Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Royals' New Monster

How would you feel if you found out that there was a player available to the Royals that could conservatively be projected to hit a slash line of .269/.354/.477 with over 30 home runs and 10 stolen bases? What if you found out that the player could be had for less than one million dollars? If you are like myself you are probably wondering why this player has not yet been signed and penciled into the heart of the order, maybe the three hole while moving Butler to cleanup or perhaps the four or five hole where he can knock Butler in. What if I told you that the player was already under team control by the Kansas City Royals? No, I'm not talking about Kila Ka'aihue. I am talking about a platoon at third of newly acquired Josh Fields and incumbent third baseman Alex Gordon.

Let me begin by saying that this is merely a possibility for the Royals in the upcoming season and that I don't necessarily feel as though this is how the situation should be approached. I am simply trying to look at the situation in a light that I am surprised to not have seen it in.
As Royals' fans we all know the story on Alex Gordon. He was the consensus number two overall selection in the 2005 draft. He played one season of full season ball in the Texas League and was named minor league player of the year. Most people believed that he was ready to make the jump to the Majors and out of Spring Training in 2007 he was given that chance, only to hit at a sub .200 pace for almost the first two months of the season. But with a little help from Zack Greinke* he was able to find his stroke and he finished the season with a bearable slash of .247/.314/.411.

*At Gordon's lowest point Greinke showed him the video of his own home run in Arizona and told Alex "This is what a home run looks like, in case you forgot."

In Gordon's second season he showed moderate improvement and posted above average offensive numbers for a third baseman. His slash was .260/.351/.432 and many felt that 2009 would finally be the year that he would solidify himself as a middle of the order hitter. Unfortunately his season was derailed by injuries and now many doubt that Gordon will ever live up to his potential. What really hurts Gordon is not that he hasn't developed into a fine major league baseball player, because in all actuality he has became just that in his second major league season. No, what really hurts Gordon is that he hasn't became the savior that Kansas City fans were led to believe that he was. He hasn't became the next George Brett. He hasn't became an all-star and because of this Gordon is viewed by many Royals' fans as a bust.
Josh Fields was also a first round pick out of a big XII school. Like Gordon Fields was also considered one of the top hitting prospects in his own farm system and while he was a member of the White Sox farm he posted a slash of .274/.359/.459. Fields was not as complete a prospect as Gordon, but many did project 25+ power for him once he found a spot in the majors. Fields was given that spot in 2007 when he hit 23 home runs with a slash of .244/.308/.480 in 100 games for the Chicago White Sox. Since then Fields has not played more than 80 games in a single season in the bigs.

What has really held back both of these promising young hitters is their inability to hit pitchers throwing from the same side of the rubber as the batters box that they stand in. Gordon can't hit lefties. Fields can't hit righties. So what if the Royals had the best of both worlds? What if Gordon and Fields were platooned at third base and the other was used as a late game pinch hitter? Let's look at what their combined stat line could be.
First I took the career stats of both against their ideal competition (Fields vs L, Gordon vs R) then I figured that roughly thirty percent of the at bats over the course of a season would come against a lefty, while the other seventy would come against a righty. I then multiplied these percentages by 650 and that left me with 460 at bats for Gordon against righties and 190 at bats for Fields against lefties. I then took each of the respected players career numbers against their ideal competition and adjusted it to this number of at bats. The table below are my results:

Obviously this table does not take into consideration park factors which would probably cause Fields slug% and home run totals to drop, however it is also just a display of the players career numbers. Both players are both young and each have to a certain degree potential to improve their numbers by a considerable margin. So it is my suggestion that if the goal of 2010 is to simply win as many games as possible then the Royals should platoon Alex Gordon and Josh Fields. However, if the goal of 2010 is to lay the foundation for a successful season in 2011 and to hope for the best development of Alex Gordon and to a lesser extent Josh Fields then a platoon should absolutely not be used, because both of these players have to learn to hit off pitcher throwing from the same side of the rubber and if the both can learn to do this, then the Royals not only will have one monster, but two for the next several seasons.


  1. Interesting premise. One point that statheads and "baseball men" should agree on is that platoons can work on the field, not just on paper, as smart managers have realized for many years. I suspect that GMDM and Trey are not smart enough or courageous enough to try this for all or even part of a season, spouting conventional wisdom that Gordon needs to be at 3B every day so his confidence is not undermined.

    What undermines a guy's confidence is continuously putting a guy into a situation in which he has not been successful to the point he decides he will never be successful. Letting these guys mash in their comfort zones can get them believing they can hit anyone, and with the video technology teams have to study themselves and their opponents, each could then work with the coaching staff to figure out how to become competent against righties or lefties.

    As far as the projections go, I would hope that each guy would end up with more ABs than they have given here. If Gordon ends up with 450-500 ABs, 15hrs/56rbi would be disappointing to me, especially since he would be facing almost exclusively righties. I would also hope Fields would end up closer to 300 ABs, and even then 16hrs would be a nice boost for this pathetic offense.

    Platoons would make sense at a few positions on this team, until guys develop that truly merit being everyday major league players.

  2. Great comment, hopefully you will be around more Mr. Anonymous. On you point about hoping to get more at bats than I listed. I looked at it purely from the perspective that all of these at bats would come from a 100% platoon at third. Obviously this never would be the case, but for the sake of the post I theorized that there would be roughly 650 at bats. I think if the Royals only goal was to win as many games as possible this season then they should go with the platoon. However, that shouldn't be the goal and so a platoon like this really isn't much of an option.

    You make a great point though in stating that a platoon like this could improve the confidence of both of the players. Maybe some elements of a platoon can be put in place and both players can wind up getting enough at bats against their weakness and continue to develop there.