One doesn’t have to look far at all to find some underperforming players – fantasy or real life – after a little over one month into the season. Jedd Gyorko and Pablo Sandoval are hitting under the Mendoza line; David Wright, Domonic Brown and Matt Carpenter have as many home runs as Billy Hamilton – one each; Will Venable, who was supposed to steal 20-plus bases, hasn’t swiped one yet while getting caught three times. On the pitching side, Homer Bailey has an ERA of 5.36; Matt Garza, Alex Wood and Michael Wacha have a combined six wins and 11 losses while Matt Cain, Francisco Liriano, Cole Hamels, Wandy Rodriguez and Jeff Samardzija have yet to record a victory among them. Then there’s the injury parade – 17 National and American League pitchers have had their season end so far due to Tommy John surgery compared to 19 for all of 2013.
But the news isn’t all bad for 2014. There have been players over performing. Charlie Blackmon is batting .362 and has seven home runs and eight stolen bases; teammate Nolan Arenado is hitting .329 with six home runs; Tom Koehler and Alfredo Simon have ERA’s below 2.00; Francisco Rodriguez has 14 saves.
There’s one player, however, who really piques many people’s interest, including mine. He was very much hyped, didn’t live up to the hype, wasn’t given much playing time, was up and down between the Minors and Majors and had an average draft position much closer to 300 than 100 or even 200 going into this season. So far this season, though, he’s certainly rewarded those that drafted him. That player is Dee Gordon.
All the Los Angeles Dodgers’ infielder has done is bat .341 with five doubles, three triples and one home run, score 19 runs while driving in ten and steal 20 bases while being caught only three times – an 87% success rate. The 26-year-old has accomplished this while batting leadoff and moving from shortstop to second base.
Yet there are those who are crying fluke or unsustainable. The naysayers will point to a BABIP of .404 and say the sky is soon to fall. While a .404 BABIP is certainly a concern and does flash the caution – correction coming light, there are some changes to Gordon’s peripherals that suggest the correction might not be of the earth-crashing variety.
A strikeout rate of 15.8% is his lowest since 2011, when he hit .304 with an 11.6% rate. At the same time, his BB% (4.5%) is down considerably from 2012 (6.1%) and 2013 (9.4%) but is higher than the 3.0% he put up in his best hitting season of 2011. Gordon is being helped by being more judicious at the plate, swinging at only 29.8% of pitches outside the strike zone – a rate that has gone from 39.7% to 34.4% to 33.8% respectively in 2011, 2012 and 2013. At the same time, Dee’s contact percentage on pitches inside the strike zone is at 94.9% - the highest of his career. Gordon hasn’t been helping pitchers get ahead of him either. He’s laying off the pitches outside the zone and making the pitchers come to him with a career high of 53.9% of offerings now inside the strike zone. First pitch strike percentage of 61.7% has decreased from 71.2% in his rookie season. The former fourth-round pick is making pitchers work more slowly (hence, arguably less comfortably), increasing the average time between pitches by almost three seconds since he broke into the league.
When he makes contact, Gordon is hitting line drives at a 22.9% rate (tied for the best of his career) and ground balls 58.3% of the time (second best of his career). Combined with an 18.8% fly ball rate (also the lowest of his career), the speedster is doing what he needs to do to utilize his best asset. The results are an infield hit percentage of 14.3 and bunt hit percentage of 55.6 which are, again, career highs (bunt hit percentage more than 20% higher).So while there could be a BABIP correction coming, Dee Gordon has changed his approach and is doing the exact things he needs to do to be successful – avoid pitches outside the zone, hit line drives, beat the ball into the ground or bunt, and run like hell to first base. Once there, he is wreaking havoc on the basepaths and has been the catalyst for the Dodgers' offense. For these reasons, I am still very much bullish on Dee Gordon and think he will continue his success and will look to add him to my roster wherever possible.