The Royals are two games over .500, and in honor of that I'll lead off the piece today by breaking down two Royals - and neither is named Eric Hosmer.
BREAKING DOWN: Alex Gordon
.309-3-23-23-3 in 136 at-bats
In 2005 when he was taken second overall, whispers of Gordon being the next George Brett were in the air. He quickly blasted his way through the minors and actually had two fairly productive seasons for the Royals in 2007-08. Then, misery struck. He lost his swing and ultimately his confidence, not to mention his position on the field as he was shifted from third base to the outfield, and the results the last two years were simply dreadful (.222-13-56-59-9 in 435 ABs). An afterthought in most mixed leagues in 2011, Gordon has burst out of the scene with an effort few saw coming. Just how effective has he been at the dish?
Gordon has a better batting average than Ichiro Suzuki (.308).
Gordon has more RBI than Mark Teixeira (21).
Gordon has scored more runs than Alex Rodriguez (20).
Can he keep it up?
After four seasons with a K-rate of at least 24.3 percent, it is really heartening to see Gordon with a mark of 18.4 percent in the early going. However, as is often the case, when that K-rate comes down so does the walk rate. After 3-straight years with a walk rate of at least 11.0 percent, Gordon has dipped to 7.3 percent this year. As a result, his K/BB ratio is 0.45, a mere hundredth better than his career mark.
The last four years, if we include his minor league work, Gordon has posted a contact rate between 75 and 77 percent. This year that mark is 81.6 percent. That would be a substantial improvement if he could sustain it, though it wouldn't be much better than the league average of about 80 percent.
In his career Gordon has produced a 20 percent line drive rate, a 36 percent ground ball rate, and a 44 percent fly ball rate (the big league average is usually about 19/38/43). This year he has upped the line drive rate slightly to 21 percent. At the same time he's also increased the grounders up to 42 percent while seeing his fly ball rate fall to a five year low at 37 percent. This slight shift should be, if sustained, a slight boost to his batting average. At the same time it will obviously hinder his ability to go deep, especially if he continues along with his 7.3 percent HR/F mark which would be a five year low (career 9.3 percent).
What about his BABIP you say? This is where we run into some trouble. Gordon's current mark is .358, some .058 points clear of his career level. If would also blow past his previous best mark of .309 and dwarf the .276 and .254 marks he has posted the past two years. This is perhaps the most concerning of Gordon's current numbers. Not only is any mark over .350 pretty darn substantial, it would vastly outpace anything that Gordon has done at the big league level. Given that his line drive rate is only up one percent this season, it's pretty difficult to envision him being able to sustain a nearly .060 points boost in BABIP unless the guy has a whole lot of luck heading his way.
Gordon has been a find of tremendous proportions thus far. Will he continue to offer production to mirror what he has done over the first five plus weeks the rest of the way? He certainly has the talent, the pedigree, and the minor league track record to think that it is possible, but taking a skeptical approach is likely the best course of action. It might be wise to investigate what you could get for Gordon on the open market, but if you end up holding on to him remember this - Gordon has never hit .265 in the bigs, never hit 20 homers, never knocked in 65 runs or scored 75 times. He has a ways to go before he should be viewed as a "lock" in any of those four categories.
BREAKING DOWN: Bruce Chen
4-1, 3.59 ERA, 24 Ks, 1.34 WHIP in 42.2 IP
He has more victories than Justin Verlander, CC Sabathia and James Shields (all have three).
He has a better ERA than Gavin Floyd (3.67), Ricky Romero (4.04) and Clay Buchholz (4.19).
He has a better WHIP than Max Scherzer (1.40).
Dating back to the start of the 2010 season Chen has 16 victories, the same total as Cole Hamels, Francisco Liriano, Ricky Romero, one more than Jonathan Sanchez and two more than Cliff Lee. Did you almost fall of your chair with this one?
Have we all been wrong about Bruce Chen?
Let me save you the time if you don't want to read on - no, we haven't been wrong about Chen. He is nothing more than AL-only filler despite the seemingly impressive numbers that I just relayed. Let's look at his production over his last 183 innings since the start of last season.
B. Chen: 4.03 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 6.00 K/9, 1.72 K/BB, 8.80 H/9
Lg. Avg: 4.08 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 6.81 K/9, 2.10 K/BB, 8.79 H/9
Clearly, Chen has been nothing more than a league average performer since the start of 2011. In terms of his fantasy value that leaves him particularly lacking in mixed leagues where his only real talent has been an ability to win games (who would have thought that sentence would be uttered about any Royals' hurler, let alone Bruce Chen). In truth, things have gotten even worse this season despite his seemingly hot start.
Chen's K/9 mark is a sickly 5.06, almost two batters below his career mark of 6.92 and a total that would be a career worst. He has offset that a bit by lowering his walk rate to the second best mark of his career (2.95 per nine), but his 1.71 K/BB ratio is dreadful, especially when you consider that his career GB/FB ratio is a poor 0.79. When you give up fly balls you get taken deep frequently, and that has always been an issue for Chen. Given that, there would appear to be no chance at all that he'll be able to keep his ERA under 4.00, hardly a shocking statement to make given his career long mark of 4.59 and his career 4.70 xFIP mark.
Furthermore, if history is any kind of guide, you have to possess a healthy dose of skepticism here. Chen has thrown more than 100-innings in a season just two of the last eight seasons so you can hardly pencil him in for 190 innings.
Chen is a decent AL-only option if he can somehow manage to take the ball every fifth day this year, but expecting him to be a mixed league option all year is likely asking him to do something he just isn't capable of.
WHO AM I?
Over the last calendar year I have...
More homers than David Wright (28 to 27).
More RBI than Bobby Abreu (82 to 81).
More runs than Andre Ethier (69 to 68).
More doubles than Carlos Gonzalez (35 to 34).
A better SLG than Evan Longoria (.484 to .482).
Admit it, you have no idea who I am.
One last hint for you:
This hitter is one of six men in the game to have hit at least 20 homers in each of the last nine years. I'll even help you a bit more by giving you the names of the five others to help you to further narrow down the pool of applicants: Adam Dunn, Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Lee, David Ortiz and Albert Pujols.
Who am I?
BY THE NUMBERS
1.49: The majors' best FIP mark held by Roy Halladay. Matt Garza is second with a 1.57 mark. If we move over to xFIP which normalizes fly ball rates, Garza leads baseball with a 2.04 mark. Halladay? That loser falls to third at 2.14 behind teammate Cliff Lee (2.11).
2.61: The worst HR/9 mark in baseball held by Colby Lewis. Only one other hurler has a mark of 2.00+, and that is Ryan Dempster at exactly 2.00. How preposterously high are both those numbers? Lewis' career mark is 1.34 while Dempster owns a mark of 1.00.
.085: The worst batting average in baseball the past two weeks by any regular. That mark belongs to Sam Fuld. Amazingly, the second work mark belongs to Troy Tulowitzki who has hit .093. Moreover, Tulo is now hitting .250 on the year, has just one RBI in his last 10 games and has gone deep just one time since April 14th - a span of 21 games.
5: The AL leading double-play mark of Alex Rios the past two weeks. Over in the NL Matt Holliday leads the way with a total of four. Does that mean we should downgrade his .396 batting average in that time down to .321 because of the four extra outs he made on the DPs (he is 21-for-53 which I downgraded to 17-for-53)?
18: The current hitting streak of Jacoby Ellsbury. During the streak Ellsbury is hitting .367 to boost his average up to .291 on the year. At his current pace Ellsbury would produce a 5x5 line that would rival what he has done in the past.
The Cubs' Alfonso Soriano.
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive, 5-8 PM Eastern, on Sirius 211 and XM 147. Ray's baseball analysis can be found at BaseballGuys.com and his minute to minute musings can be located at the BaseballGuys' Twitter account.