Fantasy Baseball: Steer Clear of the Dee Gordon Speed Trap

Despite a noticeable post-suspension decline last season, the draft-day price for the Marlins' infielder remains steep.

We’re used to seeing Dee Gordon break for second, but last year he broke the hearts of fantasy baseball owners.

Those who invested an early-round pick in Gordon’s elite stolen base and batting average production were met with a major early-season setback when the Miami Marlins infielder received an 80-game PED suspension in late April.

To make matters worse, Gordon returned in July as a shadow of his former self. He did remain active on the bases, swiping 24 bags over 61 games, but his other output was noticeably subdued.

His skill set may indeed be narrowing, yet the top-heavy nature of the current steals market finds Gordon priced as an early sixth-round pick, per FantasyPros' average draft position data.

Has Gordon’s post-suspension decline been overstated, or is the fickle steals market causing drafters to overrate him as a fantasy asset?

Night and… Afternoon?

Gordon’s month-long 2016 sample preceding his PED suspension seems too brief to be instructive. Let’s instead use the 61 games he played in the back half of 2015 (after returning from a thumb injury in late July) as a basis for evaluating his more subdued production after returning from suspension last season.

Interestingly enough, Gordon’s quantitative hitting stats are virtually identical in the two samples. He seems like the same kind of hitter in both, at least in terms of line drive, ground ball and fly ball percentages.

2016 Sample 249 17.80% 61.10% 21.10%
2015 Sample 275 17.80% 60.60% 21.60%

Gordon may have been the same type of hitter, but he was clearly a less effective version by most metrics in the 2016 sample. Look at how these samples line up in terms of strikeout percentage, on-base plus slugging, and both soft- and hard-contact rates.

K% OPS Soft% Hard%
2016 Sample 15.30% .642 28.10% 15.80%
2015 Sample 10.50% .783 21.60% 18.10%

These aren’t exactly night-and-day splits, but they show a muted enough profile to spell a rather notable decline in his status as a fantasy asset.

Approaching a Speed Trap

While Gordon showed no signs of slowing down on the bases post-suspension, his production in batting average, runs batted in and runs scored noticeably declined.

Gordon hit .267 after the suspension, compared to .289 and .333 the previous two seasons. His combined 43 runs scored and batted in during 57 games post-suspension was well behind the pace of his combined 134 during 145 games in 2015.

Indeed, the sensible take on Gordon would be to value him as a speed specialist with a slight plus in batting average, but the market does not seem to be treating him as such. Look at how the players projected by Steamer to steal 29 or more bases line up in the current FantasyPros ADP ranks:

Player ADP Avg R + RBI HR SB
Trea Turner 13.7 .301 109 15 40
Starling Marte 26 .289 136 14 32
Jonathan Villar 30.7 .255 118 15 48
Dee Gordon 64.3 .279 117 3 46
Billy Hamilton 74 .248 107 7 56
Keon Broxton 206.7 .222 111 15 29
Jarrod Dyson 271.7 .261 80 4 32
Travis Jankowski 289.7 .249 101 6 34

The upper tier of all-around contributors (Trea Turner, Starling Marte, Jonathan Villar) is clearly delineated here. What’s interesting, though, is how Gordon is being drafted as the clear top asset in the mid-to-late round steals specialist class, including the likes of Billy Hamilton, Keon Broxton, Jarrod Dyson, and Travis Jankowski.

Yet in terms of range of outcomes, it should seem clear from Gordon’s post-suspension batting profile that he has a very slim chance of rejoining the top tier. At the same time, we’re only 15 batting average points and 25 combined runs and RBI away from having him look a heck of a lot like a slightly slower Billy Hamilton -- or perhaps even a slightly better-hitting Jarrod Dyson, who is being drafted more than 200 picks later than Gordon on average.

Value in Context

The current top-heavy steals market is indeed quite fickle, making Gordon seem like much more of an asset than he probably will be once the games start counting.

Taking Gordon for his steals also means passing on players who Steamer projects to have a much more balanced overall output, like Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, Yoenis Cespedes, Christian Yelich, Gregory Polanco, and Ian Kinsler.

Player ADP Avg R + RBI HR SB
Andrew McCutchen 61.7 .283 163 22 8
Jean Segura 62.3 .273 139 13 25
Dee Gordon 64.3 .279 117 3 46
Yoenis Cespedes 65.7 .264 158 28 4
Christian Yelich 66 .294 152 16 12
Gregory Polanco 71 .265 147 18 19
Ian Kinsler 72.3 .268 153 17 10

Fantasy baseball owners willing to take Gordon at his current price are not only betting on his ideal best-case outcome, they are passing on serious overall production in all the categories where Gordon underperforms.

Granted, no two drafts are alike, but there’s a decent chance that in most drafts one of Segura, Polanco, or Yelich (not exactly slouches on the base paths themselves) will be available in the sixth round alongside Gordon. Wouldn’t any one of these players make for a much more sensible building block towards a strong fantasy squad than the decidedly risky and lopsided production of Miami's second baseman?

The top-heaviness of the speed market will undoubtedly be the subject of much hand-wringing as draft season ramps up over the next month. In the case of Gordon, shrewd fantasy owners should zig while others zag. Gordon is in danger of a notable production swoon, and his steals potential alone simply does not justify his current price tag.