Perhaps the best thing that has happened this year has been Dee Gordon‘s breakout year. A former untouchable top prospect who the Dodgers held on to instead of (rumor has it) trading for the likes of Roy Halladay, Gordon went into the season with extremely low expectations after seasons of great disappointment. Between the scary defense at shortstop and never being able to be on first base, Dodger fans had enough of him and Gordon looked like a bust of a prospect. 2014 has changed everything as Gordon has been a lightning rod after the switch to 2B. Whether it’s an amazing play ranging to his left, or turning a single into a double, Gordon has been right alongside Yasiel Puig as the most electric Dodgers position player. His great first half earned him a deserved trip to the All Star game, but after the All Star break Gordon has been mightily struggling, with some hopeful signs it could only be temporary.
It’s perhaps unfair to expect him to be hitting .292/.344/.398 with a .329 wOBA and 112 wRC+ with 43/52 stolen bases for every stretch of his career, which is what he was hitting in the 1st half. However, in the second half, Gordon in 121 Plate Appearances is hitting .264/.294/.314 with a .273 wOBA and 74 wRC+ with 13/18 stolen bases, which are struggling numbers for anyone, let alone a team’s leadoff hitter. The sample size is smaller in the 2nd half, and I am not ready to say that the 2nd half Dee Gordon is the real Dee Gordon; the only concern is that what happens if this struggle continues? That is where the concern is for me: Gordon’s offense is flashy enough where every good game he has with the bat obscures what is really going on.
Other then the slash line and main offensive numbers, the other large drop for Gordon has been his walk rate. In the first half, Gordon was walking at a 6.9% rate, and in this second half this number has been 2.4%. Gordon’s most valuable weapon is his speed and if he can’t get on first base, he can’t use it. Along with this, his K rate has risen from 15.3% to 17.3%, which is a smaller rise but still two peripheral areas where Gordon is trending for the worse. His walk rate dropping might not be simply due to Gordon not being patient enough; in Gordon’s past, he was always challenged with strikes because pitchers would dare him to hit it and he wasn’t capable enough offensively to feast on these mistakes. Perhaps Gordon finds himself with less pitches out of the zone because he is struggling to make great contact, making pitchers have no fear of throwing it over the plate.
With all this, though, Gordon does have some signs of being able to break out of this slump. His line drive rate was 21.1% in the first half and in this second half it is 25.0%. His batting average of balls in play (BABIP) has dropped from .344 to .323, which doesn’t seem like much and a .323 BABIP isn’t being extremely unlucky by any means, but someone with Gordon’s speed is always going to have a high BABIP when things are going well. The most interesting part of this slump has been Gordon’s fly ball and ground ball ratios. It has been commonly said that someone with Gordon’s skill set should focus on keeping the ball on the ground to utilize his speed and get a lot of infield hits; a lot of fly balls would be meaningless with Gordon’s lack of strength. However, Gordon’s second half has involved an increase in GB% and decrease in Fly ball %, and these ratios, alongside a higher LD%, are correlating with struggles for Dee Gordon.*
On one hand, it is common knowledge that ground balls lead to outs more often then fly balls do, but on the other hand, Gordon has been criticized for not getting the ball on the ground often enough in his past to utilize his speed. Gordon has a 60.9% ground ball rate in the 2nd half and a 14.1% fly ball rate as well. Perhaps this means that Gordon will get out of this slump; his line drive rate and more ground balls will raise his BABIP and get his wheels on first base. Or, strangely enough, maybe it means that Gordon is a much better hitter with a decrease in ground ball rates (It’s not like he was a fly ball machine in the first half; he had a 58.2% GB rate and a 20.7% FB rate. It’s just that you would imagine with the narrative that a slump for Gordon would involve those rates going differently)
*Are the ratios correlation or causation? That is something we can analyze at the end of the year; right now it almost seems like causation but we don’t know enough to say this as undeniable truth.
All of this is to say that the Dodgers need Dee Gordon to get back to his hitting ways. No matter what happens, he’s been an extremely valuable player for the Dodgers in 2014, filling a gap in many ways. Best case scenario is that this is just a momentary slump and he gets closer to his first half ways. No one wants to see him continue to struggle and Mattingly be forced to use him as a leadoff hitter because of reputation. We also don’t want to have to see Darwin Barney getting a lot of playing time or hoping Alex Guerrero can start off his MLB career on a hot streak. Gordon is the Dodgers’ 2B in 2014, and although this second half struggle isn’t their main concern, it is something to keep an eye on and see what happens.