Casey Blake (D)
.248/.320/.407 .727 17hr 3.1 WAR
Hell of year for Casey Blake, starting in spring training when we had to listen to rumors that he might actually be the club’s backup shortstop. That never happened, of course; unfortunately for Blake, what also never happened was his ability to perform at all like his career 2009 year, since he had his worst season since 2005 in nearly every way. Even coming off a few good seasons, when you’re 36, you don’t get the benefit of the doubt as far as having an off-season. You get people wondering if you’re cooked.
Though he had an okay April, Blake slumped badly by mid-May, leading me to point out that he was the only Dodger not riding the team’s hot streak:
Yet there’s one member of the Dodgers who hasn’t been able to enjoy the ride as much as everyone else, and that’s Casey Blake. Blake’s been, on the whole, pretty lousy this season: a .233/.323/.397 line with 3 homers isn’t going to get you very far as a third baseman. His .720 OPS in fact ranks him 20th among MLB 3B, and his .265 True Average tells a similar tale, putting him 22nd. Even his defense, surprisingly good last year (12.0 runs above average per UZR), has slipped below average to -0.9 this year. The standard “small sample size” warnings apply, but it’s hard to ignore that he has six errors in six weeks this year, after ten in six months last year.
Later in that post, I jokingly suggested that his failings were because he’d been clean-shaven to start the year, and he’d need to grow back the beard if he was going to succeed. A few days later we marveled that he was indeed growing it back, and it was fun for the next month: between May 15 – June 15, he hit .300/.371/.500 with four homers.
But it didn’t last. His overall OPS for June was just .692, and his July was completely atrocious, at just .174/.242/.314. In August, he contributed to another Jonathan Broxton implosion by allowing a nearly-certain 9th-inning double play ball go through his legs, and in September I had to ask if he was 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?
Needless to say, I don’t have high hopes for Blake in 2011. This is exactly what I was afraid of back in December of 2008, when he signed his three-year deal – that while he’d be fine in 2009, he’d be questionable for 2010, and totally undesirable in 2011. (Coincidentally, that’s very similar to how I felt about Ted Lilly‘s three-year deal.)
Still, there’s no chance of moving him, so he’ll be back. All you can really hope for is that the Dodgers, as I argued in my 2011 plan, take advantage of his large lefty/righty split (.895 vs .663 OPS) and make him a lefty-mashing 1B/3B off the bench. That’s what I want to do, and it’s what they should do; but I doubt it’s all that high on their list, unfortunately.
Oh, and since there’s no other 3B remotely on the radar in the system (unless Jerry Sands unexpectedly shows an aptitude for the position in the Arizona Fall League), expect a lot of talk next year about who replaces Blake in 2012 and beyond.
Mitchell was recalled on September 6, after rosters had expanded, and at the time I didn’t think much of him:
To be honest, I can’t say I’m a huge fan of Mitchell. He’ll be 26 before next season starts, yet he had a line of just .241/.298/.406 last year, his second season in AA. Overall, his career OBP in the minors was just .321. Somehow that was good enough to get him to AAA, where he took advantage of the ABQ environment to rake: .315/.363/.535, with 23 homers.
That’s not an accident, either; his OPS at home was 1.164, but on the road it was just .834, and it’s not like ABQ is the only park in the PCL that caters to offense, either. Still, Mitchell offers nice versatility – while he’s primarily a 3B, he also saw time at 1B, 2B, LF, & RF this year – and it’s nice to see another homegrown prospect make the bigs, so maybe he’ll make an impression and get into the mix for a utility role next year.
Mitchell got a decent showcase, starting 11 games and receiving 43 PA in September, but he did absolutely nothing to make a mark. Sure, he hit two homers, and that’s nice, but he started out 0-15, managed just six hits, and didn’t walk even once while striking out eight times. Now, he started at 1B, 3B, and LF, and he can supposedly also play 2B and RF, so the versatility is nice, but he also managed to make three errors in his short time up.
Obviously, Mitchell didn’t really make much of a case towards a bench job in 2011, and there’s really no good reason he shouldn’t be in AAA to start the year. Best case scenario, he puts up some more ABQ-fueled numbers and can be overvalued in a trade.
Next! We say goodbye to Manny Ramirez! We wish Scott Podsednik never came to town! We try to forget Garret Anderson ever existed! And we welcome back Jay Gibbons from baseball purgatory! It’s left field!