Let’s be honest: Did anyone see Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon‘s breakout coming? No. Not one person. It was fair to say he could hold his own, maybe fight off Cuban import Alexander Guerrero for a month or two. But Gordon, who hit .229 across 2012 and 2013, did not give really any indication that he’d be this valuable.
So I want to amend the question. Rather than did anyone see it coming, could anyone see it coming? Perhaps the answer is yes.
His first year in the majors was, by most measures, pretty successful. A 23-year-old Gordon batted .304 with 24 stolen bases in 56 games. It’s no wonder why people have hoped for Gordon to break out and have been wildly disappointed in his failure to do so. Leading up to 2014, his strikeout rate skyrocketed from 11.6 to 19.8 percent, and his low batting average on balls in play (BABIP) relative to other speedsters coupled with an absolute lack of power made for poor batting and on-base rates.
Fast-forward to 2014, and Gordon has shaved his strikeout rate by 4.5 percent, a huge margin. Meanwhile, his BABIP is way up — at .378, I can tell you without looking that it’s one of the highest in Major League Baseball. Thing is, he’s a guy with enough speed and to make it work, especially if he keeps racking up hits on bunts and balls in the infield. When I say “make it work,” though, I simply mean he will maintain an above-average BABIP, maybe in the .325-.335 range, rather than stay lofted in the .370s.
Meanwhile, the steals… Oh, man, the steals. They are legit, people. It’s hard to believe that he’s stealing in almost half of his opportunities, but he is. I thought, maybe the guy is getting lucky with the number of stolen base opportunities relative to all other baserunners. According to Baseball Reference, the average baserunner has the next base available to him about 37 percent of the time. So Gordon must have, like, a rate north of 40 or even 50 percent, right? Nay, squire — Gordon has had an open base before him only 33 percent of the time.
I want to do two things, now: predict Gordon’s end-of-season stats, and predict his rest-of-season stats. Without further ado:
Revised end-of-season 2014 projection: .276/.316/.352, 82 R, 2 HR, 42 RBI, 81 SB (156 games)
That’s right, folks. This is the Billy Hamilton you were looking for. It’s important to note that I project him for 156 games, but there’s a possibility that if he falls into a deep funk, Guerrero could usurp Gordon’s role. Worse, Guerrero could do so before a slump even hits, given the $28 million the Dodgers are now watching waste away in Triple-A.
As much as it is important to see Gordon’s end-of-year stat line, it’s the rest-of-year stats that truly matter most, especially if you’re trying to decide whether to sell high on the guy or simply hang tight.
Rest-of-season projection: .261/.300/.326, 58 R, 1 HR, 31 RBI, 57 SB (118 games)
Bottom line: he’s worth his weight in gold based solely on his steals. But a .261 batting average and .300 on-base percentage don’t bode especially well for his high runs tally as well as the frequency at which he will be able to steal bases. With almost a steal every other game, though, you’re nitpicking if you are complaining about a few percentage points of OBP affected his steals.
Although I just trivialized OBP, it is worth monitoring his decline, because it will happen — trust me. Dee Gordon is not a .322 hitter, let alone a .300 hitter. He may be able to luck his way to a nice batting average, though, with a few more bunt base-hits here and there.
Overall, though, he is still not a great hitter and doesn’t get on base as much as you’d like to make him much more than a one-category player. If you’ve already staked yourself to a massive lead in steals, I’d sell high — although when I say high, I mean really high. Fifty-seven swipes in a rotisserie league is incredibly valuable. My main roto league has 80 percent more home runs than steals — that is, a home run is worth about 55 percent of every steal. Now, that’s not to say Gordon is worth a guy who can hit 103 home runs, because 1) that’s impossible, 2) Gordon simply doesn’t contribute in many other categories other than maybe runs, and 3) he’s no guarantee to finish out the year at second base. But you could probably get a really solid, well-rounded top pick (read: top-50 player) for Gordon in a trade today — maybe better.
When it’s all said and done, I think Gordon could finish as high as top-30 on the ESPN Player Rater if he can last an entire season with Guerrero breathing down his neck. And I would hold on to him until I observe a sizable downward trend in his on-base abilities midseason.