Ranking one-dimensional players is always difficult. How much much does their ability to completely dominate one category make up for their lack of production almost everywhere else?
For years fantasy owners have been struggling with this question. It’s made Juan Pierre and Michael Bourn some of the most hotly contested fantasy players of the last decade and continuously spawns disagreements over when to draft closers. I’ve yet to come across a satisfactory answer to how much one category is worth, though I suppose point-based player rating systems like ESPN’s Player Rater and Baseball Professor’s own PSR system do their best to handle these statistical outliers.
Dee Gordon is the latest player to fit this mold. Karl de Vries at RotoDiamond tackled this question earlier this week and compared Gordon’s ascension in the pantheon of fantasy shortstops to that of Rangers’ shortstop Elvis Andrus. I like this comparison because both players seem to have similar ceilings (even though Andrus has a better ballpark and lineup to augment his production). On a more personal note, though, I secretly (but now publicly) hate this comparison because Andrus has been a source of frustration for me for many years.
So, how do we rank Gordon? First, we need to project him.
Dee Gordon 2012 Fantasy Projection
Gordon is your typical free-swinging, high contact speedster, posting a strikeout rate last year (11.6%) that was almost equal to Andrus’ (11.1%). Gordon batted .304 thanks to a .345 BABIP, but is this a sustainable rate? Also like Andrus, Gordon had a line drive rate well over 20 percent, and with his speed that should lead to a near-.300 average. I think a .285-plus season is a near certainty barring bad luck.
Gordon did steal 73 bases in the minors back in 2009, but he was caught 25 times that year. His 74.5 percent success rate that year was close to his 76.1 percent success rate in his minor league career, which was was close to his 77.4 percent success rate (24-of-31) with the Dodgers last season. He’ll continue to steal bases, but he’ll continue to get caught at a moderate clip. Still, he stole those 24 bases last year in just 56 games. Over a 150 game season, that rate projects to 64 steals. Seeing as he did the bulk of that work as a starter last season and not as a pinch runner, it’s scary to think he could approach those numbers this year. He’s done it before in the minors, he did it (in a small sample size) last year in the majors, and his batting average and OBP weren’t unrealistically high. I think 40 steals is a good estimate, but you should note his ceiling is much, much higher.
Gordon will likely bat leadoff for the Dodgers, which is where he spent almost all of his limited time last year. In his short season he scored 34 runs, which projects to 91 runs over a 150-game season. If we adjust for a slightly sub-.300 average, correcting to .285 for the sake of this exercise, that drops his projected run total to about 85. However, we should see a couple extra walks this year as Gordon’s 3.0 percent walk rate was crazy low. I think 90 runs is a good guess.
As for the home runs and RBI, those will be bonuses. He’ll probably hit between two and four home runs next year, though we did see Andrus hit zero just two years ago so even that’s a possibility. Gordon never hit more than three homers in the minors.
Projecting his 2011 RBI total over a 150 game season yields scary numbers…but not in a good way. Gordon drove in 11 runs last year, and that projects to just 29 in the coming year. If Gordon does in fact bat leadoff, he’ll be batting behind the pitcher. Generally that’s not good for a player’s RBI total, though pitchers do tend to bunt over runners that are already on base. Last season there were 68 players who accumulated 600 plate appearances, a number that your typical starting leadoff hitter will meet. Of those 68 players, none drove in fewer than 35 runs. Still, that’s a grossly low total.
That gives us a projected line of 90/.285/2/35/40, which is eerily similar to Emilio Bonifacio‘s 2011 line of 78/.296/5/36/40. Bonifacio hit a few extra homers but scored 12 fewer runs than our projected Gordon line, and his season was good for 62nd overall and a PSR of 4.80. Plugging our projected Gordon line into last season’s PSR equation, we get a projected Gordon PSR of 4.46. Below I’ve ranked that 4.46 PSR among all shortstops using 2011’s stats (PSR in parentheses):
- Jose Reyes (8.05)
- Troy Tulowitzki (6.87)
- Asdrubal Cabrera (5.70)
- Starlin Castro (5.47)
- Elvis Andrus (5.43)
- Jimmy Rollins (4.90)
- Emilio Bonifacio (4.80)
- Dee Gordon (4.46)
- Erick Aybar (4.01)
- Jhonny Peralta (3.45)
Right there we see Gordon would have been the eighth-best shortstop in fantasy last year, and for 2012 I think everyone ranked ahead of him will continue to rank ahead of him with the exception of Bonifacio, who’s batting average will probably drop into the .270s and result in a PSR lower than Gordon’s 4.46.
On top of that, I don’t see many shortstops that should jump up and topple Gordon with the possible exceptions of Derek Jeter, J.J. Hardy and Stephen Drew. Jeter and Hardy ranked 10th and 11th last year, respectively (11th and 12th on this list when Gordon’s projected numbers were added). Drew missed half of last season with an injury. If one of those three players tops Gordon, he becomes the eighth best option. Even if all three top him he remains a top 10 shortstop, and I think this is an unlikely scenario.
According to early mock draft central results, Gordon was getting drafted as the 15th-best shortstop and 210th player overall (that was back in early January). In more recent mocks he’s getting drafted as 11th-best shortstop and about 147th overall. That’s a hefty rise, but one that accurately reflects Gordon’s abilities. Even at this point I think Gordon is a good value, and I’d rank him as a mid-to-low tier starting fantasy shortstop, which makes him a solid top 10 option.