Dee Gordon: Some Perspective on the Struggles of a Shortstop
Shortstops make errors. They're in the center of the diamond, they field the most balls and take the toughest chances. It's in the job description. That's how it's always been, and how it will always be.
Some shortstops are known more for their struggles in the field than for whatever else they are able to accomplish during their careers. Jose Offerman comes to mind, and is generally considered the worst shortstop in Los Angeles Dodgers history.
But Offerman was always a stick, and after being maligned for six years in L.A. went on to build a fine career as a major leaguer, with a .273 lifetime batting average, a .360 on base percentage and 1551 hits. In his best season of 1998, Offerman hit .315, recorded an OPS of .841, with 709 plate appearances, 102 runs, 191 hits, a league-leading 13 triples and 66 RBIs as the Kansas City Royals' regular second baseman. He played 15 seasons and contributed a .400/.491/.533 line in four postseason series.
Dee Gordon is a lifetime .303 hitter, with a .360 OBP -- as a minor leaguer -- and with his great running speed and skill on the bases, there is reason to hope that his offensive game will come around eventually. It hasn't yet, unfortunately, and after a promising rookie year in 2011, in which he did quite well with a .304 average, Gordon hit .228 in 2012 and is at .211 now. His lifetime OPB is .299.
Defense is Gordon's more glaring issue, of course, and it's headed in the wrong direction. In parts of three seasons with Los Angeles, Gordon's fielding percentages have been .954, .946 and .936, and he's at .947 lifetime. In six years as a minor league shortstop, Gordon is fielding .938.
To give you an idea, of the 22 men who have played enough to qualify as a regular big league shortstop in 2013, the worst percentage you can find is Jed Lowrie's .957, and it's somewhat justified by the .286/.350, plus the nine home runs and 48 RBIs he's produced for the Oakland A's. Only two other shortstops have fielding percentages below .970.
For comparisons in Dodger history, Offerman fielded .944 in his six years of shortstop play in L.A., while Bill Russell, an outfielder by trade, who committed 339 errors in 17 seasons at short, fielded .960 at the position.
Maury Wills, who at one time made an L.A.-record 105 errors in a three-year period from 1960 to 1962, fielded .963 as a shortstop with three clubs over a 14-year career. While he committed 47 errors in 1941, booting 35 in 1942 and again in 1951, Pee Wee Reese finished his Hall of Fame career with a .962 percentage in 16 seasons at short.
In the worst of his four years as the Dodgers' shortstop, Alfredo Griffin fielded .959 in 1990, and in Cesar Izturis' four full seasons here, his figures ranged from .976 to .985.
On the other hand, Joe Tinker -- you know, of "Tinkers to Evers to Chance" fame -- is in the Hall, and presumably for his glove. Let's hope so, because he was a .262 lifetime hitter, with all of 1690 hits and 783 RBIs. Tinker, the supposed Ozzie Smith of his day, committed as many as 50 errors seven times during his career, made over 60 twice, while taking the world by storm with 72, debuting in 1902. He fielded .938 for a career with 635 errors at shortstop.
Oh, and the next time you're in Cooperstown be sure to check out the shrine for one Monte Ward, who committed 60 or more errors in the middle infield nine times, over 70 four times, with 86 and 105 miscues in 1888 and 1890 respectively. I understand that the equipment in those days left something to be desired -- the Rawlings Company was founded in 1887, by the way -- but how it is even physically possible to field .887 as a shortstop?
Gordon, interestingly, has yet to make an error while playing 15 games with the Albuquerque Isotopes. Obviously it's a very small sample size, but 64 chances, 34 putouts, 30 assists, with a fielding percentage of 1.000 is a step in the right direction.
It's time for the Dodgers to give Gordon a shot to make it at a new position. In fact, I think they owe him the opportunity. With a ticket to New Mexico this week, he can double his experience at second before the end of the minor league season, then play a few games with the big club in September, perhaps after a Dodger clinching.
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