You probably know about Dee Gordon. He’s the son of a former major leaguer, he’s remarkably fast, he was good last year for the Dodgers, and he’s been insanely, unsustainably good this year for the Marlins. If you don’t know about Dee Gordon, that last sentence should get you all caught up.
Data current as of 5/14
While the 2014 campaign marked his first time starting for a full season, he came up in 2011. In his first three years—669 plate appearances in all—Dee struggled. He averaged a wRC+ of 75 and ran about a .300 OBP.
Then last year happened. Seemingly, things clicked for Dee Gordon. He hit about 30 points higher than his career average had been, he cut down on strikeouts a bit, and he became a league-average hitter, which made him a pretty good player.
But last season isn’t really our concern anymore. Now it’s time to focus on the 2015 version of Dee Gordon. The 2015 version of Dee Gordon has been one of baseball’s top 10 hitters by wRC+, and he had a healthy lead on the league in fWAR as of Thursday. And, sure, it’s still early in the year and what he’s doing is totally unsustainable, but maybe he’s taken another big step forward. I’m hoping to find where that step forward comes from.
It seems to me that the first place to look when someone is performing ridiculously well is his BABIP. He’s hitting .426 on the year, and a player who has little power and a pretty aggressive approach at the plate doesn’t do that without at least a little luck. A player with a ton of power and a perfect approach at the plate doesn’t do that, really.
To show that luck, Gordon has been sporting a league-high .479 BABIP. He’s sort of predisposed to a high BABIP (as is the case with many speedy, ground ball hitters), and Gordon has shown the ability to do some of the things necessary to run a really high one: Be fast, hit grounders and line drives, and spray the ball around the field so defenses don’t shift and take hits away.
He did it last year, too, and I’m hoping the following table kind of shows those things, with the exception of his being fast. You’ll just have to take my word that he’s fast. Or watch videos. You could watch videos of him running if you think I’m lying, I guess, but I promise that I’m not lying.
So he hits a pretty fair amount of line drives, more or less keeps the ball on a low trajectory, and spreads it around the field pretty well. He ran a .346 BABIP last year, and those 2014 numbers above are pretty similar to this year’s, I think. Even with the differences, I’m not sure we can find 133 points of BABIP anywhere in there.
He’s hitting with a little stronger contact this season, but we probably shouldn’t make too much of that, as Henry Druschel mentioned a few days ago. Even if we can take some things away from just that third of the table, it’s certainly not worth an extra 133 points of BABIP, right? The same can be said for Gordon’s increased line drive percentage this year. It’s nice. It’s helping him, probably. But it’s not helping him that much. And I’m guessing that hitting the ball back up the middle works the same way. Individually, each of those things is worth a handful points in Gordon’s BABIP, I’m sure, but even if we throw them all together, it probably doesn’t totally close the gap from last year’s figure.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure there is much else different for Gordon from a full last season and a first 35 or so games this season. He’s striking out a bit less and walking a little more, which are both nice things, but those alone don’t turn an average hitter into a top 10 hitter in baseball.
Gordon is actually swinging a good bit more often—he swung at 44.6% of pitches last year, and he’s up to 52.5% this year. It would seem that he’s simply putting more balls in play, and more of those are falling in for hits than usual, so that could likely be a factor in his performance, too.
So, it feels like our answers for Dee Gordon are "luck" and "it’s still early in the year, so he won’t keep it up." Those are the boring answers. "Luck" and "it’s early" are the answers I didn’t want to find, but those are the answers I got. He seems like a better hitter, certainly. Walking a touch more, striking out a little less, hitting a few more line drives. Those are all things better hitters do, and Dee Gordon is doing them, too. Maybe he’ll still be on a tear in June and we can revisit Dee’s season then. Until then, I think we just have a hitter who’s gotten (at least) a little better and a whole lot luckier.
Murphy Powell is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @MurphyPowell.