As of September 1st, Dee “Flash” Gordon is hitting .301 while also being one of the worst hitters in baseball.
Ted Williams once famously said, “Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer.” However, Gordon has not been a good offensive performer.
If you ask a casual sports fan what is the most important baseball statistic, the answer will most likely be batting average. Batting average is canonical in baseball; it is the most frequently cited statistic along with home runs. Many fans will judge a player’s overall performance based on this one number. Like a 4.0 in high school is to most Hoyas, .300 is the magic number to most baseball fans. Prior to the advent of advanced baseball statistics, “great hitters” were considered those who were able to muster a hit in at least 30% of their at-bats.
For those who do not know who Dee Gordon is, he truly is one of the most exciting players in baseball. He plays gold glove caliber defense, has one of the best smiles in the game, and he’s fast. Really fast.
On the one hand, Gordon hits for no power. He ranks 148th out of 153 qualified hitters in slugging percentage and ranks dead last in homeruns, with one. On the other, Dee does not get on base nearly enough to compensate for his power inadequacy. In spite of his 25th best batting average, Gordon is only the 69th best player at getting on base per On Base Percentage. His 24 walks is 138th best in all of baseball.
Diving into deeper sabermetrics, Gordon’s wRC+ (Adjusted Weighted Runs Created) of 88 means that he is hitting 12% worse than the AVERAGE major league hitter this year. The sum of Gordon’s hitting inadequacy amounts to a .699 OPS (on base percentage plus slugging). Even though .699 is paltry in a modern sense, 137th out of 153 qualified hitters, it is more astonishing in a historical sense. Below is a chart sorted by the lowest OPS for .300 hitters since 1920, the start of the live ball era.
By the end of the season, Gordon could possibly be one of only seven players in the liveball era (97 years) to have a .300 average and under a .700 OPS, and only one of two players in the past 35 years. It is evident that Gordon’s success at reaching base safely on balls put into play has absolutely no correlation to offensive production.
Even though Gordon is clearly an ineffective batsman, Gordon is still a valuable player to the Marlins. His blistering speed on the basepaths amounts to the second most stolen bases in the Major Leagues with 48. In addition, Gordon’s houdini-esque defense measures him as the second best defensive second baseman in baseball per Defensive Runs Saved. In total, Gordon’s overall play has allowed him to post a respectable 2.3 fWAR in spite of his woeful hitting numbers.
None of this could have been done without the useful tools of baseball reference play index and fangraphs.
Sources are hyperlinked besides Baseball Reference Play Index finds.
McDonough School of Business, Class of 2021