Beyond sizzling bat, Dee Gordon providing elite value with defense

MIAMI — In one of his first interviews after being traded to the Miami Marlins, Dee Gordon expressed his excitement over working with infield guru Perry Hill.

Gordon, known for his blazing speed and infectious personality, remembers their first conversation. Hill asked the 2014 All-Star to trust him and the process. A sticker saying as much serves as a reminder on his locker in the home clubhouse.

"I didn’t know anything about him," Hill recalled. "I just knew he was new to second, so instead of taking any chances, we both agreed to start at ground level and just build on it. Seems to be working. He’s a great student, great work ethic. You had to chase him off the field in spring training. I think the major thing for him is he’s learning how to move with the count and move with the game situation. Putting him in a better position to make plays, and I think he’d tell you the same thing."

The 27-year-old said he took "a lot" of grounders at the Jupiter, Florida, complex during the spring. Too many to count, in fact. A shortstop in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, Gordon is relatively new to second base, picking the position up on a full-time basis in 2014.

In 144 games last season, Gordon committed 12 errors for a .981 fielding percentage, ranking sixth of nine National League qualifiers. He didn’t begin playing baseball until his junior year of high school and not full-time until signing his professional contract.

"I was definitely worse at it before I got better at it," Gordon said. "It was hard because all these guys here have been learning for years. To come in and be behind people, it kinda sucked at first."

Hill saw the raw talent. Relatively young in baseball years, Gordon had base knowledge, but some elements of his defensive game weren’t refined. When he played shortstop, for example, plays were in front of him. At second base, according to Hill, 75 percent of what Gordon does is behind — from covering the base to going on a double play.

He has just two errors in 43 games for a .992 fielding percentage, fifth amongst NL second basemen, and he ranks sixth among major leaguers in defensive WAR, according to Baseball-Reference.com. Gordon has turned 29 double plays, third most. His 5.49 range factor paces the big leagues.

"If he went back knowing what he knows now about footwork and things like that, I think he could be a pretty good shortstop," Hill said. "He didn’t really understand how much his feet control his upper body, his arm. I think he understands that now. I’m happy where he is. I don’t even want to think about moving him. I think he would probably be a better shortstop now because he understands things more."

Of course, the Marlins already have a Gold Glove finalist in Adeiny Hechavarria.

Together, the pair makes up one of baseball’s top double-play combinations both at the plate and on the diamond. According to Stats Inc., its 121 combined hits are the most by any middle infield combo in the majors, ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals’ Jhonny Peralta and Kolten Wong (105) as well as the Detroit Tigers’ Jose Iglesias and Ian Kinsler (92). Hechavarria and Gordon have combined for a .988 fielding percentage, committing just five errors in 428 total chances.

It didn’t take long for Hill to notice the chemistry between the two. Both guys are extremely athletic and exude defensive flair.

"I think Gordon has very, very good hands," Hechavarria said. "He practices every day. I’ve watched him since spring training. He works a lot. He is very, very good in the field. I think Gordon is the best."

Added Gordon: "Just to not take any balls for granted and use your fundamentals every time, so that’s been pretty big."

Hechavarria, no stranger to web gems on the diamond, has marveled along with teammates and fans at some of Gordon’s highlights, particularly his leaping grab last week against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

"He flew," Hechavarria said. "He went to his right and took the ball, and I thought, ‘Wow, like me.’ He has a good arm and he’s fast, too. He is the complete player. I think about him and how he looks good right now with everything."

You can follow Christina De Nicola on Twitter @CDeNicola13 or email her at cdenicola13@gmail.com.