MVP or Not, Alex Gordon Is Driving Force of Royals' Resurgence

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MVP or Not, Alex Gordon Is Driving Force of Royals' Resurgence
Charlie Riedel/AP Images

Alex Gordon is the most underrated player in baseball.

Alex Gordon is a big, fat, juicy reason why Kansas City Royals employees can’t yet make plans in October unless they include being at Kauffman Stadium.

Alex Gordon is not the American League MVP. Period. Paragraph.

In recent days, there has been an outpouring of Gordon love, and rightfully so. He is one of the better all-around players in the majors, and the Royals aren’t very good when he’s not in the lineup—small sample size alert: one win in six games missed. He is a top-five player in WAR in both the FanGraphs metric and the Baseball-Reference measurement.  

That is why Royals fans are starting to shower him with “M-V-P!” chants when he steps in the box or makes a play in the field. 

Gordon leads an offensively challenged lineup in runs created, doubles, home runs, on-base percentage and slugging. He is the team’s MVP, especially since you can’t give it to three back-end relievers. No question about that.

But there are still plenty of realists out there.

Gordon leads the Royals in plenty of categories, but again, Kansas City doesn't score much. Gordon is not in the AL top 10 in any offensive category, but it is his defensive numbers—21 defensive runs saved (fifth in the majors), 23.9 ultimate zone rating (second), according to FanGraphs—that put him on the fringes of the MVP conversation. 

Gordon’s arm is a threat that keeps opposing runners at bay. They don’t run on him the way National League runners don’t run on Yasiel Puig and Jason Heyward. That is what makes him a standout defender.

As for him turning batted balls into outs, another of his statistical strengths, well, he has some help there. Kansas City center fielders Jarrod Dyson and Lorenzo Cain can flat out go and get it. Together they combine to give the Royals 26 defensive runs saved in center, which is a boost to Gordon’s defensive numbers since it means he doesn’t have to cover as much ground as a left fielder with average center field help.

Let’s not take away from Gordon’s defense, though. The guy is a superb defender in left field, easily the best in the majors. But exactly how good is still hard to measure, even in 2014.

Defensive metrics are getting better. But this MVP discussion is highlighting that there are still flaws. Depending on the formula for WAR, Gordon’s defense has made up so much ground on better offensive players that exactly how accurate or weighted the defensive numbers are has to be questioned.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Several Twitter discussions have revolved around that very topic recently; Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan had this to say:

The obvious has also been brought into the MVP discussion: Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout is still regarded as the best player in baseball, and he leads Gordon in WAR in both formulas.

And besides Gordon, Oakland A’s third baseman Josh Donaldson is the only other player in the majors with at least an .800 OPS and 20 runs saved. Donaldson is also in the league’s top 10 in four offensive categories and leads the league in Baseball-Reference's WAR.

If you need more reason why Gordon is not the MVP, the Royals are still on the cusp of a playoff berth, which means they are also on the cusp of watching another October like the vast majority of the free world—from the couch/bar stool.

The A’s and Angels are both virtual locks for the playoffs at this point, and they are jockeying with each other for the game’s best record.

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This is not meant to be a Gordon bash session, though. He can play. He can hit. He can defend. He is to Kansas City baseball what BBQ and the blues are to the city as a whole. He has spent seven mostly miserable years in the majors on a losing team—the Royals topped the .500 mark last season for the first time since 2003.

And when you are the face of a franchise—Gordon was drafted second overall in 2005—that is finally sniffing a playoff spot and leads the wealthy Detroit Tigers in the AL Central, you deserve the M-V-P chant.

If the Royals miss out on the playoffs once again, as they have for the last 28 seasons, at least the baseball world will now be familiar with Gordon’s ability, which has been stuck under a Missouri rock for too long.

If nothing else, Alex Gordon won’t be underrated anymore. 

 

Anthony Witrado covers Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report. He spent the previous three seasons as the national baseball columnist at Sporting News, and four years before that as the Brewers' beat writer for The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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