How Miami's Dee Gordon Became a Superstar

The Marlins signed their second baseman to a contract extension on Wednesday. He earned it.

There are a few things in sports that you just can't teach.

In basketball, you can't teach height. Either you're tall or you're not. In baseball (and football, too), you can't teach speed. There are some guys who were simply blessed, from the time they were born, with great speed.

For Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon, it is that speed that is largely responsible for the five-year, $50 million contract extension he agreed to this week.

Now, of course, speed is not the end-all, be-all. After all, there have been a lot of fast players who washed out in the Majors because they couldn't hit. Some really fast guys also can't track balls off the bat or don't have the athleticism in other ways to compete. 

A couple years ago, it looked like that might be the case for Gordon. But not now.

Last season, he had his best year ever, batting .333/.359/.418 with 24 doubles, 8 triples, 88 runs scored and a league-leading 58 stolen bases. He posted a weighted on-base average (wOBA) of .337 and a weighted runs created (wRC+) of 113, both career highs, and also put up an fWAR of 4.6 and a nERD of 1.22. That means a lineup full of Dee Gordons would generate 1.22 runs a game more than a league average player.

He is, simply put, one of the best leadoff hitters in the game and perhaps the best second baseman in baseball.

Among MLB second-sackers last year, Gordon's 4.6 fWAR was second-best, behind only Cleveland's Jason Kipnis. His batting average was tops overall, his on-base percentage (OBP) and runs scored were third-best, and his stolen bases were far and away more than any other second baseman in the league.

In fact, Gordon's 58 stolen bases led all Major Leaguers in swipes, and it was actually six fewer than the 64 he stole in 2014. He also led baseball in base hits (205), and his .333 batting average was second overall in baseball, just behind Miguel Cabrera's .338. 

Defensively, he's also among the best in the game. His 13 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) were second-most to Detroit's Ian Kinsler's 19, and Gordon's Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) of 6.4 was just slightly better than Kinsler's 6.3.

Add in the fact that Gordon will turn just 28 years old in April, and you can see why Miami was so eager to sign him to a multi-year deal now.

But back to Gordon's speed. There is a reason a guy with wheels like his manages to rack up so many hits.

Anytime you can get that many base hits on balls that travel along the ground, you're ahead of the game.

But just two years ago, it seemed ridiculous that Gordon would ever receive this kind of payday. In 2012, he batted .228/.280/.281 in 330 plate appearances with the Dodgers, putting up an fWAR of -1.4. The following year he played in just 28 games and hit .234/.314/.298 with an fWAR of 0.0. He was both a poor offensive and defensive player

For all of his speed, Gordon was not able to make it translate it to success on the field.

But something changed that offseason, and Gordon came back to hit .289/.326/.378 in 650 plate appearances, with 24 doubles, a league-leading 12 triples and 92 runs scored, worth 3.2 fWAR. 

One thing Gordon did was cut down on his strikeouts a bit, going from an 18.8% strikeout rate in 2012 to 13.9% last year. Only his 11.6% K-rate in 56 games his rookie season was better. 

He also started hitting the ball on the ground more. The last two seasons, his ground ball to fly ball ratio are 3.13 and 3.19. In 2013, it was 1.63 and the year before that it was 2.87.

As Gordon proved, it's a lot easier to out-run a grounder than it is a fly ball.

Perhaps what also helped was Gordon moving from shortstop to second base. He was a terrible defensive shortstop, worth -21 DRS and -22.9 UZR in the three seasons he played as the Dodgers shortstop. And in none of those seasons did he play more than 87 games in a season.

Since moving to second in 2014, he has put up 8 DRS and a UZR of 3.4 over the last two seasons. He won a Gold Glove last year at the position, something that seemed unthinkable just a couple years ago.

So now, Gordon has his extension and his big payday.

Not bad for a guy who looked like a lost player just two years ago.