Dee Gordon Deserves A Fair Shot To Win The Dodgers Starting Second Base Job

Originally posted on February 19, 2014 at http://www.dodgersbeat.com/dee-gordon-deserves-a-fair-shot-to-win-the-dodgers-starting-second-base-job/

Dee Gordon Deserves A Fair Shot To Win The Dodgers Starting Second Base Job

Dee Gordon gets a bad rap.

Sure, Gordon played poorly (for three months) in 2012.  Sure, his defense as a MLB shortstop has thus far been, well, poor.  But Dee Gordon is still the guy who, just three years ago, Baseball America ranked as the 26th best prospect in all of baseball.[1]  Two years earlier, at the age of 21, Gordon was named the Midwest League Prospect of the Year and league Co-MVP[2] and Baseball America not only named Dee the Dodgers’ top prospect, but also recognized him for having the “Best Tools” in four categories: Best Hitter for Average, Best Defensive Infielder, Fastest Baserunner and Best Athlete.[3]

Of course, some prospects never live up to their early hype.  But, for goodness sake, there have been plenty of highly-touted young prospects who have experienced growing pains transitioning from the minors to the majors and gone on to enjoy fine careers.  After all, Gordon has never spent more than three consecutive months on the Dodgers active roster during any baseball season.  Perhaps passing judgment on Dee Gordon as a “failed prospect” (as some seem to have done) is premature.  In fact, given the current make-up of the Dodgers’ roster and Gordon’s overall profile, he should be given a fair chance to compete head-to-head with Alex Guerrero to break camp as the Dodgers starting second baseman on Opening Day.  Here are some reasons why:

While Dee’s ups and downs have been well-documented and his “downs” have been roundly criticized by some pundits and other members of the Dodgers blogosphere, his career MLB stats through his age-25 season (2013) would be regarded by many as a very promising debut season (albeit with room for improvement, especially with respect to his OBP).  So far, Dee has 669 MLB PA, which is generally consistent with the number of PA a full-time MLB leadoff hitter would enjoy during a full season.  Here’s what Dee has done with those PA:

PA AB R H 2B 3B HR SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
669 621 81 159 19 5 2 66 19 37 110 .256 .301 .312 .614

Stealing 66 bases and scoring 81 runs in the rough equivalent of his first full season should have most Dodgers fans salivating for what’s to come.  Unfortunately, because these stats were accumulated piecemeal over fragments of three MLB seasons, the true value of what he’s already achieved is often lost on even the more sophisticated fans, bloggers and writers.

Of course, an OBP of .301 is not going to get it done over the long haul.  But just consider that a starting point that’s primed for improvement for two main reasons: his walk-rate has continued to show significant improvement and, aside from a bizarre slump shortly after he hit his lone HR last season, Gordon spent 2013 hitting well for the Dodgers, the Isotopes, Tigres del Licey (Dominican League) and Indios de Mayagüez (Puerto Rican League).

From 2011 to 2013, Dee has more than doubled his walk rate at AAA and more than tripled his walk rate at MLB.  Not only does this bode well for his eventual ability to sustain a reasonable OBP at the major league level, but it tends to negate the oft-heard rap that Dee is somehow “uncoachable.”  Clearly, this marked improvement demonstrates Dee’s commitment to improve his game.

AAA

MLB

PA

BB/PA%

PA

BB/PA%

2011

313

5.75%

233

3.00%

2012

32

6.25%

330

6.06%

2013

433

11.78%

106

9.43%

Career

778

9.13%

669

5.53%

So far in his career, Dee Gordon has batted .256 with a strikeout rate of 16.4%.  On May 11 of last season, Gordon capped a great first week back in the big leagues by stroking a HR improving his AVG/OBP/SLG lime to a very solid .269/.387/.462 (after 7 games).  Unfortunately, hitting that HR seemed to cause Gordon to come down with a bad case of Dinger Fever.  Suddenly, Dee’s scrappy game plan yielded to an ill-conceived  swing-from-the-heels approach that dragged him down into a horrific 11-game slump during which he went 0-for-22 with 9 strikeouts (more than double his career rate).  That kind of slump might cause a slight dent in the season stats for an everyday player, but because Gordon spent 2013 shuttling back-and-forth between the Dodgers and the Isotopes, that slump trashed his stat line.  Excluding that anomalous 11-day 0-fer tailspin, Dee’s stat line for all of 2013 would have been a sizzling .306/.358/.389!

Dee was sent down to AAA after that fateful May slump.  But when he returned, he quietly produced excellent results in limited playing time (.355/.394/.387).  In fact, after July, Dee Gordon had the highest batting average on the Dodgers.  That output carried through into the Winter Leagues, first as a member of Tigres del Licey in the Dominican League (where he reportedly played a decent CF) and then as a member of Indios de Mayagüez in both the Puerto Rican League and Caribbean Series (where he reportedly played excellent 2B without making a single error).

PA H BB SO BA OBP SLG
Dodgers 2013 (excluding 11-game slump) 80 22 7 12 .306 .358 .389
Dodgers Aug.-Sept. 33 11 2 5 .355 .394 .387
Caribbean Winter Baseball (incl. playoffs) 123 39 9 16 .342 .390 .386

Gordon played Winter League ball through mid-January and, throughout the “off-season” he engaged in intensive hitting and defensive training drills, embraced a weight-training and weight-gaining regimen and spent his “off days” at home working on his stroke in his own personal batting cage reportedly built by his father (sparking memories of Vince Piazza who built a home batting cage for young Mike Piazza).  The Dodgers should give Gordon every opportunity to demonstrate that he’s ready to become an everyday major league baseball player and finally start to fulfill his promise.

While it may seem as though Gordon has been disappointing Dodgers fans for an eternity, he’s still relatively young.  Gordon was arguably rushed to the big leagues in 2011 at the age of 23 and this April he will turn 26.  MLB is full of productive players who did not enjoy a net-positive season before their 26thbirthdays.  Longtime Dodgers fans should remember that the great Davey Lopes did not even play his first major league baseball game until he was 27 years old.  Consider these statistical profiles of Dee Gordon alongside selected contemporary and historical players through their age-25 seasons:

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

SB/700PA

CS/700PA

Larry Bowa

1273

.250

.286

.297

.583

29

13

Jose Offerman

1786

.247

.331

.311

.642

23

13

Dee Gordon

669

.256

.301

.312

.614

69

20

Carlos Gomez (MIL)

1678

.243

.291

.357

.648

39

11

Everth Cabrera (SDP)

1137

.239

.302

.325

.627

50

11

Leonys Martin (TEX)

568

.254

.306

.386

.692

48

11

It would seem that Gordon is in good company.  Among this group, Gordon has the highest average and the most SB (per 700 PA) through the age of 25.  He is, perhaps, most similar to former Dodger Jose Offerman, with whom Gordon shares much in common.  Both Offerman and Gordon were arguably rushed to the big leagues before they were ready, both were highly-touted minor league prospects, and both became overwhelmed by the task of playing quality defense at shortstop at the major league level.  In fact, when Offerman finally had an offensive breakthrough season (.287/.389/.375) at the age of 26, his reputation for defense at SS was so awful that the Dodgers traded him to Kansas City for Billy Brewer (whom they later flipped to the Yankees for Mike Judd (who posted a record of 3-2 with a ERA of 8.41 and a WHIP of 1.761 for the Dodgers from 1997-2000).

When Jose Offerman joined Kansas City, the Royals moved him from SS to 2B and he became a much more effective defensive player as a second-baseman than he ever was as a SS.  Perhaps not coincidentally, during his three years as the Royals 2B, Offerman posted a tremendous offensive line of .306/.385/.419.  Offerman would go on to have several productive years with the Red Sox (mostly as a 2B).  Had the Dodgers had the foresight to change Offerman’s position earlier – who knows how productive he might have been . . . as a Dodger!

The good news for Dee Gordon is that the Dodgers have (apparently) decided to switch him to 2B or CFnow.  One might well imagine that, freed from the challenge of playing SS, a position for which he just may not be well-matched, Gordon may be much more likely to thrive.  Smart position switches early enough in a player’s career can yield very positive results.  Consider another famous Dodger example:  Steve Garvey struggled mightily as the Dodgers highly-touted third-baseman from 1970-1972, committing 42 errors over 164 games at one point and posting a remarkably dismal fielding percentage of .902 in 1972.  Before 1973, his offense was not too exciting either, as he posted a cumulative line of .254/.304/.397 during that period.  But when the team moved him to first-base in 1973 he quickly became a star player, posting a line of .304/.328/.438 and, in 1974, he was the National League MVP and lead the Dodgers into the World Series!

The current conventional wisdom seems to be that the starting second-base job is Alex Guerrero’s to lose, despite the fact that he’s a career SS who hasn’t played professional baseball in over a year and has never played a MLB game.  Guerrero may become a superstar.  But the decision of which player should become the Dodgers starting 2B in 2014 should be based on merit.  Dee Gordon certainly deserves a fair opportunity to prove that he’s finally made himself into the right man for the job.

D.K. Robinson

 

 

 

2 comments

  1. kmt59

    not to be picky but in your 1st chart having Dee’s batting average from Aug-Sep 33 AB 11 hits…how does this relate to a .355 BA…Is there something I’m missing or is it supposed to be 1 for 3 .333 avg? serious question

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