.228/.280/.281 330pa 1hr 32sb -1.1 fWAR D-
2013 status: Under team control, but depending on winter moves and level of faith in Cruz, Gordon may be just as likely to spend his season in Albuquerque as in Los Angeles.
Yikes. I mean… yikes. I’m suppose there’s a way that Dee Gordon‘s 2012 could have gone worse, but short of a felony, I’m not entirely sure how. That’s even including the fact that we never really had high expectations, other than praying that Gordon’s relatively decent September 2011 was the start of something special.
It’s important to remember how different the situation was for this team coming into the season, of course. This was intended to be a transitional year while the ownership handover was completed, and if a raw talent like Gordon had to learn on the job while that happened, so be it. We expected some tough times at the plate and some silly mistakes in the field, and merely hoped that his electrifying speed would balance it out enough to stay afloat while he continued to improve.
It didn’t quite happen, of course, and it took only 13 games for the blogosphere to start grumbling about how awful Gordon looked. That post wasn’t the first time we’d grumbled about Don Mattingly insisting on hitting Gordon leadoff – because speed, don’t you know – and it wouldn’t be the last, as this post from May 14 shows:
I agree with Mattingly when he says there’s no perfect option to lead off, but I also know that the lack of a perfect alternative is not an excuse to continue on with one of the worst possible options. The Dodgers have managed to make it this far with a leadoff hitter who can’t get on base, but that’s only going to last so long – especially if the lineup is weakened if Kemp is absent for any length of time due to his hamstring injury. I still have a lot of hope for Dee Gordon, and I think he can help this team. Just not in the leadoff spot, and not right now. The time is overdue to make a move.
Gordon was hitting .211/.250/.273 at that point, and it didn’t really get better. Later that week we began hearing increased speculation that Gordon would actually be demoted, and while he avoided that fate – in no small part to the endless stream of injuries destroying team depth – he was benched for three days in mid-May to try to give him a break to clear his head.
When he returned, Mattingly made the wise choice to put him at the bottom of the order, and for a while, it seemed to help, as this post from June 3 illustrates:
Dee Gordon‘s demotion to the bottom of the lineup lasted 11 games, during which he hit a much-improved .308/.341/.333, though he drew just two walks in 42 plate appearances while the Dodgers went 4-7. Apparently, that’s enough to return him to to the top of the lineup, as he’ll be leading off today as Tony Gwynn gets bumped down to eighth. Personally, I don’t think Gordon has all of a sudden become the leadoff hitter this club needs, but it’s hard to suggest that Gwynn’s .324 OBP was the cure either, so I don’t mind Don Mattingly trying to shake things up again.
Several days later, Gordon drove in two and made a great defensive play in Philadelphia on the one-year anniversary of his debut, and we hoped that he’d turned a corner. No, the stat line wasn’t great, and yes, the defense was still poor. But Gordon had hit in 15 of 17 at that point, and the Dodgers of mid-June were still the group who hadn’t started making earth-shattering trades and were still waiting on the disabled list to clear up. Gordon was a problem, but there were many problems, and for him at least, there was hope, finally, along with a particular highlight when he teamed with fellow famous son Gwynn to help the Dodgers walk off on Father’s Day.
After that game on June 17, Gordon’s line stood at .236/.286/.285. That’s still awful, to be sure, but it was the highest it had been in more than six weeks; unfortunately, it would be the high point of his season, since he hit merely .203 over the next 16 games before being injured. A particular lowlight came during the forgettable road trip to Oakland on June 21:
It’s going to be easy to blame Dee Gordon & Don Mattingly for squandering a ninth-inning rally – fun, too! – that squashed any chance they might have had of avoiding a sweep at the hands of Oakland, and we can also look at the defensive confusion between Juan Uribe & Josh Lindblom which allowed a bunt ground ball with men on first and second and no outs to turn into bases loaded with no outs in the bottom of the ninth.
And believe me, the Dodgers did not deserve to win this game, in no small part thanks to Gordon. After Matt Treanor led off the ninth with a walk against Oakland closer Ryan Cook, Gordon entered. He attempted to bunt, and while it may shock you, that’s a decision I’m fine with; Gordon isn’t a good hitter, and the likelihood of him successfully managing a hit – he went 0-12 in this series – was so low that bunting Treanor to second for Elian Herrera & Andre Ethier made sense. Here’s the problem, however: Dee Gordon, for all his speed, cannot bunt. His first attempt was foul. His second attempt was foul. His third attempt was fair, but wasn’t placed well enough to allow Treanor to advance, as third baseman Brandon Inge gunned down the backup catcher at second. With Gordon now on first with one out, everyone in the state knew he’d be attempting to steal; his jump, however, was poor, and Oakland catcher Derek Norris – in his MLB debut, no less – threw him out. As I joked on Twitter, it felt like Gordon was responsible for 42 outs and -274.228 WPA in the inning alone.
On Independence Day, Gordon walked (!) in Cincinnati and stole second, then third. It was, perhaps, one of his more impressive performances of the season. Yet while sliding into third, he jammed his thumb and had to leave the game in pain. I’m well aware this is gratuitous, but it’s at this point that I can’t help but share something from way back in March:
“After singling leading off the bottom of the first inning on Friday against the Rangers, the Dodgers’ Dee Gordon attempted to steal second base with a feet-first slide and was called out by umpire Mike Muchlinski.
“I’m not doing that again,” said Gordon. “I’ve been working on not sliding headfirst, so I thought I was going to be safe and figured I would try it. And I was safe. I was like, ‘Really?’ That’s what I get for thinking.
“Feet first? I’m over that. I gotta do what feels natural.”
Increased risk of injury because of a possibly blown call in a spring training game in mid-March? Got it.
Yeah, I’m the worst. What can I say. I hate headfirst slides, and that’s why. Gordon ended up having surgery to repair his thumb, and that was essentially the end of his season.
As it turned out, Gordon’s absence ended up being something of a turning point for the Dodgers, as it allowed Luis Cruz (and later Hanley Ramirez) to take over shortstop and provide greatly increased production on both sides of the ball. Gordon missed more than two months and when he returned in September, he was almost exclusively a pinch-runner, being allowed to bat only three times.
Taking his (half) season as a whole, the end results are astounding. Of the 265 players who had at least 300 PA last season, only one – one! – had a worse wOBA than Gordon’s .253, and that was the .252 Seattle’s Brendan Ryan put up. The major difference there, of course, is that Ryan was arguably the best defensive shortstop in baseball; Gordon, by at least one measure, was one of the worst.
Gordon’s healthy once again, but his future is cloudy at best. He’s currently playing winter ball in the Dominican League, leading off and playing shortstop for Licey, where he’s teammates with fellow Dodger prospects Tim Federowicz & Brian Cavazos-Galvez. With Ramirez & Cruz clearly ahead of him on the depth chart and Nick Punto, Juan Uribe, & Jerry Hairston also around – plus the open question of whether the Dodgers will acquire a shortstop – the roster is quite crowded. Between how bad he was for the first half of the year and how much time he missed in the second half, I think it’s clear that the more appropriate scenario is for him to return to Albuquerque in 2013 and spend as much time as needs to fine-tune his game on both sides of the ball.
That’s not the same thing as saying we’ve given up on Gordon, because I haven’t. The talent is clearly there, and he’s still only 24 years old. And no, he shouldn’t move to second base, which seems to be a popular thought these days. His biggest strengths are his strong arm and ability to cover ground, neither of which are as valuable at second. No, he’s not a defensively capable shortstop right now, but nor is he a big-league hitter, so it makes no sense to try to ask him to also learn a new position while getting him to hit.
Gordon can still be a big-league shortstop. He certainly wasn’t in 2012, and he probably won’t be in 2013. But that’s fine. Leave him alone in Triple-A and let him play, and hopefully the talent can shine through.
Next up! Hanley Ramirez, we see you!