Dee Gordon Is Top-of-the-Order Catalyst Dodgers Needed to Excel

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Dee Gordon Is Top-of-the-Order Catalyst Dodgers Needed to Excel
Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

You've heard the cliche: You can't steal first base.

Dee Gordon has heard it, too. Early in his career, it was all he heard.

Gordon's always had the speed—the blinding, blink-and-you'll-miss-him speed—to be special. The question was whether he could get on base enough to harness it.

Through the first half of 2014, he's answered that question with a resounding yes and provided a much-needed spark atop the Los Angeles Dodgers' lineup.

As of Wednesday, Gordon was hitting .299 with a major league-leading 42 steals, to go along with 101 hits, 50 runs and a league-best nine triples.

On June 25, in the Dodgers' 80th game, Gordon swiped his 40th bag, reaching the milestone faster than any Dodgers player not named Maury Wills, per Eric Stephen of True Blue LA

Gordon's most important stat, though, is his on-base percentage. In 2012, the only other season in which he logged more than 300 big league plate appearances, Gordon posted a .280 OBP, barely adequate for a back-of-the-bench guy, let alone a leadoff hitter.

Will Dee Gordon maintain his first-half performance?

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This year, he's elevated his OBP to .352. And his game-changing speed has started, well, changing games.

Gordon can turn a bloop single into a man-on-second (or even third) situation in an instant. And he's a gadfly on the basepaths, driving opposing pitchers to distraction, interrupting their rhythm and affording his teammates an advantage at the plate.

"Dee's at a different level," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told MLB.com's Ken Gurnick. "With all of the strikeouts and premium on runs, there's a place for speed to come back in the game."

This spring, Time magazine branded another slender speedster "Baseball's Next Big Star." Billy Hamilton of the Cincinnati Reds was supposed to be the guy who changed everything with his legs.

And Hamilton is having a solid season. So far, though, Gordon (along with Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros) outpaces him in nearly every major category. 

Race To The Top: Who's Baseball's Best Speedster?
Player AVG. OBP SB CS
Dee Gordon, LA .299 .352 42 9
Jose Altuve, HOU .341 .380 41 3
Billy Hamilton, CIN .280 .312 37 12

Baseball-Reference (stats as of 7/9)

Rail thin with a less-than-stellar arm, no pop and a shaky glove, Gordon has long been regarded as a one-tool player. Despite his famous pedigree—his dad is former MLB hurler Tom "Flash" Gordon—few ticketed the younger Gordon for stardom.

“It drives me,” he told ESPNLosAngeles.com's Brent W. New of the doubters. “It definitely fuels me.”

That fuel has rocketed him into the pantheon of All-Stars, where he'll join teammates Clayton Kershaw, Yasiel Puig and Zack Greinke.

The honor, Gordon told New, left him unable to sleep and on the verge of tears. "I can't put it into words," he said.

Kershaw had some words, per the Los Angeles Times' Dylan Hernandez:

He's been through a lot. Playing all sorts of different positions, had to go and try the outfield, he's been everywhere. So for him to get to second base and excel the way he has and play the way he's played the first half, it's just a huge testament to him and his work ethic and his character.

Gordon began the transition to second base last season in the minors, then honed his skills over the winter in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. He didn't come into the Cactus League with any guarantees; the Dodgers inked Cuban second baseman Alex Guerrero to a $28 million deal in the offseason.

Gordon ultimately won the job. And like a born base stealer, he hasn't looked back. 

Uncredited/Associated Press

As an MLB shortstop, Gordon owns a pedestrian .947 fielding percentage. This season, as a second baseman, he's raised that number to .982.

After a rocky start, the Dodgers have taken a cue from Gordon and charged ahead. Despite a two-game skid, they entered play Thursday at 51-42, tied for first place with the struggling San Francisco Giants in the National League West.

Gordon isn't solely responsible for the Dodgers' turnaround. Yet, on a team loaded with big names and bigger contracts, the gangly kid earning sub-seven figures is leading the pack.

Of course, careers aren't made in half a season. There's a chance Gordon will regress, that his OBP will slip and the hits will stop falling. He could wind up, pardon the pun, a flash in the pan.

For now, Gordon is riding another cliche: Speed doesn't slump.

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