The remedy for a seven-game losing streak: more Duckworth. Baseball is a funny game. That’s why we love it. Or at least that’s why most fans love it; Royals fans love it because we’re suckers.
Today I want to focus on a development which I feel hasn’t received nearly enough attention so far: namely, that with Gordon out for at least a few weeks and possibly the season, his replacement at third base has been…Mark Teahen.
This is an extraordinarily significant development, in my mind, because it means Gordon’s days as a third baseman are numbered if they’re not already over. While Gordon’s future at the plate is a matter of some question, there’s really no question that his glovework has massively regressed. As a rookie, Gordon’s defense was as terrible as his offense the first two months of the season, but he righted himself the rest of the way and was pretty solid the final half of the season. Our Baseball Prospectus metrics ranked Gordon as 2 runs below average on defense at third base, a promising number given that he was around 8 runs below average at mid-season. Coming into the season, I felt that he could handle the defensive demands of the hot corner for at least a few more years.
As recently as two months ago, when the Royals moved Mike Moustakas from shortstop to third base, I openly questioned why they didn’t consider moving him behind the plate, both because he has the body type and athleticism to be a catcher, but also because the Royals already had a long-term solution at his new position. But over the last two months Gordon has been just awful on defense – he has the lateral range of a tree stump, and has supplemented that with a blizzard of errors the last few weeks. BP evaluates Gordon’s defense this year as 18 runs below average, and that’s with five weeks left in the season. The defense on the left side of the infield is a major reason why the Royals, as a team, rank a disappointing 23rd in the majors in defensive efficiency.
Up until this weekend, my thinking was that if Gordon could just hang on for two more years, Moustakas would probably be ready for the majors by 2011 if not sooner. But the Royals have decided they can’t wait, and I can’t say I blame them. Let’s be clear about this: even if Gordon’s out the rest of the year, there’s no way that the Royals move Teahen back to third base – a position he hasn’t played in two seasons, and wasn’t that proficient at before he moved – if Gordon’s simply going to take over again next season. The Royals have a perfectly acceptable band-aid in Esteban German who could fill in for a few weeks if need be.
No, if the Royals are moving Teahen back to third – after already moving him from third base to right field, from right field to left field, and from left field to first base – then they must be seriously considering the idea of making him the starting third baseman in 2009, and they want to see if he can still handle the position. It’s a gamble, certainly; Teahen wasn’t exactly Ryan Zimmerman over there to begin with. (BP’s metrics calculated Teahen’s defense as -10 runs as a rookie, but +7 runs as a sophomore.)
But I think the Royals have to try him there, if for no other reason than to decide whether he’s worth keeping around for next year at all. The guy’s hitting .246 with 10 homers, and a corner outfielder with those kinds of numbers isn’t worth paying a few million dollars a year – which is what Teahen will earn in arbitration. On the other hand, a third baseman with those numbers is worth keeping around, particularly if you think he can improve on those numbers and (more importantly) you don’t have any better options.
The question, then, is what to do with Gordon. What the Royals can not do is move him to first base. Gordon still fits into the Royals’ long-term plans, but if they park him at first base for the next four-plus years, then suddenly you have an enormous logjam between him,
Gordon, on the other hand, would fit in nicely in the outfield. He has decent speed – he’s 21-for-
Of course, that’s why Teahen moved to the outfield instead of Gordon in the first place. It’s an admission of wrongdoing for the Royals to have them switch places after two years. But you play the game with the players you have. Gordon has been a disappointment in a number of ways – when he was drafted as the shining light of the three great collegiate third baseman in 2005, he was supposed to have Zimmerman’s glove and Ryan Braun’s bat, but it turned out he has Zimmerman’s bat and Braun’s glove.
But Gordon is who he is, and whining about it doesn’t help anyone. It also turns out that Teahen is a more versatile and more athletic player than we thought he was two years ago. So at this point, it’s worth finding out if he can handle third base again, and we won’t know if he can until he tries. We already know that Gordon can’t.