Alex Gordon for MVP?

The Kansas City Royals have an MVP candidate, albeit one without the super-flashy numbers. And now he has a signature hit, the kind that make differences in close races for division titles, like the one the Royals are locked in right now.

Alex Gordon

GordonAlex Gordon's walk-off home run gave the Royals a 2-1 come-from-behind win over the Minnesota Twins and kept their AL Central lead at 1½ games.

What makes Gordon a viable candidate alongside the Mike Trout’s of the world?

How he has hit

Gordon has respectable offensive numbers: a .283 batting average, .810 OPS and 16 home runs. Eight of those long balls have come against left-handed pitching (including Tuesday’s against Glenn Perkins), matching the most he has had against lefties in a single season.

As the Royals have surged, so too has Gordon. He has a .314/.368/.545 slashline in 33 games since July 22. His slugging percentage and OPS in that span ranked sixth-best in the American League at the game’s conclusion. The Royals are 25-8 in that span, easily the best record in baseball.

How he fields

It is on the defensive side where Gordon separates himself. His 22 defensive runs saved are the most any American League player at any position. Those come from a combination of his throwing arm and his ability to turn batted balls into outs.

With regards to the former, Gordon only has four outfield assists, after totaling 27 the previous two seasons, but there’s a reason for that. No one runs on him.

Only 19 percent of baserunners have taken an extra base on Gordon (in other words, gone first to third or second to home on a single, or first to home on a double). That’s half the rate of the average left fielder and accounts for more than one-third of Gordon’s defensive runs saved total.

In terms of the latter, this is an area in which Gordon has made significant improvements to his game. He has 12 defensive runs saved due to his range after totaling 13 the previous two seasons. It helps to have two fantastic defenders alternating in center field in Jarrod Dyson and Lorenzo Cain, who have combined for 27 defensive runs saved of their own.

The whole package

Some may scoff at the notion that Gordon ranks fourth among position players in the American League with 5.5 wins above replacement.

Most Wins Above Replacement
AL Position Players

But the legitimacy of his value is that an outfielder who combines Gordon’s skills is hard to find.

He’s one of only two players in the sport with at least an .800 OPS and 20 defensive runs saved this season, along with Athletics third baseman Josh Donaldson. Only two players hit that combo last season- Carlos Gomez and Shane Victorino.

And though it’s a small sample, it’s worth noting that when Gordon doesn’t start this season, the Royals have struggled, with one win in six games.