Tuesday, May 20, 2014

What must the Dodgers think of Alex Guerrero's defense?

With a monster weekend, Alex Guerrero has moved into the 1.100 OPS range at Triple-A Albuquerque. Word is that he is just not good enough in the field though to get a promotion. His defensive numbers are not that bad, so what are the Dodgers thinking?

If you're thinking of the present only, clearly a Guerrero/Dee Gordon platoon is the best way to go, and send Chone Figgins back down. You have to keep Justin Turner because he's the only other halfway competent backup shortstop unless you want to put Gordon or Guerrero there (which nobody does) when a backup is needed.

But the Dodgers want Guerrero to keep getting reps at second base. They've said all along they see him as not-yet-acceptable as a major league defensive second baseman, but with a few months of practice hopefully he gets up to at least the level where his bat can compensate for what his glove gives away.

First, his numbers. In 28 games at second base he has a .971 fielding percentage, a 4.75 range factor and a 1.1 Fielding Runs Above Average. That doesn't scream "unacceptable."  It actually sounds quite acceptable. But scouts are seeing something they don't like out there.

Dee Gordon, by contrast, in 20 games last year at 2B for Albuquerque, had a .990 fielding percentage and a 4.9 range factor. In the majors this year, he's slightly below-average in fielding percentage and slightly above-average in range factor, leading to an overall evaluation as "average major-league second baseman." Let's say Guerrero is worse in the field (and obviously on the bases), but stronger at the plate -- who offers the better overall package? Is there a way to get playing time for everyone that deserves it? Is Turner really going to get 300 plate appearances this year for the Dodgers?

Kindly, I think Gordon is capable of about a .275/.330/.355 triple-slash line going forward, which is about 10 percent below an average Major League hitter, and so costs the team about 8 runs over a full season, relative to average. His baserunning is historic, though. He looks capable of about +11 runs there. So, we're up to +3 runs above-average, offensively. His defense is maybe just a little below average for a second baseman -- so he'd probably give back five runs there compared to an average major league second baseman.  Now, in the full WAR framework, an average major league second baseman is worth two runs more than an average player, So, we get to an exactly average major league player, all in all. It's a kind of head in the oven/feet in the freezer kind of average, but average nonetheless when you add everything up.

Guerrero, on the other hand, can hit about Major League average, maybe better. If he's at least an average baserunner then, he'd have to be no worse than two runs below average over the course of a season to be the team's best option. Despite his stats, he is, by all accounts, not that. The last thing the Dodgers want is to get weaker on defense right now. But, if it came with enough bat to be worth it, that'd be something to consider.

Let's say that the scouts are right and he'd be a terrible second baseman right now, -20 runs below average over a season. How good of a hitter do you have to be to make that up? Pretty good. Say .360/.480 or so. I don't think he's that good. What if he was only bad at second base, -10 runs over a season? A .340/.450 line would make up for that. That's probably the upper bound of how good he might be. So in this case, it's probably true that there's no huge advantage to making Guerrero the every day second baseman over Gordon today.

There would be a huge advantage per game to be had by playing Guerrero as the right-handed side of the platoon, since Gordon is horrible against lefties and Turner is Turner. Having Guerrero available as a pinch-hitter sure would change the complexion of a lot of games. But the Dodgers want him to get better at second and that takes playing games at second. If they had a Bill & Ted phone booth, they'd get him a bunch of games at 3B too and turn him into a utility infielder overnight (they've started giving him some time at SS, presumably so they can see what they've got there and so he doesn't completely get out of practice). But they don't. He arrived in America only when he did, and the best the Dodgers can really hope is they get their act together and take charge of the playoff race so that they can have this ideal situation in place come September/October.

Same story for swapping out Zach Lee for Paul Maholm. Similar story for swapping out Joc Pederson for one of our lefty outfielders. Except in the case of Pederson, he has nothing much left to learn at Triple-A. He has to do the rest of his learning in the majors. So, if we want him contributing down the stretch, the sooner Ned Colletti can get this man out of town, the better. And if you can get a reliever that won't walk every other batter, or a late-inning defensive infielder back, that's a victory.
 Photo credit: Dustin Nosler, Dodgers Digest

1 comment:

  1. Dee Gordon's speed (and the effect on opposing pitchers) has helped Puig's hitting. I'm seeing Guerrero as a replacement for Hanley the next time he goes on the DL...or if he doesn't re-up for next season.