Sep 12

Dee Gordon’s ‘ball three’ problem

Sometimes it’s really curious what happens after you say something out loud.

Sunday, after Dee Gordon struck out in his first at-bat of the Dodgers’ 8-1 loss to San Francisco, I mentioned the fact that (in addition to having only two career walks), Gordon had only seen ball three a total of 10 times in 156 career plate appearances.

Lo and behold, in his final times at bat Sunday, Gordon walked on a 3-2 pitch in the fifth inning and grounded out on a 3-2 pitch in the seventh.

As bad as Gordon’s walk totals are – and make no mistake, even though they increased 50 percent in his last game, they’re just awful – I’m not ready to pronounce them a career-killer. Gordon’s still only 23, he’s in the big leagues before he was supposed to be and his ungodly speed has definite value that helps compensate. If he can hold down the shortstop position, and if he can continue to develop as a hitter, he might be a Dodger regular for years to come.

It sure would be nice if he showed some walking ability, though – and his lack of power doesn’t excuse him completely. For example, Brett Butler in his first two seasons in the majors (1981-82) had seven extra-base hits and no home runs in 413 plate appearances, but still managed to walk 44 times while striking out 52. Gordon, in 159 plate appearances, is at three walks, 24 strikeouts.

Except for the walks, Butler’s rookie season was not that unlike Gordon’s – 145 plate appearances, .254 batting average, .317 slugging percentage, nine steals in 10 attempts. Butler then had a huge learning curve in his second year, hitting .217 and slugging .225 in 268 plate appearances while stealing 21 bases in 29 attempts, in a year that included a midseason demotion to Triple-A for six weeks. Be prepared …

Butler was considered one of the fastest young players in baseball in his day and went on to steal 558 bases in his career. It shows you the kind of skills that Gordon will have in his bid to overcome his walk issues that he already has twice as many steals as Butler, while also offering the (admittedly error-prone) ability to play a more important defense position.

The Dodgers and their fans might need as much patience with Gordon as the kid himself needs to show at the plate. Hopefully, the sheer excitement he brings to the game will help with that.

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One more remembrance from a forgettable game: If you missed Juan Rivera’s circus play Sunday, here’s your chance to rectify that.