For a guy who had only 49 MLB games and 2 homers entering his age-29 season, Casey Blake has managed to carve out quite the nice little career for himself. In 8 seasons as a full-time player for the Indians and Dodgers, Blake’s hit at least 15 homers every year (averaging 23/162 games) while putting up a 108 OPS+ and a decent glove at 3B. That’s a career to be proud of.
But Blake turned 37 years old about a month ago, and his 2010 has been a struggle. His .401 SLG (headed into tonight’s game against San Diego) would be the lowest full-season mark of his career, and his BA and OBP marks are close to falling under that category as well. It’s been even worse of late; he’s currently rocking an otherworldly slump of 3-36, with 18 whiffs.
Blake’s hardly the only member of the 2010 Dodgers to disappoint, of course, particularly as they play out the meaningless string to end the year. But he’s also the only one who’s going to turn 38 next season, and it’s fair to ask: is he done?
Looking deeper into the stats helps to shed some light here. Blake’s BABIP of .307 is nearly identical to his career .305 mark, so he’s not been particularly unlucky, and his BB% isn’t far off from his usual line either. But he’s certainly striking out more (26.9% would be a career high, and is 4% more than usual), and you can bet that’s in large part because he’s offering at far more pitches outside the strike zone than he’s ever done before (swinging at 27.5% of such offerings, well above his career mark of 20.9%).
Then there’s the fact that he’s getting killed on fastballs. Last year, Blake was worth 18.7 runs above average against heaters, good for 9th among MLB 3B. This year, he’s dropped down to just 3.5 runs above average against fastballs. So we have an older player, who can’t catch up to fastballs anymore, and is losing his plate discipline and swinging at more balls outside the zone – and he’s getting destroyed by fellow righties (.223/.293/.363). You don’t have to go too far to think that the bat speed is slowing and he’s having trouble adjusting.
Unfortunately, history isn’t on Blake’s side either. There’s only been seventeen seasons since 1961 in which a third baseman 37 or older (since Blake will be 37 most of next year) has managed to even play enough to qualify for the batting title. Looking at that list, most of them are Hall of Famers (Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose, Brooks Robinson, Wade Boggs, Cal Ripken, Jr.), or about to be (Chipper Jones) – and even then there’s quite a few dreadful seasons on that list. Do we really expect that Casey Blake is the one who bucks that trend?
Thanks to the budget and his veteran status, I fully expect that Blake is going to be the regular third baseman in 2011, but it’s not what’s best for the team (and is exactly what I feared when they signed him back in 2008). If Blake’s going to be back, he really ought to be a corner bat off the bench, who can provide some versatility, some power, and play only against lefties (he’s still got a .901 OPS against southpaws). There’s value in that, of course, and it’d be better for the team than having him out there every day.
As for who should be playing 3B… well, wait for my massive 2011 plan to come out, just after the season ends.