With the flurry of moves that the Los Angeles Dodgers have made this offseason, it’s difficult to hone in on just one.

After all, some of these deals were interconnected, a web of swift transformation ushered in by the metric-minded tandem now running the front office at Dodger Stadium: Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi.

The current Dodgers roster looks noticeably different than the one that walked off the Busch Stadium field in early October as a second consecutive postseason was cut short by the pesky St. Louis Cardinals. But the recent changes appear to be for the best. Several positions have been upgraded—both offensively as defensively—while the team has improved its depth all while retaining the top prospects.

If there’s one move that stands apart from the rest as a bona fide steal this offseason, it’s the acquisition of second baseman Howie Kendrick.

Speaking of steals, it’s a coincidence that Kendrick will be replacing last season’s stolen-base leader in Dee Gordon.

But make no mistake, Kendrick over Gordon at second base is a definite upgrade for the Dodgers.


On the Surface

Sure, Los Angeles parted ways with a dynamic game-changer in the speedy Gordon when he was shipped to Miami. But upon closer inspection, Kendrick’s .347 on-base percentage trumped Gordon’s in 2014. As the old saying goes, “You can’t steal first base.”

Gordon turned heads around baseball with his first half last season. The former shortstop switched positions in spring training, won the second base job and ran with it—literally. His 105 hits and 43 stolen bases during the first half earned him an All-Star nod after his Dodgers career appeared to be in jeopardy before the season. It was a feel-good story in every sense of the word.

Those numbers would suffer post All-Star Game, however, and Gordon stole far fewer bags in the second half simply because wasn’t getting on base as much. 

Gordon’s underwhelming second-half performance was more indicative of his career  numbers, and Los Angeles’ new front office sniffed out what may have been an anomaly in the first half of 2014. Friedman and Zaidi decided to send Gordon to his home state of Florida in exchange for pitching prospect Andrew Heaney, who was then flipped to the Angels for Kendrick.


Digging Deeper

The Dodgers’ new front office—Zaidi in particular—is well-versed in advanced metrics. Before joining the Dodgers, Zaidi worked under Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane, the pioneer of incorporating advanced metrics into baseball.

When analyzing the two second basemen in question, the metrics don’t lie.

Kendrick has been one of the best offensive second baseman over the past few seasons in terms of a metric called “weighted runs created plus” or wRC+. Since 2011, Kendrick has posted 115, 117, 103 and 123 when it comes to wRC+.

Not only does Kendrick provide an upgrade over Gordon on offense, his defense is also superior to the Dodgers’ former second baseman.

Once again, the front office surely examined the pertinent metrics when evaluating Gordon and Kendrick.

A common barometer used to value a player’s defense is a metric called defensive runs saved (DRS). Zero is considered average, 10 is great and minus-10 is poor. According to FangraphsKendrick’s DRS ranked seventh among all second basemen with at least 500 innings played last season. Gordon’s minus-five DRS ranked 25th.

When it came down to it, the Dodgers needed to answer an important question regarding Gordon this winter: Was the second half of last season merely a slump or was it more indicative of his true self?

By trading Gordon, Los Angeles essentially sold high and bet that he will never again reach that early-2014 level on a consistent basis. The Dodgers opted to bring in a proven commodity like Kendrick, perfectly mindful that he has just one year left on his current contract.

“There are a lot of different ways it can play out, but we’re excited to have him,” Friedman told Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times. “All of our focus right now is on the 2015 season.”

The focus for Los Angeles should not be on the departure of a fan favorite like Gordon. The Dodgers should feel about their fortunes after reeling in an underrated player like Kendrick, a solidly consistent performer who happens to be the team’s biggest steal of the offseason thus far.

All statistics courtesy of Fangraphs.


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