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As Dee Gordon sets the table, the Marlins eat greedy

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Dee Gordon found his 2015 self on the roadtrip to Cincinnati and Texas

MLB: Miami Marlins at Texas Rangers Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off a less-than-impressive home-stand following the MLB All-Star Game, this last week, the Miami Marlins mercilessly took out their frustration on some unwitting Cincinnati Reds and Texas Rangers. In the last seven days – the road trip plus Thursday’s game against the Reds – the Marlins are 5-2, and have amassed 45 runs on 72 hits. That’s an average of 6.4 runs and 10.3 hits per game, including Wednesday’s 22-10 bludgeoning of the Rangers. According to baseball-reference.com, Marlins’ pitching has allowed 5.04 runs per nine innings this year; thus, if the Marlins had been able to maintain this rate of run-scoring all year, they hypothetically might be undefeated.

That’s not the point of this article however. As you may have noticed, many different players contributed to the cause this road trip. Giancarlo Stanton, who has recently reaped the benefits of a restructured approach at the plate, recorded a .453 wOBA and hit three more home runs. Christian Yelich got on base in almost 50% of his plate appearances, and recorded an absurd 230 wRC+ over the stretch. Ultimately, just about everyone had a hand in the improved play, and after going 1-5 in the home-stand prior, the Marlins seemed to have left their woes at Miami International to ball out on the road.

In the midst of the road trip, I couldn’t help but realize a trend; at game time, my phone would buzz – it was my MLB app notifying me that the Marlins game was about to start. Then, just about 10 minutes later, I would get another notification from MLB, alerting me that the Marlins had already scored a run. After a little investigation, I found the cause of the notification spurt — it was Dee Gordon.

Dee Gordon batted extremely well over the road trip. Up from .290/.335/.350 from April 3rd to July 19th, Dee has racked up a line of .333/.371/.455 in the last week. Although the sample sizes are much too disparate to compare for purposes of predictability, (especially for slugging percentage, where he hit his only home run of the season on the road trip), for illustrative purposes, it is apparent that Dee enjoyed general success at the plate. But far and away, the most important thing that Dee did was get on base in the first inning. In the last seven games, Dee has gotten on base in the first inning seven times.

Table courtesy of Baseball Prospectus

This is an up-to-date Run Expectancy Table, provided by Baseball Prospectus. Based on the 24 potential base-out states and the current amalgam of data accrued for the 2017 season, statisticians can predict the amount of runs a team is likely to score given a specific base-out situation.

The data is extremely clear; teams that get a runner on first with no outs are expected to score .8959 runs this season. That figure becomes 1.1134 when the leadoff hitter hits a double; that is, teams are almost statistically guaranteed to score at least one run when the leadoff hitter makes it to second base. Au contraire, when the leadoff batter gets out – resulting in no runners and one out in the inning – teams are expected to score .2869 runs.

Now take these figures, and add in the fact that Dee Gordon can almost steal a base at will, advance on plays that most players couldn’t, etc. The table below reflects the outcomes of Dee’s first inning endeavors over the road trip:

Dee Gordon 1st Inning PA's

Game 1st Inn Plate Appearance Run scored? How
Game 1st Inn Plate Appearance Run scored? How
7/21 v. CIN Single Yes Stanton 2B, Yelich RBI GO
7/22 v. CIN Single Yes Gordon steals 2nd and 3rd, Stanton RBI GO
7/23 v. CIN Single No Gordon steals 2nd, Stanton GO, Yelich SO, Bour SO
7/24 v. TEX Double Yes Staton HR
7/25 v. TEX Single Yes Gordon steals 2nd, Stanton GO, Yelich 2B
7/26 v. TEX HR Yes
7/27 v. CIN BB No CS at 2nd
Flash has reached base in the first inning of the last seven games MLB.com

Once again, the data is clear. The outcomes of Dee Gordon making it on base reflect the results of the run expectancy chart – the Marlins brought a run across five out of seven times that Dee made it on base.

As a general fact, Dee Gordon’s win-probability statistics are less than impressive. This is because he often comes to the plate in low-leverage situations. Having batted leadoff almost exclusively for the Fish, assuming that he gets four plate appearances in a game, Dee comes up with no one on base at least once a game.

In 2015 – Dee Gordon’s best season (4.7 WAR) – Dee only accrued an RE24 of 12.31 and a WPA of 1.80. That same season, Giancarlo Stanton, who recorded a WAR of only 3.9, garnered an RE24 of 26.38 and a WPA of 1.38. Although Dee overall was more valuable to the team that year, Giancarlo’s plate appearances weighed much more than Dee’s. The RE24 statistic expresses that given any of the 24 possible base-out states, Giancarlo was likely to produce 14.07 runs more than Dee over the course of the season.

This is ultimately a product of the kind of hitters that Giancarlo and Dee are. Whereas Dee often comes up with the bases empty, Stanton will almost always come to the dish with runners in place to do damage. Add that to the fact that Stanton can drive himself in any given plate appearance, and you see how Dee’s efforts get swept under the rug.

While the trend holds true to this season’s stats, Dee edged out Giancarlo and most of the team in Win Probability Added over the road trip with a WPA of .21. This is very much a testament to his ability to help the Marlins get on the scoreboard first. The moral of the story is that coming to the plate without runners on doesn’t necessarily have to be valueless; a player can certainly create value on his own by getting on base himself and creating opportunities to score. That’s exactly Dee Gordon did. By getting the win probability graph trending in the right direction in every game of the road trip, Dee made himself a keystone piece of the Marlins’ efforts.

Dee’s performance also has the effect of helping his teammates. Gordon fulfilling his role as a table-setter allows other batters the opportunity drive him in. Referring back to the table, Dee Gordon scored twice this road trip on otherwise innocuous groundouts by Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton.

Gordon is one of the many players who has had his named tossed around in trade rumors. Teams like the Royals, Phillies, Blue Jays, and Angels have expressed interest in acquiring the speedy second baseman. Gordon certainly presents an interesting case. As evidenced by his 2015 stats and his recent performance, he still holds a lot of potential. However, his tough 2017 definitely makes it easier for the Marlins to part ways with him.

If Dee doesn’t get traded, he will be in Miami for the foreseeable future. Since getting busted for using PEDs in 2016, it has taken Dee some time to back back to his 2015 self. But whereas Dee had even spray percentages to all fields from April 3rd to July 19th this year, he looked more like a leadoff man during the road trip, pulling inside pitches 37% of the time while, while taking the opposite pitch to left 44.4% of the time. While it’s too early to tell whether Dee has actually made a change in his approach, the results seem to reflect that he is feeling more comfortable in the batter’s box. And as long as Dee keeps on hitting, he will either increase his job security, or increase his trade value. At this juncture, the Fish will accept either outcome.