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.
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.
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.
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.