Now that we’re 25-30 games into the season, I knew I was going to discuss the hottest bats in the division so far. A month’s worth of game action is enough time to start assessing the statistical picture in front of us. The idea was to put the three most pleasantly surprising hitters in the division under a microscope, a spinoff of my Man on Fire article a year ago. I bring up last year’s entry because there’s one man whom I knew was destined for inclusion again in 2015: Dee Gordon. I’ll dig into Gordon’s numbers in a moment, but I feel the need to give you a peek behind the curtain first.
Whenever I research a player, I typically do three things right out of the gate: A) look up their numbers on Baseball-Reference.com, B) look up their Fangraphs’ metrics, and C) do a quick Google search for any relevant news on said player. Standard operating procedure for me, and a good starting place for owners unsure of how to conduct their own investigation into a player.
I bring up Gordon’s Baseball Reference page. Then I open up another tab for his Fangraphs info. Last, but not least, time to search. It just so happens that the first hit on Google was a fantasy baseball piece. How convenient. It’s by Chris Towers of CBSSports.com, a good writer whose articles I’ve perused before. The premise of his piece? Dee Gordon is “the ultimate sell-high candidate”. Damn. Not this again. Another analyst claiming you’re best served trading Gordon away. I was on this soapbox last year, and it looks like it’s time to make some more pro-Dee proclamations. Mr. Towers, consider this the official rebuttal. I’m holding Dee, and I’m not letting go.
Towers says that Gordon owners should find the McCutchen owner and try to seduce a swap out of them. Look, if you can make that deal, I’m all for it, even with word of McCutchen’s injury troubles (I love me some Dee, but I’m not stupid). But let’s be real, in leagues where owners know at least a little more than cursory knowledge of the game, that deal isn’t happening. In fact, I’d venture to say no 1-for-1 deal that you actually can pull off involving Gordon is going to net you a greater return than holding on to him. While I don’t expect him to remain exactly where he is on a lot of the player ranking systems (second behind Nelson Cruz is his most common location), I also do not foresee a precipitous drop. Why not? Let’s break it down the way one of my childhood heroes would. In the true spirit of Elmo himself, these are the ABCs of Dee Gordon:
A is for… Average!
Dee Gordon leads all of baseball with a .430 average in 27 games. You read that correctly. Four. Three. Zero. The second best hitter in the league, Adam Jones, sits at .383, a difference of 47 points. What makes Gordon’s average that much more impressive, and useful to you as an owner, is that Gordon is tied for fourth in MLB with 114 AB. That means his ridiculous average carries even more weight when figuring out your team’s overall batting clip.
If you’re looking for a way to quantify that, check out ESPN’s Player Rater when sorted by batting average. The number given is a player’s impact on that category relative to the mean, which is zero. Gordon sits at 4.92. Adrian Gonzalez is again second at 3.08, meaning Dee Gordon’s positive impact in batting average is 60% greater than any other player in baseball. Among all ten standard league categories, no player is outdistancing the field as much in any category as Gordon is in batting average.
One reason the average has gone up is that Gordon’s strikeout numbers have gone down. His strikeout percentage last year was 16.5%, hovering right around his career average. This season Gordon has cut his strikeout percentage down to 11.8%, or once every 7.8 AB (vs. once every 5.8 AB for his career). In a 600 AB season, that equates to 36 more opportunities for a hit, and that’s a big deal.
But being the skeptical fantasy owner you are, I know you’re sitting there saying to yourself, “There’s no way that average is close to sustainable. Just look at that inflated BABIP.” Little did you know…
B is for… BABIP!
And when I say BABIP, I’m referring to the monstrous .485 BABIP Gordon is sporting at the moment. Think about that for a second. Nearly every other ball Gordon puts in play is going for a hit. That’s unheard of. It’s also impossible to maintain. That number is going to fall, but it’s how much it falls that I’m interested in. Let’s use Gordon’s personal numbers as a baseline for a comparison (because that’s how BABIP is intended to be used).
His career BABIP is .339. It jumped just a tick to .346 during the 2014 season. If even that seems high, it should. Remember, Gordon is one of the fastest players in baseball (but I resist any temptation to call him Flash for obvious reasons). There are a bunch of close plays at first Dee Gordon can beat out that just about anybody not named Billy Hamilton can’t. His BABIP will stray towards the high side. But where most pundits think he’ll finish around .350, I see a higher ceiling this year. I don’t think an end of the year BABIP closer to .370 or even .380 is out of the question. Sound crazy? Maybe it won’t after you find out that…
C is for…
Simply put, Dee Gordon is making the best contact of his career, especially when you consider his skill set (you know I love talking skill set). The only way a player can use his speed at the plate is if he’s putting the ball on the ground, a concept Gordon seemed to grasp last year when his GB/FB rate was 3.13, nearly double his rate over the previous season. He’s taken it one step further in 2015, putting the ball on the ground 3.67 times as often as he’s hitting it in the air.
This dedication to slapping the ball around is why Gordon is so successful at the plate while the aforementioned Hamilton struggles. Over 36% of Hamilton’s AB result in a fly ball as compared to a measly 15.6% for Gordon. You can be Usain Bolt for all I care, but it doesn’t matter if you keep popping out to the center fielder.
Need more evidence? No problem, just check out Gordon’s line drive percentage that sits at 27.1% this season. While this is only good for 26th out of 183 qualified hitters, it does show a marked increase over last year’s 21.3% figure. In fact, when you combine his LD% + GB%, you see that 84.7%, or roughly five out of every six, of the balls Gordon puts in play are either on the ground or line drives. This is the highest percentage in baseball, and exactly what you want to see from your speedy leadoff hitter.
Gordon is also fourth in MLB in percentage of hits to center or the opposite field. Gordon pulls the ball just 23.5% of the time. The only players who pull the ball less are DJ LeMahieu, Matt Holliday and Howie Kendrick. Why does this matter? That .485 BABIP of Gordon’s leads baseball. Just so happens that #2 and #3 are Holliday and LeMahieu, respectively. Correlation? I think so. When you use the entire field, there’s simply more space for the ball to find an unmanned area.
Not only will he continue hitting at what I believe will be a league-leading clip, you still get all those glorious stolen bases you drafted him for. There are only 22 players with at least five stolen bases in 2015, and Gordon is second in the league with 12 swipes. This is 12 out of a MLB total of 447, or 2.68%. For comparison’s sake, Nelson Cruz leads baseball with 14 home runs out of the MLB total of 724, or 1.93%. If you think power is hard to replace, stolen base artists are an even rarer commodity.
Hopefully, I’ve made you pause before pulling the trigger and selling high on Dee Gordon. For those of you who aren’t Gordon owners, you now realize that this is a rare instance where you should consider buying high. This new approach has been validated through the first month of the season, and while a slow down will occur at some point, it won’t be nearly as drastic as you think. This is no longer a one-category contributor, and if you’re willing to be bold and go against public perception, Dee Gordon could be the lynchpin to a championship team.
First Pitch Swinging
- Rendon Watch 2015 continues and it’s more bad news. He was shut down on Monday for a few days, not because of his knee, but an oblique strain that recently cropped up. This doesn’t look to be anything too serious, but owners are growing more impatient by the day waiting for his season debut.
- Washington might have a bigger problem after Stephen Strasburg was pulled after three innings on Tuesday with an apparent shoulder injury. It was reported to be just a cramp and he’s expected to make his next start, but I always get nervous when I see “Strasburg” and “injury” in the same sentence.
- Phillies SP Chad Billingsley made his first start in over two years Tuesday against Atlanta, giving up 5 ER and a pair of home run in 5 IP. I’ve been a Billingsley fan for years, and I’m intrigued to see how close to his Dodgers’ prime he can return to. Keep a watchful eye, deep leaguers.
On Deck – What to Watch for May 8-14
Atlanta: @WAS(3), @CIN(3)
Miami: @SFG(3), @LAD(3)
New York: @PHI(3), @CHC(4)
Philadelphia: vs. NYM(3), vs. PIT(4)
Washington: vs. ATL(3), @ARI(3), @SD(1)
Hitter to Watch – Christian Yelich, MIA
It was a disappointing start to 2015 for Yelich after signing a seven year deal in the offseason. He hit just .200 over his first 11 games and struck out 13 times, including seven times in his final 10 AB before landing on the DL with a lower back strain. He should be back tonight, inserted in his traditional two-hole right behind Mr. Gordon. Miami will be out on the west coast this next week with three game sets against both the Giants and Dodgers. Although they will run into Madison Bumgarner, the Marlins avoid both Kershaw and Greinke in LA. They should have no problem putting up runs, and that includes a solid contribution from Yelich. Now presumably healthy, he’ll start showing why he was a consensus top-100 player in March.
Pitcher to Watch – Mat Latos, MIA
It’s Marlins talk wire-to-wire this week as we stay with the Fish to discuss Mat Latos. That 5.60 ERA might not look too appealing, but when you take out that opening week nightmare against Atlanta, Latos sports a 3.38 ERA including a six strikeout, one run effort in Washington on Cinco de Mayo. San Francisco is 28th in runs, clearly missing the bats of Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence, among others. Despite a strong outing from Ryan Vogelsong in his last outing as well, I give Latos the edge an expect and another solid effort and a win on Sunday.
(Click the BLUE link to listen to the show)
Major League Fantasy Sports Radio Show: Join Ej Garr and Corey D Roberts on Sunday May 10th from 7-9pm EST for this week’s episode of Major League Fantasy Sports Radio sponsored by the Sports Palooza Radio Network. Call in at 646-915-8596. Our topics this week will be the N.L. East and N.L. Central.