One focus of the Los Angeles Dodgers new front office during the offseason season was to improve the team’s defense. They appear to have accomplished by by completely revamping the center of the diamond.
The Dodgers opted against re-signing Hanley Ramirez, and they traded Dee Gordon, Dan Haren and Matt Kemp, among others. Replacing Gordon and Kemp are players considered above-average defenders at their respective positions.
Howie Kendrick has taken over at second base, Jimmy Rollins at shortstop and Joc Pederson presumably will be handed the reins in center field. According to Bill Plunkett of the OC Register, Rollins, who is 36 years old and entering his 16th MLB season, still believes he can be an elite defender at shortstop despite his age:
Thirty-six is definitely my age. That’s a fact,” Rollins said. “But 36 and shortstop being old is an opinion – it is not a fact. … Thirty-six and your opinion of what a 36-year-old shortstop should look like is purely your opinion. When I came up, I was young, but pretty much everybody was older. I’m watching guys that were still doing it. The way they probably look at me I was looking at them. ‘He’s still doing it’ not just doing it because they need a shortstop out there but still doing it, making the plays.
With 20-year-old shortstop prospect Corey Seager still about a year away from being Major League ready, many believe that the Dodgers traded for the veteran Rollins to serve as a bridge to Seager. Older than what many would deem acceptable for shortstop, Rollins is aware of what it takes to be successful at his position:
I know what the demands of my position are. Staying in the gym and staying flexible (are important), staying strong for my position without getting bulky. I can’t be bulky and play short. Those are all things I’ve learned over the years.”
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told Plunkett that despite the middle infield getting older, it got better with Rollins:
I’d seen him play last year and the years before and you’re able obviously with the new metrics to see what balls he’s getting to and where he’s playing,” Mattingly said. “There really weren’t a whole lot of worries (about his age).”
Last season with the Philadelphia Phillies, Rollins had the highest fielding percentage (.988) among all qualifying shortstops. He ranked eighth among shortstops in one version of range factor (putouts plus assists per nine innings), seventh among all shortstops in Fan Graphs’ DRS (defensive runs saved) and sixth in UZR – Ultimate Zone Rating, an advanced defensive metric that uses play-by-play data from Baseball Info Solutions.
Ramirez ranked last or near last in all of those defensive metrics. Coming off a career-low .243 batting average last season, the three-time All-star and former National League MVP put together a strong spring and excelled as the Dodgers’ leadoff hitter — batting .333/.333/.579 with one home run, two triples, seven doubles and six RBIs in 57 at-bats over 19 games.
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