Even after I wrote this piece last least season, stating my case that Dee Gordon should not be the leadoff hitter for the Marlins, the second baseman has found his way into the top spot in the lineup again this season.
For some reason, Don Mattingly has apparently not read that post, because Gordon is back at it again with the poor on-base percentage. Through 13 games and 59 plate appearances so far this season, Gordon has drawn (wait for it) ZERO WALKS.
That’s right, the leadoff hitter on a team that currently sits a half-game out of first place in the NL East has yet to draw a walk this season. Gordon is one of only five players in the league with at 40 at-bats to have completely avoided a base on balls.
That’s pretty bad, and Gordon really shouldn’t be leading off for the Marlins if he can’t draw walks. However, that argument is for another day. Right now, it’s time to find out why the 28-year-old infielder hasn’t been awarded a free pass since last season and see if it’s really his fault.
Gordon is seeing A LOT of pitches in the strike zone
Dee Gordon has only nine home runs in over 2,300 career plate appearances, so it makes sense that pitchers wouldn’t be as afraid to throw him pitches in the middle of the zone. However, Gordon is leading the league in strikes thrown to him. According to Fangraphs, 56.7 percent of the pitches thrown to Miami’s second baseman this season have been in the strike zone. That’s almost three percent more often than the man in second place, Anthony Rendon.
Also, 9.2 percent of the pitches Gordon has seen this season have been right down the middle, like, center-cut. That means that one out of every 10 pitches he sees is in the seemingly-perfect hitting zone.
It’s difficult to draw walks when everything is in the zone, and Gordon has done a good job taking advantage of those pitches. When he swings at those pitches in the strike zone, he makes contact 85.1 percent of the time. Plus, the infielder has swung at all 19 pitches he has seen right down the middle.
So, if you were expecting another reason and another heading, I’m sorry. At this point, there isn’t really another reason. Gordon isn’t drawing walks because he simply sees too many strikes.
Think about it this way—simply put, Gordon would need to see four pitches out of the strike zone in a six-pitch at-bat to draw a walk (assuming there are no foul balls with two strikes). That means that in some at-bats, Gordon would need to see 66.7 percent balls.
However, only 43.3 percent of the pitches Gordon is seeing are outside of the strike zone. That 23-percent difference is so significant that it wouldn’t make sense for Gordon to have drawn too many walks.
Pitchers are probably pitching in the middle of the strike zone because Gordon can’t hit home runs. Maybe all he needs to do is hit one out of the yard. Then he’ll walk. Maybe.