The Miami Marlins traded an awful lot to get four years of team control over Dee Gordon, and in the first year of that control, they received an awful lot from him. Gordon put up a stellar year, batting .333/.359/.418 (.337 wOBA), snagging 58 bases, and winning a Gold Glove award, all en route to a nearly five-win season, one of the best second base seasons in Marlins history.
The Marlins rewarded Gordon with a five-year contract extension that will keep him around until his early 30's without costing Miami a whole lot. The team is expecting Gordon to be an anchor on this roster, but how will he fare in 2016?
Second Base Depth Chart
1. Dee Gordon
2. Derek Dietrich
3. Miguel Rojas
Minor League Depth: J.T. Riddle, Avery Romero
The Marlins are light on depth at second, which made the signing of Gordon to a long-term deal a seemingly "imperative" move. At the same time, there were plenty of risks of signing someone like Gordon long-term, and the history of light-hitting speedsters into their 30's is not exactly inspiring. Nevertheless, the 2016 season should bear some of the same for Gordon and some regression in his game.
Despite a surprisingly lackluster season on the basepaths, Gordon should add value on the bases again in 2016. Last year, he led the league in caught stealing and was worse in advancing on outs or hits than he has been in years past, but he still contributed five runs above average overall. It was a far cry from the player who racked up a full win on the bases in 2014, but it is likely that Gordon continues at least on 2015's pace according to his history. At age 28, I don't suspect he should lose too much speed just yet.
Flash Jr will have the full support of another season under infield coach Perry Hill's tutelage, which should help maintain some of the gains he had at second base last year. He may not repeat a Gold Glove performance, but markers are on his side. He is a converted shortstop (albeit a poor shortstop), is obviously naturally athletic, and Hill is one of the best infield coaches in the game. Some of those gains should remain for 2016 as well.
At the plate is where the concern lies. Gordon maintained a more aggressive approach that led to better contact rates, and that allowed for a lower strikeout rate than in years past. Still, Gordon's approach lends itself to fewer walks naturally, and it may be difficult for him to maintain a good on-base percentage if he cannot continue to hit .320 overall. Last year, he won the batting title thanks to a mostly fortuitous .383 batting average on balls in play, which is a mark that is unlikely to be repeated. It is much more likely he either hits his career BABIP of .346 or even his three-year mark of .360. In the past three seasons, Gordon has hit .306/.340/.391 (.321 wOBA, 104 wRC+), and that looks like a more realistic batting line for a power-challenged hitter dependent on balls in play.
**Appears to include baserunning numbers
The Marlins are hoping for more of the ZiPS line rather than the ones put up by Steamer and PECOTA. The projections overall are still bearish on the odds Gordon will retain a significant amount of the boost he received last season in terms of BABIP. PECOTA sees about a .322 BABIP, a heavy but understandable regression to the league mean above and beyond his own career marks. Steamer sees a .332 mark. ZiPS takes the highest end projection, giving him around his career mark at .344.
You can see that there is little difference in projecting the rest of his batting line. Each system has Gordon walking at about a five percent rate and striking out at about a 15 to 16 percent clip, which matches up with his career numbers. No system sees much in the way of power, and rightfully so. The defensive expectations are modest as of right now, placing Gordon at a bit better than average rather than guessing that another Gold Glove year is coming. Baserunning is playing a significant role in bumping his offensive production.
Taking the average of the three batting lines, you get a .285/.324/.364 batting line that almost matches what Gordon did two years ago with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Given that his expectation before the 2015 season was much lower, it is telling that the line is moving upward. If you were to take this line and its approximate .306 wOBA and tack on five runs above average in terms of baserunning, you would get about two runs above average in terms of offensive production. This is not a bad output, though it is significantly worse than what he did in 2015.
The defense is going to be where things get tricky. Most systems are projecting about two runs better than average, which would be less than the six to 13 runs better that he put up last year. At two runs, you are looking at a player worth four runs above average in total, and in 625 plate appearances and 133 games for the season, that would be a 2.7 win player.
For the Marlins, this is not a bad result. That is a solidly above average player, and that is what we can expect of Gordon going forward. Gordon does not have to be a star to continue being worth his salary in his extension, but this kind of output may be less than what the Marlins were expecting.