Dee Gordon is one of the more controversial players on the Miami Marlins roster. Obviously, the steroid case comes to mind when his name is mentioned, but even before that story broke the fan base was split on his utility. More traditional fans love his speed and BABIP skills, while those more sabermetrically-minded take issue with his low on base percentage, and high caught stealing rate. I fall very definitively in the latter camp, but he’s on the team and that isn’t changing, so it’s time to get over it and try to find the optimal spot in the batting order to maximize his value as a hitter.
The seemingly easy choice is to keep him in the leadoff spot where he has spent most of his career, but there are several problems with putting him there.
First and foremost, there’s the elephant in the room, his low OBP. Going back to 2015, Dee’s best season, the organization and many people around the majors were excited by his NL-leading .333 batting average. The problem is his minuscule 3.8% walk rate dropped his OBP to .359, which was 36th in the majors that year; pretty good, but not even the best among Marlins. The leadoff hitter’s job is to get on base in front of the team’s best hitters to maximize their opportunities to drive in runs. That .359 mark Dee put up came with a historically high batting average on balls in play (BABIP), something that is very unlikely to be repeatable. By OBP alone, Yelich or Dietrich would be a much better choice to leadoff.
Secondly, there is the question of Dee’s base stealing. Putting aside the problems with his efficiency, the Marlins seem to feel that Dee is valuable thanks to his ability to run so let’s share that assumption for now. Is it more valuable to put a player that can advance themselves in front of the players most likely to get hits, or least likely to get hits? It seems rather obvious that the latter is true. Why have Dee steal second while Yelich is at the plate and there is about a 40% chance that he’ll be advanced anyway? Placing your best base stealer at the front of the lineup is a sub-optimal utilization of talent.
Finally, there is the question of run production. When Dee gets a hit, chances are it is going to be a single. He has a career .075 ISO (isolated power). The leadoff spot, except of course for the first inning, follows the eight and nine hitters and is usually the least likely to bat with runners in scoring position. With Dee batting 1st when he hits a single it very rarely brings home a runner; he is uniquely hurt by his position in the batting order.
All that said it’s time to look for a better alternative. The current lineup likely looks like this:
1. Dee Gordon
2. Martin Prado
3. Christian Yelich
4. Giancarlo Stanton
5. Marcell Ozuna
6. Justin Bour
7. J.T. Realmuto
8. Adeiny Hechavarria
Some sabermetric minds suggest simply placing your batters in a descending order of OBP. That would place Dee, based upon projections for 2017, in the 6th spot, but that might be a little too extreme for some.
My suggestion would be to place him 7th, in front of Hech and the pitcher spot. Batting in front of the team’s worst hitters provides an opportunity for his speed to play up.
Firstly, by advancing himself in situations where he is less likely to receive help from the hitter. Secondly, the batter will be less likely to hit into double plays, given Dee’s speed.
On the other side of the equation, Dee will get an opportunity to hit behind the Marlins best hitters, maximizing the potential for his light hits to bring home runners.
All that said the Fish are almost certainly going to keep Dee batting in the leadoff slot. It’s sub-optimal and boring, but on the brighter side of things, a new owner seems to be around the corner. Maybe they will be more open to new ideas; a fan can only hope.