It’s a good thing the Dodgers have one of the most solid starting lineups 1-8 of any team in baseball, because any way you slice it, the Dodger bench is weak. Literally, weak, in the sense that none of them give you much faith they could beat a 7-year-old girl in arm wrestling.
Brad Ausmus hits like, well, a backup catcher. Jamey Carroll’s a decent multi-positional vet, but offers zero power. Reed Johnson’s an okay fourth outfielder, but again, not much power. Nick Green is barely playable. Ronnie Belliard can’t be counted on to repeat his hot Dodger debut, and certainly isn’t much of an asset in the field. Garret Anderson’s a total zero in the field – and even if he wasn’t, he’s 38, coming off three consecutive declining years of OPS, and will be asked to come off the bench for the first time in his career. He’s hardly dependable to be the power bat a contending club needs, and if he isn’t, then you’re looking at a bench that’s entirely right-handed.
Remember, last season, the Dodgers got exactly two homers all year from their main bench foursome of Ausmus, Juan Castro, Mark Loretta, and Juan Pierre. (Yes, I know guys like Blake DeWitt and Jamie Hoffmann chipped in with a dinger here and there, but those were the main four guys all season.) It’s the lack of production like that which forced Ned Colletti to go out and get Jim Thome at the trading deadline. Not that Thome really contributed, but the need was obviously there.
Yet as we go into 2010, the issue has hardly been fixed, for all the reasons laid out above. So why, as poster DoppleGangBang asked at the BBWC, not consider Hank Blalock, who just found out he’s not going to make the Tampa Bay roster?
“Because he sucks, genius.”
Well, yeah. He sort of does. He’s a terrible fielder, he gets hurt a lot, and his OBP was an awesomely bad .277 last year. But he also hit 25 homers, and he’s a lefty who suffered through some terrible luck (his .249 BABIP was far below his career average, and is likely to rebound). I won’t pretend he doesn’t have flaws – good lord, does he – but I also won’t accept that we’re living in a baseball world where a team that’s desperate for left-handed power can’t bring on a guy who hit 25 dingers last year for just about zero cost.
When I saw how many HR he had last year, my first thought was of course, “but he probably hit 23 in Texas, right?” Surprisingly, no. He hit 12 of the 25 on the road, but overall was a far better player away from Arlington, putting up an OPS of .802 on the road vs. just .674 at home. More importantly, check out his career split against LH/RH pitchers:
Career vs. LHP: .229/.278/.378 .656
Career vs. RHP: .285/.348/.498 .847
The man, clearly cannot hit lefties at all. But so what? You’ve got a nearly 100% right-handed bench for that. If he never once faces a lefty all season, all the better – let him pound on all the righties who would otherwise feast on Carroll, Johnson, or Belliard.
As for his defense, it’s not pretty. He’s a terrible third baseman, and average at best at first. But that’s not why you bring him in, because he’s your 3rd option at best at each of those positions. You bring him in because he can provide lefty power off the bench at a minimum price, which is something you simply do not have right now.
Over at FanGraphs, guys who are way smarter than me see Blalock’s flaws but acknowledge his usefulness, particularly in comparing him to Eric Hinske, a player who was tops on my list of possible lefty acquisitions last week:
*As an aside, Blalock bears resemblance to a certain other left-handed former third baseman. One who I’ve mentioned far too much this week already, but here we go again. Blalock stacks up pretty well to Eric Hinske. Check out how they match up across the WAR components since 2002:
So Hinske played positions of less defensive importance, but played them better. He also played a little less and hit a little better.
You can’t get Eric Hinske right now, yet you can pick up Blalock – who’s still only 29, and whose top comparable at baseball-reference is actually Casey Blake – for absolutely nothing. Blalock’s got a lot working against him, I admit. But if you realize what he can do very well (crush righties), and don’t put him in the situations he’s terrible at (hitting lefties or wearing a glove) more than you absolutely have to, he can be a fantastically undervalued pickup for a team who desperately needs one. If that means having to cut ties with Nick Green, Garret Anderson, or Ronnie Belliard, then so be it.