In six short days with the team in 2013, Dee Gordon has already showcased everything that once made him a top prospect and everything that made him one of the worst players in the MLB last year.
It’s a tiny sample, yet he’s managed to fit in so much amazement and failure that his performance has been noteworthy, regardless. In a way, he’s proven both his supporters and detractors correct so far.
Me? I’m neutral on his call-up, because while I think there’s certainly more upside to him than Justin Sellers or Luis Cruz or Juan Uribe, there’s also downside.
Generally speaking, Sellers and Cruz might be around 0 WAR players. Maybe they’re 0.5 WAR guys, maybe they’re -0.5 WAR guys, but at the end of the day, they should fall in around there. Fringe utility players, basically.
Gordon, on the other hand, has always had an upside around a 3 WAR player, but his downside, as seen last year, is that of around a -3 WAR player. Unlike Cruz and Sellers and Uribe, his defense can be atrocious. Thus, if he hits like they do — and he certainly did last year — it’s two negatives instead of just one.
He’s hit .316/.409/.421/.830 thus far, yes, but it comes with a .429 BABIP, which is high even for somebody of his speed. The promising part though is his new patience, but the trade-off appears to be more strikeouts, which happen far too often for the slap-and-run type of hitter he is.
Undoubtedly, this aspect of his game has been his strength so far, but whether it continues over a significant sample or not has always been the issue.
He’s shown range and the ability to get to balls that not many can (GIF #1), but he’s also shown the tendency to make careless errors and have a lack of fundamental skills (GIF #2/#3/#4).
On only one of the three misplays featured here was he marked with an error, but it’s still poor defense … and it’s only half of the misplays I found.
Electric, right? Look at how he takes all those extra bases and does the little things right and … oh he just ran into three outs in a game? Drat.
Flaws and all, fans understandably tend to side with Dee because of the “wow” moments he brings to the table, stuff that guys with less raw talent simply can’t even fathom doing. Dee is made for mind-blowing bursts of speed and flair that lead to extreme excitement, but he often follows that with lulls of fundamental inadequacy and lack of baseball skills, which is the part people tend to gloss over too easily.
My point? For all the highs and lows so far, his WAR on the year is 0. There’s probably not much more fitting a grade than that.
People fall in love with the explosiveness but tend forget that baseball, for better or worse, is more about the routine and the boring.
For example, Matt Kemp‘s debut was full of flash and flair as well. He bombed seven homers in his first 50 plate appearances, but then got exposed down the stretch due to his lack of refinement. From there, it was the boring things — laying off/hitting hanging breaking balls, working the count, going to right field — that led him to become an MVP-caliber player, not mindlessly hacking and trying to club bombs.
Dee will never get to that level, granted, but at some point I would like to see a hint of progress in the refinement area of his game. Kemp showed that slowly but surely, much like all prospects that pan out do, but the concern is that Dee has been rather stagnant for a while now.
Perhaps predictably, articles are being written about how Dee gives this team a “shot in the arm” or a “much needed boost of energy”, but the reality is that’s not the player the Dodgers need him to be. He’s ALWAYS been the “energy guy”, the “tools guy”, the “flash guy”, even last year. What the Dodgers need from him more than anything right now is something he’s never been able to accomplish: stability.
The day he gives the team daily consistency over flashy highlights is the day that I’ll buy in, and I think most others will as well. Until then, though, the Dee Gordon experience will likely continue to be a roller-coaster of alternating cheers and facepalms.