ground ball to fly ball ratio was neutral. He only swung and missed 6.1 percent of the time for his career. All of those things are extremely rare for a slugger. And yet Gonzalez left the game with little fanfare and is largely forgotten since he left. His career has been strangely whitewashed by the times in which we live and that is hugely unfortunate.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Alex Gordon is king of Missouri

If you look at the overall value of non-pitching ballplayers over the last two seasons, you would probably guess most of the top five players. But it is almost guaranteed that you would miss who comes in at Number Five. You have Braun on top. Yup. Cabrera is second. Indeed. Cano is third. Got it. McCutchen is fourth. A mild surprise, but okay. And then there is Alex Gordon. Alex Gordon? Yes, Alex Gordon, the king of Missouri.

And Alex Gordon is one of those rare players where Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference actually agree. Fangraphs says Gordon has compiled 12.8 fWAR the last two seasons. B-R gives him 13.3 rWAR. The problem for Gordon is that he has played for the Kansas City Royals, a team whose celebrated team bloggers are more known for their ire and anger at the team's management than anything else. The Royals have lost 181 games over the last two seasons.

But maybe this season will be different in Kansas City. The additions of James Shields, Ervin Santana and Wade Davis along with a full season of Jeremy Guthrie at least gives the Royals four starting pitchers you can't laugh at like in seasons past. A full season of Salvador Perez should help too behind the plate. If Moustakas and Hosmer find their way after difficult seasons in 2012, Alex Gordon might actually play some games that matter.

If that happens, the Royals might make a national telecast or three. They won't play in a vacuum or a black hole. And then the world might discover just how good Alex Gordon has become.

It was a slow road to get to this point for Gordon. He was the second overall pick in the 2005 draft after a stellar college career. The Royals had Gordon skip all the lower levels in the minors and started him at Double-A in Wichita. Gordon did not seem fazed and clocked a 1.016 OPS there in 2006. But then Gordon suffered the fate of great young talents on really bad teams. He was rushed to the majors.

Gordon, then a third baseman, held his own in 151 games his rookie season. He compiled a .725 OPS in 2007 which was somewhat promising considering he only had one year in the minors under his belt. The following season went even better as he compiled an OPS of .789 or a 109 OPS+. It appeared Alex Gordon was progressing toward the path of stardom.

But then he hit a wall in 2009 and 2010. His star fell so rapidly and his performance suffered so radically, that he was sent to the minors during both seasons. By the start of 2011, Alex Gordon was a former phenom pushed aside by the excitement of the new phenoms in Hosmer and Moustakas. But then an unexpected development happened. Alex Gordon came into his own in 2011 and became the team's best player.

Gordon won a Gold Glove in 2011. Now a left fielder, he led the league in assists. His bat became electric as his wOBA soared to .382. A player that was a symbol of failed promise became one of the best in the league. But was it a fluke? Could he repeat 2011? Or was it a career year that would vanish away again like it had going from 2008 to 2009?

Gordon's 2012 should have put away those questions. His offense fell off just a bit from 2011 to 2012. His wOBA went from .382 to .357. But he was even better in the field. He led the league in doubles with an incredible 51 to give him 96 of them in two seasons. After throwing out twenty runners in 2011, he threw out seventeen more in 2012. His on-base percentage has been over .360 the last two seasons. He has compiled 374 hits the last two seasons. He is the complete package.

And maybe, just maybe, 2013 might be the year when more than just fantasy baseball players will discover just how good Alex Gordon is. Maybe he'll actually make an All Star team. Maybe a third straight Gold Glove will convince a few more people how good he is of a left fielder. If the Royals can become competitive in 2013, then Alex Gordon will become the superstar in people's minds outside of Kansas City.

Alex Gordon is a superstar. And more people should know that. He is the undisputed king of Missouri. Perhaps 2013 will be the season he explodes on the world's consciousness.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Nick Swisher's Yankee obituary

In case you are interested, yours truly wrote Nick Swisher's Yankee obituary over at It's About the Money, Stupid this morning. This is truly an odd and troubling Yankee off season.