Earlier today, I discussed the players I was buying and selling on the Miami Marlins based on their April performance. The big name to discuss in that list is Dee Gordon, the red-hot second baseman for the Fish. Prior to the season, Gordon's name was linked to the Marlins having overpaid for his services, and rightfully so. Gordon has little upside given his skillset, and as a result it is difficult to expect him to continue to play well. Before the season, the expectation was that he was close to a league average player, but nothing more.
Flash (ha!) forward one month and Gordon has surprised everyone with a ridiculously hot start. Currently, he is tied with Matt Carpenter for the league lead in FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement with a staggering 1.8 wins to his name, more wins than he was expected to put up all season long. This has raised a lot of eyebrows, and with the nice decrease in strikeouts thanks to a new approach early on, it has gotten Marlins fans excited for Gordon at the top of the lineup.
Small Sample Caveat
Of course, Gordon is not going to keep up a Mike Trout-level pace going forward. Very few players could be expected to put up almost two wins in one month, and one glance at the leaderboard shows only one or two players who could probably hold something close to this level of play until the end of the year. Much like most of the early leaders, Gordon will fall back in the pack, and unlike some of those players, you would expect him to fall further back. No player currently boasts a higher batting average on balls in play (BABIP) than Gordon's ridiculous .494 mark. While most of the players on the WAR leaderboard are benefiting from power, Gordon has the lowest ISO among all of those names with a .070 mark.
This is par for the course for Gordon, who is not expected to hit balls very far and depends on slap hitting for his success. So far, that has worked nicely, as he has posted a 25 percent line drive rate to go with a sky-high 59 percent ground ball rate. However, line drives come and go at the mercy of the scorer, and while this general approach is correct for Gordon, it is not assured to continue to get him hits at such mammoth rates.
However, you already knew all of this. We all did. It would be delusional to think that Gordon would be able to continue to be one of the best players in baseball going forward. What is not delusional is the fact that this hot start has bought him two things: banked wins and increased expectations.
Just like the Marlins have already banked those early-season losses, Gordon too has already banked his hot start. No matter how far the coming fall may be, those 1.8 wins are already on board. If Gordon plays above replacement level going forward, he cannot lose those wins and can only build on that season production. At this stage, it is almost a cinch that he will beat his preseason projection as a result.
It also makes the climb towards his win total from 2014 a lot easier. According to FanGraphs, Gordon put up three wins for the Dodgers last year, much of which was on the back of a hot April. He put up 1.1 wins in April and recorded 1.9 wins the rest of the way. If Gordon just emulated that performance, including the ugly .284/.300/.348 (.287 wOBA) second half, he would end the year with almost four wins on the year.
That 1.9 wins is not entirely out of reach, and in fact, some projection systems expect even better performance. This is all because this one hot month, as non-repeatable as it was, has already raised preseason expectations for Gordon. Take a look at the preseason and current rest-of-season projection numbers for various systems.
|Gordon, 2015||Preseason wOBA||ROS wOBA|
The preseason wOBA expectations have gone up an average of .012 points. Steamer, the less optimistic of the two systems, previously expected Gordon to hit ..256/.306/.334, which was reasonable given his career numbers. Now the system is seeing a .268/.316/.344 player after just 100 plate appearances and change. That is a 10-point increase in batting average! ZiPS is even more impressed, expecting a bump from a preseason line of .281/.326/.357 to .301/.342/.376!
The average expectation for WAR according to FanGraphs going forward is 1.9 wins, which is exactly what he did last season after his hot start. Just one month ago, we were expecting 1.6 wins for an entire year, and now Gordon is slated to post a better season in fewer plate appearances. It is amazing then change that one month can make on a player's outlook.
Yet it is important to note that neither projection expects Gordon to be a star. At this stage, the projection sees Gordon as a little better than league average, so the overall thought process on him has not changed. Gordon's ceiling is still closer to what he did last year than to something like a four-win All-Star player. However, his performance in April has made that projection climb just a little closer to what he did last season, and at this point, Miami has to be very happy with how things have turned out. This could all go down the drain with one bad month, but right now, things are looking positive for Gordon and the Fish.