We are all familiar with the transcendent season Dee Gordon experienced in his first year with the Miami Marlins. His accomplishments include the NL batting title, stolen base title, and Gold Glove at second base - not too shabby. When he steps up to the plate you can expect something magical to happen. If he manages to hit the ball in play - watch out. Few players in the MLB match Dee's speed around the base paths. Dee is such a tough out primarily because he is so effective against the most common pitch in baseball: the fastball. In 2015 his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) versus the fastball was a staggering .386. That is an excellent number, but such a high BABIP means nothing if you do not actually hit the ball in play. Therefore, I decided to look at Dee's hitting efficiency from a different perspective. How successful was Dee against the fastball in 2015 on a per swing basis compared to other second basemen in the league? The answer is: pretty darn good.
Let's first look at how Dee's BABIP against the fastball compares to other second basemen around the league:
Table 1: Ranked list of second baseman by BABIP against fastballs
Dee is fourth behind Brock Holt, DJ LeMahieu (who plays half of his games at Coors Field), and Jonathan Schoop (who has seen less than half of the fastballs Dee has faced). Again, I think too much stock is put into BABIP - if you never put the ball in play having a high BABIP doesn't mean much. So let's look at that - how often do these players even have a chance to get on base? To analyze a batter's success at putting a fastball in play I used two sabermetric stats: whiff per swing percentage and foul per swing percentage. Here is the formula I used:
BIP stands for balls in play. Essentially, if a player has neither whiffed on or fouled away the fastball, he has hit it in play. If you multiply BIP per swing by 100 you get the percentage of BIP per swing. What does this tell us? It shows us how efficiently a player gets the ball in play on a per swing basis. We can assume that a batter, except in rare cases when he is "protecting the plate" or sacrificing, is typically attempting to get a hit when he swings. Here is another list of second baseman ranked by their BIP per swing percentage. In Table 2 below, I bolded the top five BABIP players from Table 1 so we can compare them to Dee:
Table 2: Ranked list of second baseman by Percentage of Balls in Play per Swing against fastballs
Isn't that interesting? Three of the top five players in BABIP against the fastball struggle to get the ball in play. Therefore, their high BABIP goes to waste. Both Brock Holt and Dee Gordon, on the other hand, are ranked in the top 15 among 2nd baseman. That absolutely translates into success, as Brock Holt and Dee Gordon hit .350 and .332 against the fastball respectively. We can take this analysis even one step further. How frequently do these players get a hit on a per swing basis? To determine the probability that a sequence of events will occur, you simply multiply the probabilities of each individual event. Therefore, to determine the probability of a hit on each swing I multiplied BIP per swing by BABIP:
We can multiply hits per swing by 100 to get the percentage of hits per each swing. Now let's look at how the players compare when we look at their hit percentage per swing against the fastball:
Table 3: Ranked list of second baseman by Percentage of Hits per Swing against fastballs
Not surprisingly we see Brock Holt and Dee Gordon in the top five. Their combination of a high BABIP and BIP per swing generates a lot of success against the fastball. Looking at the rest of the top names, we can see Dee is in excellent company. Essentially, Dee gets a hit every 6.67 swings on a fastball. That is incredible production and efficiency, especially considering batters will likely take multiple swings in a single at bat. Even more impressive is Dee's high hit per swing percentage despite his 12th highest swing percentage on the fastball among the players listed. Ben Zobrist, Brock Holt, and Johnny Giavotella have the 24th, 34th, and 36th highest swing percentage. Therefore, despite being 5th in hits per swing percentage, Dee produces more opportunities for hits against the fastball than those three players because he swings more often.
With such a high BABIP and BIP per swing combination, it isn't difficult to understand why Dee swings at the fastball frequently. With such excellent production, I hope he continues to swing away. Dee's last two seasons were not a fluke, and while it is unrealistic to expect him to win the batting title, stolen base title, and Gold Glove again in a single year, expect him to be continue to be among the most productive second baseman. With such a high BABIP and BIP per swing percentage against baseball's most common pitch, it is impossible for him not to be successful.
Whiff/swing, foul/swing, and pitches faced statistics were taken from Brooks Baseball.