Miami Marlins: Dee Gordon, Steve Cishek, Small Sample Size and True Talent


There are few stretches of time that are weirder than April during a baseball season. Everyone from fans, management and the media always have a caveat to explain something that happens early in the baseball season. The constant cry is, “it’s only April.” There are no guarantees from April, players rarely are as good or bad as they looked in their teams couple dozen games.

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The Miami Marlins right now have two interesting cases that will bear out this reality: Dee Gordon and Steve Cishek.  It is hard to make judgments about player because of small sample size bias and ultimately that is the kernel of truth that “Its only April is trying to get at.”

Through 20 games and 90 PA so far this year, Dee Gordon seems to be the best second baseman in all of baseball. He has compiled massively impressive stats, a .395/.411/.465 slash line, a.385 wOBA, 8 stolen bases, and 22.2 UZR/150. All of which all adds up to 1.2 WAR.

Those are strong numbers, but if one digs deeper that is evidence that it will be very hard, if not impossible for Gordon to perform at these levels for longer. The most obvious indicator of that is BABIP.

Gordon who had a very good 2014 season but a lot of his success at the plate was supported by a .346 BABIP. Gordon’s 2014 BABIP was the highest of his career before and as many as fifty or sixty better than his 2012 and 2013 marks (.281 and .292) respectively.

BABIP is a particularly important player for a player like Gordon, because his production is completely driven by making contact and the quality of the contact that is made.  Gordon must put the ball in play at a number above the league average in the high .290s, for him to have success.

Gordon’s case is a cautionary tale against overestimating how much success a player who is entirely dependent on balls in play to have success.

The stats that will ultimately undermine Gordon’s productivity, even as a leadoff hitter, include a 3.3% walk rate, a career .070 ISO, and a very high ground ball to fly ball ratio.

Unless you have a player like Giancarlo Stanton, or some of those leadoff hitters from the seventies or eighties, it is very hard to support any sort of consistent production entirely relying on one tool, especially one as fickle as the one that the speedy leadoff hitter depends on.

Balance is ultimately what is most important. Players that can find more than one way to get on base and generate offense are key to building an offense that will not suffer the fickleness of random variance, the BABIP gods.

Cishek, however, has struggled as much as Gordon has succeeded so far in 2015. Cishek entering tonight’s game, where he got the save, had a 11.37 ERA, 4.66 FIP, 8.54 K/9 and a 4.26 BB/9.

A 4.66 FIP is high but it doesn’t easily explain that massive 11.37 ERA. One of the most interesting factors that affect a pitcher’s performance are the peripheral stats those that input to create either ERA or FIP.

A high FIP is easily explained by a high walk rate (10.3%), a lower than usual strikeout rate (20.7%) and a moderately high HR/FB% of 10%. Since FIP is calculated only those outcomes they would naturally feed into creating a higher than usual FIP. Cishek’s career number a very good 2.64.

But that only gives a very limited part of the answer we’re looking for.

A pitcher may allow baserunners through a walk or whatever else, but ultimately what he must do is not allow those runners to score.  So far in 2015 Cishek has been very bad at stranding his baserunners only a 23.3% strand rate.

Strand rate is somewhat driven by luck, but pitchers who yield contact or have high strikeout rates usually have higher strand rates.  So far having faced an admittedly small sample size of 12 batters with men on base, Cishek has given up a .400/.500/.700 triple slash line, allowed a home run, and has only generated a paltry 14.3% groundball rate.

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I don’t know why Cishek has struggled so much so far this season and has looked like an entirely unrecognizable pitcher. One that can’t strike out batters, walks too many men, and most importantly can’t get outs on the infield. The lack of velocity on his pitches could be a reason for the struggles.

Cishek has never been a very high strikeout pitcher but he has always been able to yield contact and get outs like that.  Hopefully he can work it out and pitch better from here on out.

In both cases it is important to take all the 2015 numbers with a huge grain of salt.  Both Gordon’s and Cishek’s numbers and performance will hopefully stabilize at an acceptable level as the season goes on. Just know the first won’t always be this good and the latter will most likely improve.

That is the beauty of April and of a 162 game season it proves who the really good players ultimately are.

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