Alex Gordon struck out twice last night.
(He also hit an opposite field bomb and “doubled” leading off the ninth to key the one run rally that carried the Royals to victory. I put doubled in quotes, because if you were up late enough to see the play, you know the A’s first baseman jumped over the ball like he was running the hurdles. Double was a generous ruling.)
Don’t worry, I’m not here to bag on Gordon for striking out. Hopefully, you’ve been reading long enough to know that I view strikeouts like I view any other out. I want to talk about the treatment Gordon has been getting from the home plate umpires.
Watching the games, it sure seems at times like there are two strike zones. One for everyone and one for Gordon. Exaggeration? Probably. Still, it often looks like Gordon doesn’t get the borderline calls. (There’s a ton of talk about his negative body language and all that other kind of voodoo… This seems to be a factor. Gordon is battling in a key spot, takes a pitch on the outside and it’s called a strike… He gets discouraged and he can’t hide his feelings. This has been happening ever since he was a rookie. Can’t hardly blame him.)
Anyway, thanks to Pitch f/x, there are a number of ways to examine Gordon and the calls on balls and strikes in his plate appearances. I decided to visit Texas Leaguers to pull some graphs to determine if Gordon is truly getting hosed by the home plate umpires.
First, let’s look at the calls Gordon has received since his return from Omaha exile:
OK… Now we need to compare his chart with someone. Ideally, we’d look at a left handed batter who played in most of the same games as Gordon. In other words, control the study to the best of our ability.
Searching through box scores, the first name that jumped out was Rick Ankiel. Here’s how his calls have been going over this same frame of time.
Interesting. Ankiel seemed to get the benefit of the doubt on several calls that could be considered borderline. Ankiel has been around longer, so maybe that could explain why he’s getting some calls Gordon is not.
So let’s look at someone who hasn’t played as much, but again hits left handed and played in most of the same games as Gordon during this stretch.
How about Chris Getz?
A little closer, but still… It’s pretty clear that Getz receives more “favorable” calls on balls and strikes than Gordon.
(Interesting, though, that the umpires seem to miss the strike on the inside corner for everyone. We bemoan the lost art of working the hitter inside and usually blame the pitchers for lacking the “guts” or “nerve” to work on the inner half. Maybe they’re not doing this because they know they won’t get the call. That’s an article for another day…)
This isn’t a complete or comprehensive study. It’s not meant to settle an argument… It’s just a snapshot. A tiny one at that. Although I do believe it supports my initial hypothesis that Gordon isn’t getting any favors from the home plate umpire.
For the season, when Gordon strikes out, he’s going down looking 40% of the time. If that sounds high, that’s because it is. Here are the top six hitters in the AL ranked by percentage of looking strikeouts:
Marco Scutaro – 67%
Denard Span – 45%
Brett Gardner – 45%
Daric Barton – 43%
Alberto Callaspo – 40%
Scott Podsednik – 39%
If Gordon had the at bats to qualify, he’d have the fifth highest rate in the league. I’m intrigued by the inclusion of two Royals in the top six. Are the Royals as a team getting worked over by the home plate umps? I wonder. Callaspo has never had a looking strikeout percentage that high. And in his 40 plate appearances since moving to the West Coast, he has yet to be called out on strikes. Pods, on the other hand, usually has a high looking strikeout rate.
(By the way, no clue what the deal is with Scutaro. 67%!?! I checked and he’s always been over 50% on looking strikeouts. Weird.)
Anyway… Back to Gordon…
Overall, I’m usually pretty happy with his plate discipline. Here are his percentage for chasing a pitch out of the strike zone:
2007 – 25.8%
2008 – 24.1%
2009 – 24.7%
2010 – 21.5%
He’s always had a decent idea about the strike zone and he’s certainly improved his knowledge as he’s progressed. Here are his walk rates:
2007 – 6.8%
2008 – 11.6%
2009 – 11.1%
2010 – 12.2%
Of course, the last two years aren’t really “complete” as he has less than 200 plate appearances in both seasons. Still, we are seeing a player become more comfortable at the plate. Someone who is gaining knowledge of the strike zone. Not to beat the same old drum, but the guy simply needs to play every day. I wasn’t entirely opposed to his exile to Omaha because I felt he needed to sort some things out and regain some confidence. Since it appears he will be in the lineup almost every day from now until the end of the season, I expect Gordon to finally make some strides beyond the foundation he’s been building the previous four seasons. He’s also been a victim of some rotten luck this season. Last night’s double was a rare break for a player who has a .226 BABIP. That’s crazy low. Especially for someone with a 19% line drive rate.
I think Gordon is going to have a strong final two months of the season. His luck is bound to change (maybe last night was a sign it’s already turning) and his average, walks and power numbers are all going to increase.
Now, if he could just catch a break from the umps.