The Miami Marlins were looking to acquire a second baseman who could be a part of the roster for the medium term. The Fish have spent the last two years without a strong option at second base, and they entered the offseason with that position as a top target. They came away with their man in desired target Dee Gordon, who came to Miami along with Dan Haren in return for four players.
While the trade may still be a detrimental one to Miami in the long run, there can be no complaints about the performance of Gordon in his first year as a Marlin. Gordon dominated all year and posted one of the best seasons a Marlins second baseman has ever played. He rode a spectacular early hot streak and strong second half work en route to a four-win campaign for the Fish.
Gordon's campaign started off on fire, as he hit .377/.405/.444 by the end of May. He did this on the back of some obviously unsustainable numbers, having hit .438 on balls in play. Still, those wins were in the bank, and even after Gordon slumped for the following two months (he hit .274/.287/.363 from June through July), Gordon was still maintaining a reasonable performance by that point.
Gordon's style of play lent itself to ups and downs within the season. He maintained an aggressive approach at the plate, swinging at 51 percent of pitches seen, the same rate that he posted in his first year in the majors back in 2011. After trying to be more patient in recent years and failing to differentiate balls from strikes, Gordon just went for it and depended on his contact skills in order to get away with his pitch recognition problems. As a result, Gordon swung at 38 percent of balls out of the strike zone this year, but also got at 65 percent of the ones in the strike zone. That career-high in-zone swing rate helped him put more balls in play, taking advantage of his strong 94 percent contact rate in the strike zone. That all led to a better strikeout rate, as he dropped his whiffs from 16.5 percent last season with the Dodgers to 13.9 percent this past year with the Fish.
For Gordon, striking out less is critically important, and he showed that off in the second half. He did take on a more patient approach that half, swinging at just 48 percent of pitches. However, he also made contact on 90 percent of them, more than any other Marlin other than Ichiro Suzuki, and as a result he dropped his strikeout rate even more. In the second half, Gordon whiffed on just 10.5 percent of plate appearances, and he even increased his walk rate slightly. Unlike in 2014, when he walked just three times after the All-Star break, Gordon walked more in the second half (13 times) in fewer plate appearances than he did in the first half (12). The 4.8 percent rate was about as high as one could expect given his level of power and aggressiveness at the plate, but pitchers did respect him more by offering fewer pitches in the zone (47 percent versus a career 51 percent rate).
For a player like Gordon, this is all probably pretty smart. He probably does need to be aggressive and depend on contact at the plate in order to be successful as a hitter. But hitting was only one part of the equation for Gordon, who can still only do so much at the plate with his style. His baserunning game was weaker than it was last season, when he posted a ten-run campaign on the bases. Gordon did steal 58 bases to lead the National League, but he also led the league in caught stealing, having been snagged 20 times. He only added five runs to his offensive output via baserunning, which is a bit of a disappointment given his career output.
Plus defensive ability is also a key for popless bats, and Gordon brought his A-game defensively in 2015. By all accounts, he posted a season between three and 13 runs above average depending on the system you ask. Gordon's defense was vastly improved thanks is some part due to the tutelage of infield coach Perry Hill, whom Gordon credited for making changes in his pre-play positioning that assisted his game. It also helped that Gordon had plus partners around him to help him turn double plays, as the trio of Gordon, Martin Prado, and Adeiny Hechavarria earned the best marks at their positions in turning double plays.
Improvements on defense and at the plate, even with the help of unsustainable performances on balls in play, made 2015 Gordon one of the best second basemen in Marlins history. By FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement, Gordon put up a 4.6-win season, which is tied for second-highest all-time with Dan Uggla's 2010 season. Those two years are only behind Luis Castillo's strong 2003 campaign as best year by any Marlins second baseman. Still, given the fact that WAR is by no means accurate to a decimal point, we can safely assume that this Gordon campaign was probably one of the three best and perhaps the best year any Marlins keystoner has played. Given that Uggla and Castillo were multiple-time All-Stars under the Marlins' purview, that is one strong accomplishment.
There are still plenty of questions about how well Gordon will play in 2016 and beyond as the Marlins consider him for an extension. However, the role of this post is to celebrate a fantastic year by a player who turned a lot of heads this season. Congratulations to Dee Gordon for a great 2015 year!