Before the 2016 season, you could find Alex Gordon ranked somewhere between 130 and 170 in the overall player rankings at most fantasy baseball outlets. Gordon was coming off a 2015 season in which he played just 104 games, while totaling his lowest counting stats since 2010 and stealing just two bases.
Now, before the 2017 season, you can find Gordon with an average draft position of 324 in NFBC and well outside the top 300 rankings at ESPN.
So what happened in 2016?Editor's note: Get 50% off any MLB Premium Pass. Draft guide, cheat sheets, 200 days of DFS access, and over 20 premium tools. Dominate your leagues all year long! Sign Up Now!
Alex Gordon - A Deeper Dive
On the surface, there were certainly a few troubling signs. Gordon missed another 34 games, and in the 128 games he did play, he hit a paltry .220. But - and this is a Blac Chyna-sized but - a lot of Gordon’s underlying numbers were among the best of his career.
Line Drive Rate
Let’s tackle these one by one. First, we have the line drive rate. Gordon’s 2016 line drive rate of 24.2 was the second-best of his career, a solid two and a half points better than his career rate (21.6 percent). Of the 18 qualified hitters to reach a line drive rate of 24.0 percent in 2016, Gordon sported the lowest BABIP of all 18 players.
Hard Hit Ball Rate
Let’s jump ahead to hard hit ball rate quickly, because I’m about to blow your mind. First of all, Gordon’s 36.9 percent hard hit ball rate was the highest of his entire career - that’s not the mind-blowing part, though. Here are the BABIPs of the seven players with a line drive rate of at least 24.0 and a hard hit ball rate of at least 36.0:
.370, .346, .366, .307, .358, .355, and .288.
One of those is not like the other. That final BABIP belongs to Gordon, the only other BABIP even close to Gordon’s was Matt Carpenter’s .307 and he’s another guy to look at in this year’s drafts. The average BABIP of those seven players in 2016 was .341, or 63 points higher than Gordon’s 2016 BABIP. That’s a figure screaming for some positive regression from Gordon in 2017, so much so that expecting a full rebound to the career BA of .264 for Gordon is not at all out of the question. In fact, it is likely should Gordon continue to maintain his batted ball profile from 2016.
Fly Ball / Ground Ball Rates
Let’s look at the power categories. While Gordon’s fly ball rate was slightly lower in 2016 (37.9 percent) than throughout his career (39.3 percent), so was his ground ball rate - that’s bound to happen when you start hitting more line drives. If we move over to pull rate, we notice that Gordon’s pull rate in 2016 (44.6 percent) was higher than his career average (42.1 percent).
If we look at pull rate of fly balls specifically, which as Rick Lucks showed us on Wednesday is far more important when it comes to tracking power, Gordon’s fly ball pull rate of 24.8 percent was also excellent, more than three percent higher than his career pull rate on fly balls (21.5 percent). When added to his excellent hard hit ball rate, it’s not at all surprising (or fluky) that Gordon had his best HR/FB rate (15.0 percent) of his career in 2016.
Add it all together, and Gordon actually had maybe his best season of his career, according to the hidden metrics, in 2016: second-highest line drive rate; highest HR/FB rate; highest hard hit ball rate. Yet somehow this man has seen his value cater from middle-round draft pick to completely off the board in 12-team mixed leagues. To continue my streak of decade-old pop culture references: “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!”
Fantasy owners are likely scared off because of Gordon’s age (33), as well as his recent health struggles we outlined earlier. That being said, for the price you’re going to pay, if you can get 100 great games out of Gordon, that’s a definite coup. Heck, if Gordon hits .265 with another 17 HR and eight steals, that alone would be worth a top-250 spot. Those numbers could pretty easily be topped as well.
If Gordon, who is totally healthy to start the season, can stay healthy for 130 games this season, he could easily post 20 HR, 10 SB, 75 R, 70 RBI, and a .265 BA. Those numbers suddenly don’t look far away from a Jose Ramirez/Marcell Ozuna-type, who are usually projected as an OF3/4.
Gordon might be one of the least sexy names to take with a late-round flier, but do you want sexy or do you want a Fantasy Championship?