How Good Can the New "Flash" Gordon Be?

This Tuesday, Dee Gordon--Los Angeles Dodgers' rookie and son of former relief pitcher Tom Gordon--made his first start in a major league game. Gordon has garnered quite a bit of attention from the press since he is the son of a recent major leaguer and he has amazing speed. In his first start, Gordon went 3-5 with a stolen base that night and displayed the immense speed for which he is now becoming known nationally. 

While the speed is impressive, his build and statistics are another story. 

Throughout his minor league career he displayed a decent ability to get on base (.356 OBP across four levels of the minors), but struggled mightily when it came to driving the ball (.382 weighted slugging percentage). Even with tremendous stolen base-ability, Gordon only managed to post a wOBA during his minor league career of .345, topping .360 only once (during rookie ball).

With such tremendous speed you would think he could make up for his lack of pop with steals and a high on-base percentage simply by posting a high batting average on balls in play. Indeed, during his minor league career, Gorden posted a .346 BABIP. Even with that he managed only a modest OBP and wOBA.

So how might he translate to the pros?

Let's take Gordon's 2011 AAA statistics and translate them using major league equivalencies (MLEs). To make things simple, I used Jeff Sackmann's minor league equivalency calculator

Gordon's AAA statistics translate to a .284 OBP, .299 SLG, and .274 wOBA. The biggest difference is that he looses about 12 hits between AAA and the big leagues. His BABIP decreases from .364 to a more average .291. Now, it's hard to imagine that a player with his speed will only manage a league-average BABIP. However, BABIP isn't just a function of speed but also, for example, line drive ability.

If Gordon doesn't develop an ability to consistently drive the ball his speed may well be wasted. Hitting more line drives will allow Gordon to increase his extra-base hits, namely triples, using that speed. Right now, Gordon's wOBA is heavily affected by singles (58%), but only 11% by doubles and 4% by triples.I don't have line drive data for his minor league career, but it is hard to imagine a player with his speed with only 17% of his hits going for extra-bases. The current major league average is 32% and even a player like Jose Reyes whose power developed more once he arrived in the bigs had 23% of his hits go for extra-bases in his minor league career. This suggests to me he isn't that good of a line drive hitter--yet. 

Let's also talk about his size.

Gordon is listed at 5'10" and 150 lbs. The record on players over the past decade with that build isn't great--in fact, there really isn't one. The closest comparative I could find using Basebll-Reference's play index was Desi Relaford (5'8", 155 lbs.). Relaford managed to put up a .331 wOBA from 2001 to 2007. Let's assume Gordon manages to put on 10 or 15 pounds. The record gets a little better, but not by much. Mike Fontenot tops the list with a .355 wOBA (5'8", 165 lbs.). To be fair, Fontenot wasn't as big of a stolen base threat as Gordon. However the combined wOBA of all players in this size category is only .325.

Gordon begins his career with an unquestioned talent for flying around the field, but unless he is able to establish some moderate level of line drive ability that talent won't get him very far.

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