Casey Blake’s Bizarre Splits

The Dodgers, as we all know, have been red-hot lately, doing a fantastic job of rescuing a season which looked to be headed directly down the toilet. The bullpen has really turned it around, and even the starting pitching has stabilized nicely, thanks mostly to Clayton Kershaw, John Ely, and Hiroki Kuroda. Even the loss of Rafael Furcal hasn’t sunk the ship, since Jamey Carroll’s been adequate as a fill-in, and as we await the report on Andre Ethier’s finger, we’ve been able to marvel at his his absolute dominance.

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.

But this isn’t about peeing in everyone’s corn flakes by highlighting the one squeaky cog in the machine; it’s about pointing out that the Casey Blake we’ve seen in the first six weeks of 2010 is almost entirely a different player than the one saw in his first year-plus in LA and for years before that in Cleveland.

Consider this…

Blake usually is a notorious quick starter, before tailing off in the second half. For his career, he’s got an .803 OPS with 82 homers in the first half, followed by .765 and 67 in the second. Last year was much the same, with an OPS 50 points higher in the first half. That’s not to say that he couldn’t still do the same this year, just that if he drops 50 points from what he’s at right now, he (and the Dodgers) are going to be in big trouble. The usual hot first half from Blake just isn’t there right now.

Blake usually crushes lefties, while adequately hitting righties. Career, that’s .834 (vs. LHP) and .768 (vs. RHP).  In 2009, that OPS was 1.005 (vs. LHP) and .783 (vs. RHP). The difference hasn’t always been that large, but it’s been a pattern of his for years, no different than many right-handed hitters. So far in 2010, he’s hitting righties much as he usually does, at a .780 clip. But his production against lefties has completely fallen off the cliff, hitting just .214/.281/.250 (.531 OPS) with only one extra-base hit.

Blake usually hits far better at night. Here’s a career split which isn’t even close; he has an .829 OPS career during night games, which would make him an All-Star… if he never had to play during the day, when he hits only .227/.304/.376 (.680). Yet this year? Granted, it’s only been 8 day games so far, but he’s killed it in the sunshine this year, hitting all 3 of his homers with a 1.256 OPS, while struggling under the lights with a .579 OPS.

All of which means, we have a guy who will turn 37 this summer and suddenly looks like a completely different player, and not in a good way. You may remember that after his smoking-hot start in 2009 (nine homers and a .938 OPS in the first two months), he struggled the rest of the year, not getting his OPS over .800 in June, July, or August, and though he did in September, he also missed half the month with a strained left hamstring. I’m sure I don’t have to remind you about his brutal postseason, when he hit just .167 without an extra-base hit. Save for some short bursts here and there (two of his three homers this year came in one game against Craig Stammen’s career 5.30 ERA and the Nationals in April), he hasn’t been a consistently solid player in some time.

So what can be done? Short of forcing him to grow back his beard, not much, unfortunately. With Josh Bell traded to Baltimore for George Sherrill (though Bell is struggling with a .276 OBP at AAA Norfolk), there’s no minor league prospect ready to step in. Blake DeWitt would have been the obvious choice, but the last thing you want to do is stunt his second base growth by moving him now. Third base in Albuquerque has been shared by Nick Green (no) and Russell Mitchell (not really a highly thought-of prospect), so there’s not much help here. This is where I ought to throw in that it sure would have been great to have signed Hank Blalock rather than Garret Anderson, but that ship has clearly sailed.

With no able replacements, the Dodgers are somewhat stuck with hoping that Blake turns it around, and hasn’t seen his best days despite his advancing age. You may remember that I wasn’t completely thrilled when he signed this contract, and that was mainly because I didn’t think he required a third guaranteed year. Just based on his surprising career year in 2009, I would have accepted his downturn this year (especially if he was in the role he ought to be, as a 4-corners power bat off the bench, but that’s a different discussion), but if he doesn’t turn it around, 2011 could be ugly.

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It figures, then, that Blake would get a day off during  a day game today:

#Dodgers lineup: Martin 2 Johnson 9 Loney 3 Kemp 8 Belliard 4 Anderson 7 Green 5 Carroll 6 Billingsley1

I get that you want to give Manny a day off on a day game after a night game, though against a lefty and with Ethier out I might skip that for the day. I get that you want to sit DeWitt against a lefty, and that Furcal’s out, and Blake is struggling. Fine, fine, fine. I just can’t get over the fact that the Los Angeles Dodgers are starting an infield that contains Nick Green, Ronnie Belliard, and Jamey Carroll, all at the same time, plus Garret Anderson and Reed Johnson at the same time in the outfield. That’s just horrendous. And on top of it all, that apparently means that Joe Torre has rescinded Russell Martin’s planned day off, so Martin will now start his 17th consecutive game. And we’re supposed to be shocked he’s not the player he once was? Then when A.J. Ellis finally gets a shot and goes 0-4 because he hasn’t seen real pitching in a month, he’ll get tossed under the bus.

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Finally – and this is of no importance whatsoever, but it’s an impending roster move, so i’ll mention it – Dylan Hernandez reports that Luis Ayala has activated the opt-out clause in his contract and must be released if he’s not added to the 25-man roster by 5pm Monday. I laughed as soon as I saw that, because between A) the seeming unwillingness to dump Ramon Ortiz, B) the improved performance of the big-league bullpen, C) the roster crunch the team will soon face when Furcal returns and Charlie Haeger’s rehab stint ends, and finally D) the superior talent to Ayala in AAA like James McDonald and Josh Lindblom, this would seem to be a massive miscalculation on Ayala’s part. I thought that, and I laughed, even before Eric Stephen checks in with this perfect note:

Luis Ayala wins the poor timing award for exercising an out clause: 2 straight blown saves in AAA, and gave up runs in last 3 games.

You may remember Ayala from such times as being DFA’d or cut three times last year, so I suppose “good choices” aren’t exactly what he’s known for. Let’s just say, I’m not exactly holding my breath for him.

Your Hungover Jamey Carroll Analysis

Last night was the company holiday party. Since I’m about two hours late to work and 14 hours behind this news, we’re going to make this short and sweet.  Here’s the news:

ESPN.com’s Buster Olney (via Twitter) reports that veteran infielder Jamey Carroll has signed a two-year deal with Los Angeles, pending the results of a physical.  According to a follow-up tweet from Olney, the deal is worth just under $4MM with incentives (Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports specified the contract’s value as $3.85MM). 

For whatever reason, Carroll’s been rumored to be a Dodger target for nearly two years now. We heard about him again last week, and I stand by what I said at the time:

Look at the other teams involved, though. All have their second base positions totally settled, meaning they’d want Carroll to do what he’s supposed to be doing – being a nice utility glove who can get on base. With the Dodgers, he’s likely the new starting 2B, which is scary indeed.

It’s really all about his role, because the price is certainly right, though I’m not thrilled with the idea of having to guarantee him a second year to a guy who will be 36.

If he’s a utility guy/security net for Blake DeWitt, then I’m fine with that. Carroll is decent-ish at the plate (89 and 90 OPS+ the last two years), adequate with the glove (8.3 career UZR/150 at 2B, -0.8 at 3B), a total black hole in terms of power (12 HR in over 2500 PA), and useful in his versatility (played 2B, 3B, LF, and RF last year, and has played SS before). I’ve already seen suggestions that as a righty bat, he’d be a nice platoon partner for the lefty DeWitt, but that doesn’t really work. Carroll had almost no lefty/righty split last year, and DeWitt is actually better against his fellow southpaws.

So in that sense, as a veteran backup, then great. If he’s your starting 2B for 140 games… then you’re looking at big problems.

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Another signing, of which the less that’s said the better: Luis Ayala is signed to a minor-league deal. I’ll never whine too much about a no-risk deal like that, but he’s an ineffective pitcher who appears to be a monumental jackass. I outlined his litany of sins when his name came up last week, so be sure to check it out.

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Also: MSTI across the web. I answered some questions for aptly-named Nationals blog “The Nats Blog” about the Dodgers activity, or lack of it, at the winter meetings. This was written before the Pierre or Carroll deals went down, unfortunately.

Time for Today’s March of the Dead

I know these are just rumors, and I know that in any other year I’d see them for the low-risk/low-reward inquiries they truly are. Hell, with the track record the Dodgers have with guys like this, it should almost be seen as a good thing. But the timing here is horrible because of the arbitration decisions and the McCourt “crying poor” report, and as we all know, the scary part about this year is that the Noah Lowrys and Kameron Loes of the world might actually be the biggest presents under the Christmas tree. It doesn’t get any better today, because now we’re hearing about Dodger interest in three more members of the walking dead. Let’s start off with another failed pitcher:

Luis Ayala was DFA’d or released three times in 2009, don’t forget. Yet somehow, that’s still an upgrade over Lowry or Loe. From Dylan Hernandez’ Twitter:

Source: Dodgers in discussions with right-hander Luis Ayala about a minor-league deal.

Fine, fine. A minor league deal is actually a smart move, so fine. Still, Ayala’s been on four teams in the last two years, with a history of personal problems that make Vicente Padilla look like a boy scout. I mean, the litany here is amazing.

In 2008, after getting put on waivers by the Nats (!!!) with a 5.77 ERA,  Ayala was traded to the Mets for a player to be named. Why?

Ayala requested the trade weeks ago because he wanted a change of scenery. He said that he lost focus because of personal problems off the field, which included having a divorce and getting shot in his left arm this past offseason. He said that those were the reasons why he was testy toward the local media during the first half of the season.

Ayala was lousy for the Mets (5.50 ERA) and signed with the Twins for 2009. After being mediocre with them (4.18 ERA), he was DFA’d in June, with manager Ron Gardenhire having this to say:

“He wanted an eighth-inning role; that’s why he signed over here. He wasn’t pitching well enough to be an eighth-inning guy. So there you have it.

“His thoughts were if we gave him the ball in that eighth inning, he’d be able to do the job. My thoughts are if you’re not getting them out, you’re not going to pitch in the eighth inning. We’re trying to win. So there’s your difference.

“When you walk into my office and tell me you don’t like your role, and he talked about his contract for next year — you lose me right there. I don’t deal with that. We’re talking about winning now. That’s why he’s out the door and another guy’s in there to pitch. And it’s not because he’s a bad guy. His theories are a little different.”

Sounds like a winner to me! But wait, it gets better. He was picked up by Florida, putting up a horrendous 11.74 ERA in 10 appearances. When they DFA’d him as well, whose fault was it? Not Ayala’s:

“It was terrible what they did,” Ayala said. “I don’t know why they called me up if they were going to do this. I think it’s a lack of respect. I know it’s a business, but for me, it’s something they’ve handled poorly.”

Again, it’s a minor-league deal, so: fine. But good lord, this guy seems like kryptonite to me. Do not want.

Brad Ausmus is not worth fighting over. From MLBTR:

Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of FoxSports.com report that the Dodgers and Giants are among the teams pursuing free agent catcher Brad Ausmus. Peter Mrowka, Ausmus’ agent, said it’s “possible” but “not likely” that his client will play for a team not based on the West Coast next year.

I don’t mind Ausmus, really. I think you could do better pretty easily than a guy who will be 41 next year and has been an awful hitter his entire life, but he’s not really going to make or break anyone’s season. Still, when you’re pinching pennies the way the Dodgers are, I do have to question the value of giving $1m or more to a backup catcher who will produce less than a minor leaguer could for the minimum.

Why do the Dodgers love Jamey Carroll so much? We’ve been hearing his name floated in Dodger rumors since back in 2008, when the idea of a trade for C.C. Sabathia, Casey Blake, and Carroll came up. Well, it’s happening again…

There’s no shortage of interest in Jamey Carroll this year. Ed Price of AOL FanHouse reports that the Red Sox, Angels, Dodgers, A’s, Rangers, Pirates, Reds and Indians all have interest in the 35-year-old utility man. We know the Marlins are interested, too.

Carroll hit .276/.355/.340 with the Indians last year, spending most of his time at second and third, and playing some outfield as well. UZR/150 suggests Carroll has been an above-average defender at second base over the course of the last five years. 

Look at the other teams involved, though. All have their second base positions totally settled, meaning they’d want Carroll to do what he’s supposed to be doing – being a nice utility glove who can get on base. With the Dodgers, he’s likely the new starting 2B, which is scary indeed.