Dee Gordon, invisible man

I’ve been reading Bill Chuck’s Billy-Ball.com for years, and he and I exchange e-mails about his posts from time to time. On Monday, Bill had a post that caught my eye for an odd reason, and I felt obliged to comment.

Bill was citing the number of players with 20-plus stolen bases thus far in the 2012 season. Having just watched Sunday night’s Dodgers-Reds tilt that included Dee Gordon throwing balls everywhere except to the first baseman’s glove, Gordon was on my mind. (I have Gordon on a fantasy team, too, so I’ve been following him and his one-category contributions all season long.)

I couldn’t help but notice that the speedy Gordon wasn’t listed among those with at least 20 swipes, so I mentioned this to Bill. He responded that he had done a search at Baseball-Reference.com, and we all know the power and wonder that is B-Ref, so the lack of Gordon on the list was surprising.

I could think of only one explanation for this omission, which I shared with Bill: “Maybe B-Ref looks at his overall game, realizes he does NOTHING good except stealing bases and makes the value judgment to disregard him as a baseball player. It doesn’t sound logical, but it’s the best reason I can think of.”

Bill found the glitch and re-posted the list, but I couldn’t stop thinking about Gordon and his future. With the acquisition of Hanley Ramirez, the Dodgers found a shortstop for the remainder of 2012. However, 2013 could be a different story, with Ramirez possibly shifting to third base once again and opening up short for Gordon.

The question is, can Gordon do enough to justify the starting role? Yes, he has terrific speed. In about one-third of a season last year, Gordon swiped 24 bags, and this year he has pilfered 31 bases in about a half-season of games. But what else does he bring to the table?

Last year, he raised expectations with a .304 batting average in 224 at-bats. Sure, his slugging percentage was an unimpressive .362, as was his .325 on-base percentage, but if Gordon could hit .300, he would at least appear to be providing value. This season? How about a .228/.281/.281 triple-slash line? Gordon’s stick has gone flaccid.

Defense? Well, if you watched Sunday’s performance, you got a glimpse of why people question whether Gordon can remain a shortstop.

So you have a weak-hitting, poor-fielding speedster. The mid-1970s Oakland A’s took a player like this, Herb Washington, and made him a pinch-runner. Incredibly, Washington appeared in 92 games in 1974 but had zero (yes, zero!) plate appearances. (He returned in 1975 for a mere 13 games, also without ever standing at the dish.)

Dee Gordon is almost certainly a better player than Herb Washington, but he needs to make some significant improvements at the plate and in the field if he wants to stick in the big leagues for any length of time.

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Comments

  1. Ian R. said...

    Minor nitpick, but it’s not really fair to say that Herb Washington was a weak-hitting, poor-fielding speedster. Washington just wasn’t a baseball player at all – he was a champion sprinter at the college level who was signed exclusively to pinch run.

    Given that Gordon has actually played the field and hit at the major league level (albeit badly) I’d say there’s no almost involve – he is certainly a better all-around player. Not that that’s saying much.

  2. Greg Simons said...

    Fair point, Ian.  But I bet if Washington had tried anything other than pinch-running, he would have been a weak hitter and a poor fielder.

  3. Bruce Markusen said...

    Herb Washington was an interesting case. When the A’s signed him, he hadn’t played ball since his junior year in high school, which was several years earlier. He didn’t play in college, and never played minor league ball.

    He was a world class sprinter, but the A’s had no pretense that he could play a position or swing a bat; his position was simply “designated runner.” That’s all he ever did.

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