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2010 Player Profile: Casey Blake, The Man With a Face

In many ways, I feel bad for Casey Blake.  Blake, a native of Indianola, Iowa, along with his wife, gave a cool $1 million to his local school district this offseason, to improve the athletic facilities.  Yet, all dopes like me could talk about was that "The Beard" had shaved.  He happens to be the guy caught in the middle of the controversial trade of rising catching prospect Carlos Santana to Cleveland in 2008.  It isn't Blake's fault the Dodgers decided to give the Indians a better return than they received in trading the reigning Cy Young Winner C.C. Sabathia.  All Blake did was what he always does: play baseball.

On the field, Blake had a fine 2009.  His 4.2 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) was second on the team (to Matt Kemp).  He had the highest walk rate of his career (11.2%), and hit .280/.363/.468, with a 123 OPS+, a .354 wOBA,  and a 119  wRC+ (Note: wRC+ is similar to OPS+, but it calculates runs created based on wOBA.  Like OPS+, 100 is average, and higher is better).  Offensively, he had one of the best seasons every by an LA Dodger third baseman, with the eighth highest OPS+ (note: Ron Cey was good).

However, Blake was also stellar with the glove.  After being below average defensively in each of his last three full seasons at third base -- 2004, 2007, and 2008, by both Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and Plus Minus -- Blake had a very good season in 2009.  He posted a +9.0 UZR/150, and +8 Plus/Minus.  How did Blake rate so well at age 35?  Well, might one reason be getting out of Cleveland?  Here are his UZR/150 numbers at 3B the last few years (courtesy of Fangraphs):

Year Team Innings UZR/150
2004 Indians 1352.1 -7.4
2007 Indians 1209.0 -5.4
2008 Indians 635.0 -13.4
2008 Dodgers 469.2 +5.6
Dodgers 1161.0 +9.0

Is there a huge difference in the quality of the infield (I'm thinking the dirt here) between Jacobs Field and Dodger Stadium?  How did Blake go from a poor defensive third baseman with Cleveland into an above average one in Los Angeles?  Did former manager Eric Wedge employ bizarre positioning tactics or something?  Who knows?  All I know is Blake has performed well as a Dodger both in the plate and in the field.

Fun Stat

After hitting just nine triples in 3,483 plate appearances (one triple every 387 PA) in the American League, Blake has seven triples in 798 plate appearances (one every 114 PA) with the Dodgers.

Contract Status

Under contract through 2011, with a club option for 2012:
  2010: $6 million
  2011: $5.25 million
  2012: $6 million club option, with a $1.25 million buyout

Blake can earn up to $500,000 annually in incentives based on plate appearances from 525 to 600 (he earned $250,000 in incentives in 2009)

2010 Outlook

2006 32 20 19 63 68 .282 .356 .479 .358
2007 33 36 18 81 78 .270 .339 .437 .336
2008 34 36 21 71 81 .274 .345 .463 .347
2009 35 25 18 84 79 .280 .363 .468 .354
2010 Projections - Age 36 Season
Bill James 29 18 72 68 .257 .337 .426 .330
CHONE 25 18 67 70 .260 .335 .434 .338
Marcel 27 17 68 68 .266 .340 .441 .336
Baseball HQ 27 18 77 74 .275 .349 .459
ZiPS 25 17 61 74 .268 .343 .455

Many of the projection systems expect Blake to take a step back this season, which is understandable for a 36-year old.  However, take a good look at the newly clean-shaven Blake and tell me he doesn't look five years younger, at least.  Did Blake found the fountain of youth? Blake started 131 games last season, but nearly half (15 of 31) of his days off came in the final month of the season.  Will he benefit from extra rest that Joe Torre has said he plans to give him throughout the season?  Either way, Blake is a key player in the lineup.  The Dodgers need a productive Blake if they are to win a third straight division title.

What is your prediction for Casey Blake in 2010?  Give us BA / OBP / SLG, along with PA.  I'm going with .275/.351/.440 in 536 PA.