Before the 2014 season began, baseball pundits across the nation could not stop talking about the new speedster that was ready to take over as a leadoff hitter. Much was made about his game changing speed, while many wondered if he could consistently get on base. There was talk about how he would be able to handle a position change, and if he was ready to do so on a consistent basis in the Majors. Writers were almost giddy about the return of an old school prototypical leadoff hitter, a get on base any way you can type of guy, who could turn a harmless walk in to a triple by swiping bases at will. If you are curious, the national spotlight was focused on the minor league base stealing king Billy Hamilton, but if the script could somehow be rewritten, the name at the beginning of the story line would undoubtedly be Dee Gordon.
Like Hamilton, Gordon is a player that relies on his speed to be an effective player. Both are apt to bunt in any situation and in any count. If a pitcher makes the mistake of walking one of them, they are liable to to be standing on second base one pitch later. Both are learning new positions, Hamilton a former shortstop now playing centerfield, and Gordon a former shortstop converted to second base. And while Hamilton received all of the attention this offseason, it is Gordon who has shown that he is the most dynamic leadoff hitter in baseball.
Hamilton has struggled in the early going this year. He is hitting .260, with a below average .299 on base percentage. His strikeout rate of 18.5% is league average, but his walk rate is a below average 4.5%. When he has gotten on base, he has stolen a solid 12 bases, but has also been thrown out five times, a not so pretty 71% success rate. There are some who might look at these numbers and accept them, especially given Hamilton’s inexperience, but when compared to what the Dodgers’ speedster has pulled off in the first month and a half of the season, Hamilton suddenly looks like a AAA player who isn’t quite ready for the bigs.
Gordon is off to a tremendous start to the year. He is batting .331, good for seventh in all of baseball. His 22 runs scored ties him for first on the Dodgers with Adrian Gonzalez. Most impressively, he has 24 stolen bases this season, ten more than the next closest base stealer, Eric Young Jr. And just to show how impressive Gordon’s base stealing has been, his 24 stolen bases are more than 17 team’s total. Like Hamilton, he has a below average walk rate of 4.6%, but his .360 on base percentage is nearly 70 points higher than Hamilton’s. Gordon’s early numbers are very eye opening, and would lead one to think that second base was his to lose going in to the year, but when players reported for camp in early February, many wondered if Gordon would even have a roster spot.
As spring training began, the Dodgers appeared to have one spot in their lineup up for grabs, and that was second base. After letting Mark Ellis go via free agency, the Dodgers signed Alex Guerrero to a 4 year $28 million contract with hopes that he would fill the void that Ellis left with his offensive potential. However, as the spring progressed, Guerrero struggled at the position defensively, and soon, there was an open competition to fill the second base vacancy. Guerrero was still being considered, but the Dodgers brought in veterans Justin Turner and Chone Figgins to compete for the position, and also allowed former shortstop prospect Dee Gordon a chance switch positions.
Gordon quickly showed that he could provide a component to the Dodgers lineup that they sorely needed; his speed. His spring numbers were not mind blowing, but he batted a solid .271, with a surprising (for him) .742 OPS. Where he showed his true value was his ability to wreak havoc on the basepaths. Gordon attempted 9 stolen bases in the spring and was successful on all 9 attempts. So while Guerrero struggled to learn his new position, Turner showed he was better suited for a utility role and Figgins showed he was as light hitting as he was two years ago, Gordon impressed enough to earn himself not only a spot on the Dodgers roster, but a platoon role at second base, hitting against righties, while Turner would handle lefties.
On Opening Day, Dee went 3 for 4 with a double and a RBI. In 9 of his next 11 starts, Gordon would record at least one hit. So far in 36 games, Gordon has failed to record a hit in just 9 games, while also recording 14 multi hit games during that span. Gordon also put on a much talked about 15 extra pounds this offseason, which may be contributing to the highest slugging percentage of his career at .441. His 11 extra base hits are just one fewer than his previous season high of 12, which he did in 2012. The biggest difference there is that it took him 86 games and 303 at-bats to record those hits, while this year he has only played in 36 games and has 145 at-bats.
Gordon has quietly established himself not only as the Dodgers second basemen and leadoff hitter, but as perhaps the most dangerous leadoff hitter in baseball. While many others, including Billy Hamilton, may get all of the early season notoriety, by season’s end, don’t be surprised if Gordon crowns himself as the best.