Dee Gordon as the Poor Man’s Billy Hamilton

Just like any reasonable person would’ve expected, the Los Angeles Dodgers currently have sole possession of first place in the National League West. And just like any reasonable person would’ve expected, right now the Dodgers’ team leader in wRC+ among regulars and semi-regulars is Dee Gordon, at 174. As a neat bit of ephemeral trivia, Gordon’s wRC+ is 43 points higher than his 2012 wRC+ and his 2013 wRC+ combined. And by combined, I don’t mean averaged out. I mean added together. Through two weeks, the Dodgers’ biggest weakness has been one of their biggest strengths, and this is an example of why the playoffs don’t crown the best team in baseball. Sometimes, over little samples, Dee Gordon out-hits Hanley Ramirez.

Some more neat ephemeral trivia: Before the season started, Steamer projected Gordon for 0.3 WAR. Meanwhile, ZiPS projected Gordon for 0.7 WAR. Already, Gordon’s been worth 0.6 WAR, so he can be replacement-level from this point forward and the Dodgers won’t be worse off than they were expected to be. Following about a season’s worth of games of being terrible, Gordon’s gone from busted prospect to contributor, and he even went so far as to hit a legitimate home run off Max Scherzer. Sunday, he did something more his own speed.

Leading off against Trevor Cahill in the first inning, Gordon drew a walk. He subsequently attracted Cahill’s attention, and as Yasiel Puig struck out swinging, Gordon stole second base.


Gordon drew another walk in the third, with one out. With Puig at the plate, Gordon stole second for the second time.


He then almost immediately stole third.


At last, in the sixth, Gordon bounced a one-out single. This time Randall Delgado was on the mound. And this time, Gordon didn’t wait for a pitch to move up 90 feet.


Gordon finished spring training with nine steals in nine attempts. Now, he’s the current major-league leader, with nine steals in 10 attempts. He’s always been a base-stealing threat, with the limiting factor being the need to get on base in the first place. Now Gordon’s OBP is closer to .500 than .400, and as a side effect, he’s been running like a crazy person.

Of course, the man at the center of most stolen-base conversations these days is Billy Hamilton. There are people who allege that Hamilton gets from first to second quicker than anyone ever, and even if Hamilton’s speed isn’t genuinely unprecedented, he’s a base-runner like none other in the game today. He’s a base-runner capable of getting people deeply interested in base-running, and he’s a base-runner capable of the completely and utterly absurd. It stands to reason Hamilton is kind of like the Babe Ruth of running the bases. He probably represents almost the maximum of human ability. If Hamilton is the ceiling, then Gordon is a poor man’s equivalent, which might not be a bad overall comparison.

Which, as it happens, isn’t great news for Dee Gordon, since we still don’t know if Billy Hamilton is going to be able to hit enough to stick around as a regular. That’s with Hamilton being basically unparalleled in one core skill. Gordon’s hitting now, but he’s also hitting most balls in play on the ground, and he also has a negative career WAR with sloppy defense. The burden of proof is on speed players to demonstrate they can make a consistent and significant contribution. Gordon needs to produce over more than 46 plate appearances. But this isn’t intended as an analysis of Gordon’s profile. I’m still skeptical of Gordon’s profile. Rather, I wanted to try to find differences between Gordon and Hamilton as base-stealers.

We know Gordon is one of the fastest runners in the game. We know that about Hamilton, too. We know Gordon has been caught in 20 of 95 big-league steal attempts. Hamilton is 15 out of 17. Observers have timed Hamilton between 3 seconds and 3.2 seconds from first move to reaching second base. I’ve timed Gordon around 3.2 seconds to 3.4 seconds. These are good, quick times, but tenths of a second matter when it comes to trying to move 90 feet. Some of the difference is probably that Hamilton just runs faster than Gordon does. But what if we look beyond that?

Here are a couple screengrabs, with Gordon and Hamilton and pitchers with their knees up:



Both runners have started their motions. But Hamilton’s body is almost fully turned to second, while Gordon’s still rotating his shoulders. Hamilton’s right foot is under him, and his left foot is off the ground. Gordon’s right foot is just coming up, and his left foot appears fully planted.

Hamilton, then, seems to have gotten the quicker read. That allowed him to start his motion sooner. Also, there’s another thing: Watching a few Gordon steals, I counted 14 to 15 frames between his right foot coming up and his left foot touching back down in stride. With Hamilton, it was more like 11 frames — which makes for a difference of about a tenth of a second. The evidence would suggest Hamilton both got the quicker read and had a quicker first step. The slowest part of any steal attempt is the very beginning, and Hamilton completes that stage as quickly as possible. Gordon clearly isn’t slow, but the difference here isn’t all about sprinting. Hamilton also just starts sprinting sooner.

Not that there’s a ton to conclude from this, since I didn’t look at every single steal attempt by Dee Gordon and Billy Hamilton, and since every steal and every pitcher is different. Maybe Hamilton isn’t always that quick. Maybe Gordon isn’t always that slow, relatively speaking. But look above, at Gordon’s fourth steal. Or, I’ll just re-embed it below:


On this stealth steal, Gordon achieved a Hamilton-esque time down to second base. He also never faced the pitcher, so he never had to turn to build his momentum. Dee Gordon went in a straight line in about the amount of time it takes Billy Hamilton to turn and do the same. That’s the difference between one of the best base-runners in baseball and the very best base-runner in baseball.

The original idea wasn’t to turn this into another post about Billy Hamilton. But he just has a way of showing up when you don’t expect it. Sunday afternoon, Dee Gordon did something really terrific. Hopefully, he proves good enough to last in the majors. If he can, Hamilton certainly can. And if he can’t, well, Hamilton still has a chance.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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8 years ago

coincidentally, both Hamilton and Gordon started their careers as shorstops and moved to different positions as well. There’s definitely a parallel for both speedsters, perhaps Dee has learned how to hit a little, and perhaps Billy will also adjust with experience.

It’s been fun watching them when they get on base though.