MSTI’s 2011 in Review: Third Base

Today we move on to third base, and man, it ain’t pretty. The six Dodger third basemen combined for just a .624 OPS, good for 25th in MLB. Sensing a theme yet?  We already touched on the second biggest offender at the hot corner, Aaron Miles, with the second basemen, so today we’re left with the hungry, the tired, the overpaid wretches. This isn’t going to be pretty.

Juan Uribe (F….ing Juan Uribe)
.204/.264/.293 .557 4hr -0.1 WAR

(Like I was really going to use anything other than the “Emo Juan Uribe” picture, even ahead of the “Juan and Ned awkwardly shaking hands” photo.)

I’ll say this for Juan Uribe: even though we all absolutely hated the three year, $21m contract Ned Colletti so generously bestowed upon him last winter, none of us ever expected this. Oh, we knew he’d have a lousy OBP and be in no way worth the contract, but this? The fourth worst TAv and wOBA in baseball, along with two stints on the disabled list? I don’t think so.

At the time, I did note that there could be some positives from the deal, mostly in that it would ensure Ryan Theriot would be gone and that it’d give the club flexibility in an uncertain infield situation going forward. I also said this, of course:

Now that we’ve got the positives out of the way… what in the hell is this team doing giving three years* and $22m to Juan Uribe?! (*standard caveat of “it’s just a report, and not an official deal yet” applies.) Uribe’s never had even a two-year deal in his life. He was quite good in 2005 with the White Sox (111 OPS+, 23 HR), but after four consecutive years of not having an OBP over .301, he was cut loose after 2008. The Giants got him for 1 year, $1m in 2009, and he was quite good again – 112 OPS+ – so they resigned him for 1 year, $3.2m in 2010. Other than increasing his HR, he completely regressed  at he plate. His OPS fell from .824 to .749, and his wOBA fell from .351 to .322.

That doesn’t make him useless, but as I’ve said every other time I’ve talked about him, I like him for one year and I’d accept an option for a second. But now we’re taking a guy whose age 25-28 seasons were all basically a waste, had one good year at 29 and couldn’t quite keep it up at 30 three guaranteed years? Why? Because he was a Giant? Because he hit a homer in the World Series (despite doing little else in October)?

Nearly a year later, I’m having a hard time disagreeing with any of that, except to note that since his deal was back-loaded, he still has $15m coming to him, so we’re far from done with him. The best part is, three of Uribe’s four dingers came in a five-game span at the end of April. Outside of that five-game stretch, he hit one homer in 72 games, and was awful no matter how you split the stats. No, really: look at his splits. Try and find one this isn’t execrable. Day, night, home, road, lefty, righty, black, white, up, down – he was atrocious at the plate in every possible way, though he was something of a pleasant surprise defensively. Sadly, thanks to his contract and the uncertain state of the Dodger infield with the possibility that as many as five veteran infielders won’t return (Loney / Carroll / Furcal / Blake / Miles), you’re probably still looking at your starting third baseman next year. And lord help us all, because the most positive outlook anyone could have on him is, “well, geez, he can’t be that bad again, right?”.

Casey Blake (D)
.252/.342/.371 .713 4hr 0.6 WAR

It’s hard to say that Casey Blake underachieved in 2011, since coming off a disappointing 2010 and with the injury history of third basemen his age being what it is, expectations were pretty much as low as they could be; if anything, we’ve been saying “Casey Blake” + “2011″ = “disaster” since as far back as December of 2008.

Yet while there was almost no hope that having Blake as the everyday third baseman was going to work out this year, there was still the chance that he could a productive member of this year’s team. If the chips had fallen in the right way, having Blake as a four-corners type who mainly faced lefty pitching could have turned out to be a very nice role. Of course, it didn’t happen that way; Blake started the season on the disabled list thanks to a back injury suffered while trying to bunt during a spring training game. (Which, ugh.) Upon his return, he lasted just 14 games before undergoing surgery to relieve a particularly nasty staph infection in his left elbow, which cost him more than a month. Finally getting past that, he returned in late May to hit .195/.278/.310 over the next five weeks before succumbing to a pinched nerve in his neck on July 3, sidelining him until the final day of the month. He played in just 19 more games before finally undergoing surgery on the neck, which would have been his fourth trip to the disabled list of the season if not for the fact that the September 1 roster expansion rendered such a move moot.

With all the injuries, Blake never really had a chance to contribute, and so his 2011 was basically a lost season. It’ll almost certainly end his Dodger career, and at 38 it might very well be the end of his MLB career as well. Despite the wasted 2011 and lousy 2010, Blake ends his Dodger career as one of the better third baseman in the history of the club, and while that may say more about the history of the hot corner for this organization than it does about Blake’s performance, it’s still evidence of a successful Dodger stint from one of the more popular players on the team.

Blake will be missed. From a baseball sense, I’m glad he’s not going to be on the club going forward, because I don’t think he can still be a useful performer, but I’ve enjoyed watching him for 3+ years, even if the circumstances of his acquisition were less than ideal. Best of luck, Casey.

Russ Mitchell (inc.)
.157/.259/.294 .553 2hr -0.1 WAR

It’s not a huge secret that I’ve never thought much of Mitchell, dating back to what I said when he was first recalled in September of 2010:

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.

Mitchell repaid that trust by getting six hits in 43 MLB plate appearances last season; this year, in his age-26 season, he hit just .230/.318/.401 away from the friendly confines of Albuquerque. Then, in two separate stints in the bigs this year (once for a month in April and May when Blake hurt his elbow, then the last month of the season) he managed just eight hits in 58 plate appearances, though to his credit one was a game-tying homer against the White Sox to avoid a sweep in the 9th inning in May.

If anything, Mitchell’s offseason will be more interesting than his season, since he had surgery on his left wrist and will be headed to winter ball to attempt to add “emergency catcher” to his resume. If he hopes to have a major league career, the transition better work, because I’m just not seeing it. Even with two ABQ-fueled years, his minor league OBP is just .326, and two MLB cups of coffee haven’t gone well. I can’t imagine he starts 2012 anywhere but back in AAA, and if he doesn’t, that’s a big problem.

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Next! Rafael Furcal bids adieu! Jamey Carroll picks up the slack once again! Dee Gordon‘s flashy debut! And Justin Sellers‘ uncertain future! It’s shortstop!

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