Zimmerman very steady
By Brendan Roberts
We call it the "Reuben incident."
Once, Jason Grey and I combined to write opposite sides of a point-counterpoint piece about draft strategy. He wrote about his fascination with young players and the unknown, and I wrote about the reliability of veterans, comparing them to my favorite sandwich, the delicious Reuben.
Except our bylines were switched, and Jason noticed it quickly. "But I don't like Reubens," he said. Well, Mr. Grey, to flip-flop the analogy, Alex Gordon is my Reuben. No thanks.
Stat splits. Baseball has plenty of them, and about 75 percent of 'em don't mean jack. But the ones that do can be very telling, such as lefty/righty and home/road splits. As in, they tend to repeat from season to season, especially the former.
In 2007, Gordon's rookie season, he hit .217 against lefties and .231 on the road. In both cases, his average on the opposite side of the split was at least 34 points higher. In 2008, Gordon hit just .234 against lefties with one home run in 167 at-bats, and .254 on the road. As you can see, he made a slight improvement, which was expected considering the typical growth of prospects. (Gordon is 25 years old.) But if statistical history, or at least history outside of the steroids era, has taught us anything, it's that significant stat split differences don't change overnight or, in this case, from season to season. Gordon will continue to improve his weaknesses as well as his strengths, but considering the holes in his game, expecting anything more than the, say, 10 to 15 percent improvement that is normal for developing players is foolish.
Meanwhile, Ryan Zimmerman doesn't have any holes in his stat splits, just his body. In November 2007, he fractured his hamate bone (a small bone in his hand/wrist), a common injury for hitters, and needed surgery. Perhaps the effects of the injury affected the start of his '08 campaign, as he hit .241 in April with just two homers. But he picked it up in May, hitting .289 before tearing the labrum in his left shoulder. That injury eventually required surgery that forced him to miss the last week of May, all of June and half of July. When he returned, he hit .310 in July, .320 in August and .320 with five homers in September.
Two key points above: Zimmerman injured his left (nonthrowing) shoulder, and he had surgery to repair the problem. By all rights, given his youth, he should be done with the effects of the injury. He's ready to pick up where he left off in 2007, when he hit 24 homers and drove in 91 runs despite playing half his games at the cavern of a ballpark known as RFK Stadium.
Oh, speaking of youth, although it seems as if Zimmerman has been around for a while (he has three-plus seasons of big league experience), he's younger than Gordon and won't turn 25 until September. And the "he plays for the Nationals" argument can be thrown out in this case because, um, Gordon plays for the Royals (cough, cough). Plus, as odd as it is to say, the Nats' lineup has the potential to be pretty good. Just look at its depth chart); some nice young talent is there.
Zimmerman seems more developed and safer because he has produced before. I like Ryan Zimmerman, almost as much as I like Reubens.
Gordon still has lots of upside
By Jason Grey
It's true Alex Gordon hasn't lived up to the expectations of being the second overall pick in the draft, as he was in 2005. However, 2009 could be the season that starts to change. Perhaps we just haven't been patient enough.
Last season, Gordon quietly bumped up his walk rate nearly 5 percent while lowering his strikeout rate. He also hit one more homer in 50 fewer at-bats while boosting his batting average 13 points and his on-base percentage 47 points. No, he didn't jump right into the big leagues looking like a polished hitter, as Zimmerman did, but he's getting there.
If we want to talk splits, let's look at Gordon's stat line in the second half before he missed late-season time with a torn hip flexor tendon: .277 average/.392 on-base percentage/.476 slugging. He also went 6-for-6 in steals attempts.
When we're looking at improvement in second-half numbers in relation to a 25-year-old player who is still making adjustments, that is a sign that Gordon could finally be maturing as a hitter.
Yes, he still struggles with left-handed pitching, but he can continue to improve in that department. And Zimmerman isn't immune to some rough splits, as he has hit just .235 and .259 against right-handed pitching the past two seasons.
Zimmerman's rough recent history of injuries can't be dismissed, nor can the fact that his 20-homer totals of '06 and '07 were largely at-bat-driven, as he needed 614 at-bats to hit 20 homers in 2006, and 653 to hit 24 in 2007. Say what you want about how RFK Stadium affected his power output, but he has hit just two more homers on the road than at home during his career, despite taking 31 more at-bats.
Put another way: For their careers, Zimmerman is averaging a homer every 30.2 at-bats. Gordon is averaging one every 33.4 at-bats, despite what have been a couple of underwhelming seasons to start his big league career. That number will only improve.
Let's also talk about speed. Zimmerman's steals have dropped from 11 to four to one during the past three seasons, while Gordon has the potential to steal 12-15 bags this season. Given how close I expect their production to be in the other categories this season, that number is significant in determining who will have more fantasy value. For me, that added speed dimension cements Gordon's place above Zimmerman.
In a mixed league, we need to pay a little bit more attention to a player's upside, simply because the depth of the player pool gives us a little more leeway to take some risks, knowing there are some solid, steady options at the ready among the free agents if things don't quite pan out the way we expect. The latest average draft position from ESPN.com live drafts puts Gordon (148.9) as the 13th third baseman off the board, approximately 17 picks behind Zimmerman (131.6). But if I have, say, the 140th pick and I need my third baseman, I'll take Gordon and his bigger upside.
Truth be told, I don't really dislike Reubens that much; I just prefer other sandwiches. And I don't dislike the idea of owning Zimmerman this season. I'd just prefer to own Gordon.