I have absolutely no idea why, but for whatever reason, the big news of the day seems to be Dee Gordon and his early season growing pains. Jon Weisman thinks patience is required. Steve Dilbeck largely agrees, though in part because “Justin Sellers, every day shortstop” is hardly an appealing alternative.
Everyone loves Gordon’s potential and the excitement he brings when he gets on base. The trouble, of course, is him getting on base.
After his 0-for-4 performance Thursday, Gordon’s batting average fell to .192, and probably worse for a leadoff hitter, his on-base percentage dropped to .263.
It’s really the lack of a proper alternative which is a major driver here; while I think there’s a pretty good argument to be made that Gordon would be better served learning in Triple-A, there’s just no viable option to make it happen. Sellers? Luis Cruz? Please. Gordon may be having his issues both on offense and defense, but he’s doing enough on the basepaths and balancing out his mistakes on routine fielding plays with spectacular ones that no one else would get to to make it worth sticking with him for the immediate future. Call it lack of foresight or lack of options, but the Dodgers don’t really have anyone else they could stick there and say that it would be an immediate improvement, so you stick with the young player and let him continue to learn.
That said, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing which can be done, and this goes back to something I said many months ago. Even though I know there’s absolutely no chance of it happening, I’m going to say it anyway: Gordon & A.J. Ellis really need to swap spots in the order. If we’ve learned anything about the 2012 Dodgers, it’s that this offense lives and dies on Matt Kemp & Andre Ethier. (And no, Steve Lyons, I do not want to hear that Mark Ellis is great because he has the second-most runs scored in the National League, as though his position in the batting order directly ahead of Kemp & Ethier has nothing to do with it.)
If you can’t count on offense from James Loney, Juan Rivera, Juan Uribe, or just about anyone on the bench – spoiler alert: you can’t – then you really need to do what it takes to maximize your opportunities to allow Kemp & Ethier to put as many runs on the board as possible. Starting off the lineup with a guy who has the 12th-worst OBP (min. 50 PA) in all of baseball doesn’t really help put men on base for your two big bats.
The obvious retort to that is, “well, Gordon is so fast that he has to lead off. He’s so fast that he can score from first base on a Kemp single, which no one else can do.” That’s accurate. It’s also irrelevant if he’s not on base in the first place when Kemp & Ethier come up, and by and large, he hasn’t been. Even when he is on base, you can really only allow him to run when Mark Ellis is up, because do you really want to risk an out on the bases when your two big bashers are up? Of course not. If you drop Gordon to 8th in the lineup, you not only minimize the impact his poor on-base skills have on your lineup, you put him ahead of the one position in the lineup where it absolutely makes sense to take risks with stolen bases and sacrifice bunts. (No, smart guy, not ahead of Uribe.)
But if Gordon isn’t your leadoff man, someone has to be, and it’s here I’ll admit that the Dodgers don’t have a ready-made replacement. It’s certainly no surprise to any of you that I would put A.J. Ellis there, a man with a legend growing so quickly that he now has his own set of facts – in addition to being one of only 20 hitters with an OBP north of .400 in this small sample size of a season. It’s outside the box thinking, and I love the idea.
Yet I’ll admit that Don Mattingly is exceedingly unlikely to do something like that – hell, he won’t even put Ellis at #2, much less leadoff – so it’s here where I’ll offer another possible benefit to Uribe’s wrist injury, the severity of which we’re still unclear on: Jerry Hairston. If Uribe is out for any length of time, you’d have to hope (and pray… and bribe…) that Hairston gets the bulk of playing time at third base rather than the utterly useless Adam Kennedy. Hairston’s off to a great start so far in 2012 – not that I’m putting an overly large amount of importance on 24 plate appearances – and is coming off a season in which he had a reasonable .344 OBP for Washington & Milwaukee. He’s far from the perfect solution – hey, any situation in which we’re rather openly rooting for our third baseman to be out for a long period of time is hardly the perfect anything – but with the lack of viable alternatives, he presents something which would be at least acceptable for now.
Of course, you could further improve that by putting A.J. Ellis #2 behind him, and slide Mark Ellis down to the bottom of the lineup. That way, you could still have Mark Ellis hitting gritty grounders to the right side to advance Gordon, an outcome which always gives media types tingly feelings. (I’m joking here somewhat, since Mark Ellis has actually been relatively decent with the stick early on.)
Is any of this ever going to happen? Absolutely not. But as we’ve seen so far, this team can really only win if the bullpen and defense are both outstanding. If they’re not, they have little cushion from the offense outside of Kemp & Ethier, so making any sort of tweak to maximize that performance could lead to some seriously positive results.