What If The Dodgers Sold High On Dee Gordon?

You want to think about something terrifying? Dig the title of this RotoGraphs article from yesterday, “Dee Gordon: The New Juan Pierre?”:

Smartly, Gordon takes full advantage of his speed and complete lack of power by slapping the ball on the ground. But he had a pop-up problem in the past. He got that under control finally and actually posted a lower than average mark. His batted ball profile looks a lot closer to Juan Pierre‘s now, which is where it needs to be. He’ll need a high BABIP though because he strikes out far more than Pierre ever did.

For the record, I value more Dee Gordon more highly than I ever did Juan Pierre. Part of that is because Gordon isn’t signed to a $44 million contract, no doubt, but it’s also because Gordon is likely more valuable on defense — he wasn’t great this year, but more than acceptable for his first year at a new position — and a player who might be average-to-slightly-above at a middle infield spot is preferable to a weak-armed half-decent outfielder, especially once Pierre moved to left. I’m also not that worried about strikeout rate, because Pierre’s contact ability was highly overrated; yes, he was hard to strike out, but making weak contact on bad pitches and grounding out before you get to strike three isn’t exactly something to be proud of.

Still… Gordon’s future is something I think we might be talking about a lot this winter. If things remain as they are, he’s going to be the Opening Day second baseman. Alex Guerrero, who never proved in the minors he could be an infielder, defensively, and wasn’t given the chance to prove he can be a hitter in the bigs — though I believe that he will be — isn’t going to take his job. Gordon isn’t moving back to short even if Hanley Ramirez leaves, as I’ve seen suggested a few times, because Gordon was one of the worst shortstops in baseball when he was there, and a surprisingly good offensive year doesn’t make him a better shortstop.

But the question remains: Should the Dodgers sell high on Gordon? It’s a strategy I wanted the team to take with Javy Guerra after his surprising (and unsustainable) 21 save, 2.31 ERA rookie year in 2011. Instead, Guerra gave another decent year, then a terrible one, and was eventually lost on waivers to the White Sox last year. It somewhat comes down to what you think Gordon is. If you think he’s the first half guy who hit .292/.344/.398, a 113 wRC+, then you probably want to hang on to him. If he’s the second half guy who hit .284/.300/.348, an 83 wRC+, then maybe you don’t. (Important reminder there: batting average is dumb, because it was essentially unchanged.)

The concern, really, is in Gordon’s peripherals. In the first half, he whiffed 15.3% of the time, which is better than average, and not a problem when paired with a 6.9% walk rate. The issue is that in the second half, the whiff rate went up (18.4%), and the walk rate disappeared (1.6%). If you prefer that in raw numbers, Gordon came to the plate 250 times after the All-Star game, and he walked just four times. He walked once in August. He walked once in September. Jordan Zimmermann, a pitcher, walked as many times in six innings of one August game as Gordon did in two months. That’s bad!

As for why that is, well, we’re going to do a whole Gordon review, so we’ll get into that. Maybe it’s fatigue, since this was his first full season. Maybe pitchers were challenging him more, as pitches in the zone increased by two percent in the second half. Maybe the fact that we saw shiny batting averages on the screen for months thanks to a great April (.344, then never above .303 any other month) made us all think that the first half Gordon was the “real” one, when the second half one might be. Maybe the truth is in between, and this year’s solid three-win player is next year’s disappointing 1.5 win player.

I can’t say I know, and obviously any potential trade partner is making these calculations as well. A lot of this depends on whether the team thinks Guerrero can handle second base — if Ramirez departs and Erisbel Arruebarrena takes over, perhaps a second baseman with more offense than defense is palatable — because if not, if Guerrero is merely a backup outfielder or bench piece, then this is a very short conversation. But we know Andrew Friedman and friends are going to make some moves, and we can probably guess that they won’t all be popular. Gordon is popular among fans for some obvious reasons, but that shouldn’t stand in the way if there’s a deal to be made that improves the team overall.

A year ago, Gordon was a failed prospect without a path to a career. If, in the span of a year, he’s given the Dodgers a good season and created himself some trade value, that would be a massive achievement. In the end, I’ll predict the Dodgers won’t actually move him, mostly because I’m far from certain that Guerrero ever actually plays the infield in the big leagues. But without question, it should be a consideration. Trade high. Don’t sell low.

About Mike Petriello

Mike writes about lots of baseball in lots of places, and right now that place is MLB.com.