Yes, of course Dee Gordon fits the original stereotype for a leadoff hitter in Major League Baseball.
He is a small middle infielder who has lots of speed and steals lots of bases. He is a contact hitter who thrives on singles, with little-to-no power. Although his career number is only .324, Gordon’s 2015 on-base percentage was an impressive .359, and he was a solid leadoff hitter for the Marlins, but this season has been much different.
Gordon was okay in April, before his 80-game suspension, but since returning from the suspension on July 28, he has not been the same player he was in 2015. In 155 plate appearances since returning from his suspension, Gordon is batting only .238 with a subpar OBP of only .290. He is also only slugging .287, putting him in a select group of players with a higher OBP than slugging percentage, which really shows that he is not driving the ball at all.
Even though the speed factor is still there (Gordon is 9 for 13 in stolen base attempts since returning), Gordon is not getting on base nearly enough for those stolen bases to play a major role in every game. Gordon’s walk rate of 7.1 percent since returning doesn’t seem too bad considering his horrible walk rate of 3.8 percent in 2015, but he hit .333 last season to make up for it. He is now only hitting .238 post-suspension and his inability to draw the walk has reared its ugly head.
Now, I guess if I’m making the case for Dee Gordon to get taken out of the leadoff spot for the Marlins, I have to make a case for a new leadoff hitter. In a perfect world (at least for stat-heads like me) a team’s lineup should be done one through nine purely based on on-base percentage, with the player with the highest OBP hitting first. Among the lineup regulars for the Marlins, the player with the highest OBP in 2016 is Christian Yelich at .378. Yelich should hit leadoff in a perfect world, but we do not live in a perfect world.
So, my candidate for the leadoff spot in Miami is Martin Prado. Prado spent most of the season hitting in the two-hole before being moved to the three-spot due to a plethora of injuries and has been the Marlins’ best hitter besides Yelich this season.
Prado is tied for first on the team (among those with over 50 at-bats) with a .313 batting average and is second behind Yelich in OBP at .366. Although Prado has not hit leadoff for the Marlins yet this season, he does have a career .337 OBP and 118 wRC+ out of the leadoff spot.
Prado may not fit the original model for what a leadoff hitter should be, but the game is changing, and most teams have gone away from the speedy singles hitter leading it off. Prado surely doesn’t have the speed that Gordon has, but he has been a much better hitter in 2016.
Teams like the Blue Jays and Orioles have broken the mold of the typical leadoff hitter, placing Jose Bautista and Adam Jones at the top of the order, and those two teams currently hold a playoff spot. It’s time for the Marlins to do the same if they too want a coveted playoff spot.