Dee Gordon was a star. He was a dynamic player for the Dodgers in 2014, hitting .289/.326/.378 and leading the league with 64 steals and 12 triples. After moving to Miami for the 2015 season, he improved his batting line to .333/.359/.418, led the league in steals (again), hits (205), and batting average, and made his second consecutive All-Star appearance.
Those days are gone for Dee Gordon. In 2016, he got off to a slow start, slashing .266/.289/.340 through 21 games, with only 6 steals. Then things got even worse in April, when the league announced that Gordon had tested positive for performance enhancing drugs; he was promptly suspended for 80 games and missed much of the season.
Since his return on July 28th, Gordon’s performance has been even worse. He has a slash of .253/.288/.311 for the season and has been seriously struggling at the plate. Is this season just a fluke, is Gordon out of practice, or is the discontinued use of PEDs to blame?
We can’t answer any of those questions definitively, but we can shed some light on number three. Has anyone else with a long suspension really had a great return? Let’s take a look at a few other high-profile suspensions recently.
José Reyes has had one of the best returns from suspension in recent memory. Since his 2015 arrest on a domestic violence charge in 2015 and subsequent suspension, a number of fans and members of the media have spoken out against Reyes. He also had played poorly in Colorado before his suspension, and the combination of the two led the Rockies to release him and eat $40 million of his salary once he was eligible to play again. But since being picked up by the Mets, Reyes has regained his pre-2015 form. While Reyes the Person presumably has a long way to go, Reyes the Player has an impressive slash of .275/.329/.451. His performance at the plate has helped boost a struggling Mets offense down the stretch, prompting some to call him “the spark” of the Mets. Setting aside the ethics of his return, it seems that the 51-game suspension didn’t have much of an impact on his ability to perform.
In August of 2013, Alex Rodriguez tested positive for illegal performance enhancing drugs. Caught in the infamous Biogenesis scandal of 2013, he received the stiffest ban of all players involved. He was banned for 162 games, the entire 2014 season. This was the longest suspension ever imposed at the time, and currently the second longest in MLB history; only Jenrry Mejia has been hit with a longer ban (lifetime). Prior to his ban, A-Rod had an astounding career. With 14 All Star Team nominations, three AL MVP titles, and 10 Silver Slugger awards, Rodriguez was widely recognized as one of the most talented players in the league. His peak arguably came in 2007, when he slashed .314/.422/.645 in his age-31 season.
After his suspension, however, he struggled immensely. In 2015, he only slashed .250/.356/.486, and in 2016, he only appeared in 65 games, probably because he was hitting .200/.247/.351. He was eventually released by the Yankees, who couldn’t be bothered to keep him around for any longer. This A-Rod after his suspension was a far cry from the 14-time All Star most fans knew and loved. To be fair, however, those were also Rodriguez’s age-39 and -40 seasons, an age where many players who weren’t suspended also decline sharply.
Like A-Rod, Nelson Cruz was also suspended after the Biogenesis scandal. Although he was only suspended for 50 games, his absence was noticed by the Rangers. At the time of his suspension in 2013, Cruz led the Rangers in HR (27) and RBI (76). He also had a slash of .266/.327/.506 in this All-Star season.
Cruz is one of the few players who actually performed well post-suspension, and in fact, he’s performed even better since his return. In 2014, he finished his season in Baltimore with a then career-high 40 HR and 108 RBI, slashing an impressive .271/.333/.525 and finishing seventh in MVP voting. He inked a sizeable four-year, $57m contract with Seattle that offseason, and instead of disappointing as many expected, fared even better in 2015, with 178 H and 44 HR. Cruz solidified himself as a valuable asset to the Mariners with his booming power output (a whopping 25% of his hits were HR). He received a Silver Slugger award, was named an All-Star, and finished sixth in MVP voting. He’s also having a solid 2016 so far, with 37 HR to date and a slash of .281/.356/.532. Cruz has recovered extremely well from his suspension, and returned as an even more successful player.
After their suspensions, it was difficult for any of these players to return to exactly what they had before. Gordon and Rodriguez were both tarnished by poor performance and a bad reputation as cheaters, and Reyes was (and still is) viewed as a possible criminal and definite bad actor after his arrest and suspension. Although it is clearly possible for players to come back and perform well, if they don’t, they will often be viewed poorly in the eyes of once-admiring fans. For better or worse, however, the reaction to Reyes in New York and Cruz in Baltimore and Seattle show that Dee Gordon can count on fans forgetting about his past transgressions if he just starts hitting again.
Julia Prusaczyk is a Contributor at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow her on Twitter at @JulPrusac.