2013 in brief: Killed any last prospect value he might have had with more uninspired play during Hanley Ramirez‘ hamstring injury.
2014 status: If he’s not traded first, another year spent in Albuquerque, though this time trying to be a utility player.
Hey, remember when Dee Gordon used to be a prospect? That sure seems so long ago, now. Coming off a 2012 season that was just unthinkably terrible, Gordon never really had a chance to make the Opening Day roster, and he didn’t. But when Ramirez hurt his thumb in the World Baseball Classic, it wasn’t Gordon who got the call: It was Justin Sellers, mostly because of his superior glove, which should tell you all you need to know about Gordon’s status.
As Sellers and the team struggled while Gordon played well in Triple-A, fan furor for Gordon’s recall grew, to the point where I had to remind everyone that “yes, it could be worse than Sellers” on April 16. The Dodgers resisted the impulse, but then when Ramirez injured his hamstring about ten minutes after returning from his thumb injury, they decided to give Gordon a shot on May 4.
After a week of that, it had been a little bit of everything:
Dee Gordon is absolutely everything we thought he would be, and I mean as both a positive and a negative. He’s showing patience. He’s making mistakes on the basepaths. He’s scoring runs that potentially no other player in the game could manage. He’s getting to balls; he’s bobbling balls. He’s everything, and he’s nothing.
But as Gordon tends to do, he cooled off quickly. He had just five hits the next two weeks, and when he was sent down in late May, he was hitting only .175/.278/.254 — because, although some people stubbornly refuse to acknowledge it, he’s not a quality major league hitter and is unlikely to ever be, which I went into in great detail on May 27:
But while many liked to point to a batting average of .429 after two games as an indication Gordon should have been up all along, it quickly became clear that little had changed. And now, as Gordon has had just about as many plate appearances as Sellers had, the question of “could it be worse?” is… well, yes.
Think about it this way: on offense, the contributions have been nearly equally poor, as the close-to-identical wOBA marks show. Yes, Gordon’s speed on the bases is obviously superior, but he’s given some of that value back with poor decisions, and his net stolen base total is merely three.
But on defense, even though Sellers hasn’t really been wonderful (0 Defensive Runs Saved, -5.1 UZR/150), Gordon has been worse (-2 DRS, -9.3 UZR/150). I’m aware of the risks of using defensive stats over a month of play, and so that’s why these are not to be taken as gospel, but as a data point that backs up what we’ve seen with our own eyes. Yes, Gordon’s gotten to some balls that Sellers never would have; he’s also botched more than a few that haven’t been marked down as errors. Neither has added much on offense, especially as Gordon just went more than a week without a hit, and Gordon has given back more on defense.
From then on, when Ramirez was unavailable, the team could take no more of either, and it was Nick Punto who got the playing time. Back in Triple-A, Gordon started seeing some time at second base in June, eventually playing 20 games there. Gordon returned in August when Ramirez hurt his shoulder in Chicago, but started only three games before going back down.
Unfortunately, one of them was this mess on August 11:
This all came despite Gordon having what is probably the most Dee Gordon game ever. Gordon made what was an admittedly nice defensive play in the early innings, then struck out in that big spot in the second. He then used his outstanding speed to get on via a bunt in the fourth and an infield single in the seventh, around another whiff in the fifth. But he also made an error in the third… and another in the sixth… and another in the eighth. It was an embarrassing night for him, and frankly I’ll be surprised if Nick Punto doesn’t start every game until Hanley Ramirez is ready.
That’s more or less what happened. He came back up once again when rosters expanded, but started only three games in September. (He made an error in one, and somehow managed to get only one assist combined in the other two. For a shortstop, that seems impossible.)
With Matt Kemp out and Andre Ethier hobbled, Gordon made the NLDS roster, even shagging some balls in center as an emergency option. He didn’t bat, but you might remember his one appearance in Game 2:
Gordon still has an option remaining, so unless he’s traded, his 2014 might look a lot like his 2013 — a whole lot of time in Albuquerque, with occasional recalls when injuries strike. He’s going to be 26 next year, and in 669 plate appearances he’s hit just .256/.301/.312, with generally terrible defense. The good news is that his walk rate this year both in the bigs (9.4%) and in Triple-A (11.8%) were career highs, so there’s perhaps some indication his plate discipline is improving.
But for all his speed, he’s not a particularly effective base-stealer, and I no longer hold out any hope he can play shortstop well enough to be usable there in the bigs, because he’s just awful. Second? Center? Maybe, maybe not, though they seem committed to giving the outfield a shot in winter ball. It just doesn’t seem likely he’ll find out in Los Angeles.
Next! A shortstop you want to talk about! It’s Hanley Ramirez!