The Miami Marlins' offense has been helped out significantly thus far this season thanks to the smoking hot start by Dee Gordon. The Marlins' acquired second baseman was brought in to provide speed at the top of the lineup, but instead he has simply ripped through National League pitching with a flurry of singles. Gordon picked up four hits in the series finale versus the Los Angeles Dodgers and now has 58 hits in just 147 plate appearances! His .426/.459/.529 (.425 wOBA) is patently absurd, but it is also the sixth-best in the National League. Along with fine defense at second thus far, this has propelled him to the league lead in Wins Above Replacement in the NL to start the year.
We have already addressed the obvious regression to the mean for Gordon; there is still a question as to where his true-talent batting line is even after this ridiculous start. However, there is no question that he has raised his expectations from before the season, and it is interesting to see just how improbable such a start was based on what we knew of Gordon before 2015.
The Marlins saw a layer who could add a Juan Pierre dynamic to the top of the lineup, but thus far Gordon has gone far beyond that. Before the season, however, the expectations were not close to this high. ZiPS expected Gordon to hit .281/.326/.357 (.305 wOBA). Our own projection, which was an average of multiple systems, expected a .268/.314/.341 (.297 wOBA) line.
What are the chances a player with a true talent .281 batting average gets 58 hits in his first 136 at-bats? If we take a look at that expected batting average as a binomial distribution, the odds of getting to 58 hits is astonishingly low. The normal expectation with that batting average would be to acquire 38 hits, but Gordon has slapped 20 more than the average expectation. The odds of that happening to Gordon were less than 0.02 percent! At our projected .268 batting average, the expected chances are even worse, at less than 0.005 percent!
Those are insane odds. It is almost unfathomable that Gordon has outplayed his expectations to such a high degree to start the year. Consider that Gordon's presence at the top of the early leaderboard in wOBA is a huge aberration compared to the projections. Five of the other top ten hitters in the NL leaderboard were expected to be among the 30 best hitters in the NL this season. The other four guys were among the top 60 expected hitters this year. Gordon was way down on the list.
The Marlins are obviously very happy with Gordon thus far this season. As mentioned, the expectations have already changed for him thanks to the improbable start. What are Gordon's chances of breaking some Marlins-related records now that he has gotten to such a head start? The Marlins record for hits in a season is 221 by Juan Pierre in 2004. Pierre did this in 748 plate appearances (678 at-bats).
Gordon is now up to a .288 expected batting average for the rest of the season as estimated by an average of Steamer and ZiPS projections. In 494 expected remaining plate appearances (455 at-bats), Gordon would have to collect the 163 more hits it would require to beat that mark. That would translate to a .358 batting average for the rest of the year. While that seems a lot smaller than his current pace, it would be a blistering mark for any hitter, let alone a guy with a minimal track record. The odds of a .288 hitter getting that many hits in so little time is about 0.07 percent!
What if we gave Gordon more time? Jose Reyes stayed healthy all throughout the 2012 season and accumulated 716 plate appearances on the year. If Gordon can get to 710 plate appearances, he might expect 517 more at-bats. At that number however, he would still have to hit .315 to make it to 221 hits. The odds of this happening are significantly better, however. For a true-talent .288 hitter, batting .315 for that long would be expected to happen about 10 percent of the time!
Do I like Gordon's chances of breaking any Marlins records? Probably not, but the start he has made for himself has certainly given him a remote chance. If he can stay healthy and continue to find some good fortune sneaking batted balls through the infield, his season may go down as one of the better and more surprising Marlins campaigns in some time.