Many people find the notion of a “replacement level player,” the abstract notion of a guy who literally does not make his team any better or worse in the wins column, to be troublesome and not useful. That is understandable, but that non-existent replacement level guy and WAR do help give us to tell the story of any given season and how an individual player helped shape that story.
Think of it as a way to ask this question: with the long body of work of the baseball season to consider, did that player make his team better or worse? How much better or how much worse?
In the case of Los Angeles Dodgers’ shortstop Dee Gordon, he made the Dodgers worse in 2012 and 2013. In 2012 his WAR was -1.2 in 86 games. In only 38 games last season his WAR was -0.2 (according to Baseball Reference).
Gordon has been a new man in 2014, and one of the most important players on the Dodgers. On a roster stacked with big names with bigger contracts, it is Gordon, Hanley Ramirez, and Scott Van Slyke who hold the top three marks for WAR for positions players (1.7, 1.5, 1.5) behind the incredible Yasiel Puig and his 2.8 WAR.
Credit goes to Gordon for improving so much in that short period of time. His defense, which was suspect when he was a shortstop, has been passable at second base. He has bumped his on-base percentage up to .330 and he leads the league in triples (7) and stolen bases (37). Given the tumult surrounding the Dodgers and their struggling outfielders, guys like Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, and Andre Ethier, not to mention the injuries to Ramirez and Juan Uribe, it’s hard to imagine where they would be without the speedy Gordon.
The Dodgers are in the midst of a winning streak, now only four games back of the San Francisco Giants in the NL West. Gordon, less than a year removed from being a fringe-big league player at best, is a big reason why.