Player Evaluation Case Study – Casey Blake

I had intended to answer yesterday’s question by using theoretical players. Now I’ll use Casey Blake instead.

Re-signed OF Casey Blake to a two-year, $5.4M contract, avoiding arbitration

Blake was a “super-two,” meaning he was arbitration-eligible even though he had less than three seasons worth of service time. The Indians, if they choose, have Blake for four more seasons. Casey is not your typical arbitration player; he’s one of the older players on the roster, and before the 2003 season, only baseball junkies knew who he was. He started his career with the Toronto Blue Jays, drafted as a senior out of Wichita State. He got a cup of coffee with the Jays, but he couldn’t crack the major-league roster. He then moved to Minnesota, to Baltimore, and back to Minnesota, and had accumulated a grand total of 49 major-league at-bats before the Indians invited him to Spring Training. He beat out Greg LaRocca (who?) and hasn’t looked back. Now he’s guaranteed $5.4M over the next two seasons, probably more than he’s made his entire professional career put together.

My question is whether giving Blake two years is worth it. He’s moving to the outfield, where you almost have to expect Blake to repeat his 2004 season in order to be a productive outfielder. I really don’t see Blake doing that, though. His 2004 numbers are completely out of whack compared to what he did in the minors and in 2003. Yes, he hasn’t gotten a real chance before now, but at age 31, his career shouldn’t be compared to guys like Victor Martinez or Travis Hafner, both of whom have better minor-league resumes and who are on the better side of 30. The Indians made this decision based on Blake’s intangibles, saying that his work ethic and his attitude had a large say in the two-year deal. That’s all very nice, but you still have the data to contend with. I wouldn’t categorize Blake’s output in 2004 as a Brady Anderson-sized fluke, but at the same time you have to expect some kind of regression next season. The Indians are compounding this by moving him to left field, where a team’s best offensive outfielder usually resides. Relying on Blake to repeat what may be a career year just to be an average outfielder isn’t a gamble that’s likely to pay off. For instance, let’s see where Blake’s 2003 and 2004 OPSs would have placed him among 2004 AL left fielders:

Manny Ramirez 1.010
Hideki Matsui .912
Carlos Lee .891
Jose Guillen .848
Casey Blake .839 (2004)
Lew Ford .826
Shannon Stewart .826
Raul Ibanez .825
Craig Monroe .825
Eric Byrnes .814
Rondell White .790
Matt Lawton .787
Carl Crawford .779
Larry Bigbie .766
Eric Young .754
Casey Blake .723 (2003)
Reed Johnson .698

Essentially, if Blake is as good in 2005 as he was in 2004, he’s a pretty decent player, even for a left fielder. If, however, he reverts back to his 2003 form….well, let’s just hope he doesn’t do that. Which is why I don’t like this signing. If Aaron Boone stays healthy and Blake regresses to his earlier self, there’s a big problem. He’s not a good enough defender to play second base, and if he’s not adequate as a left fielder, he definitely wouldn’t meet the offensive standards that’s expected of a first baseman.

Getting back to yesterday’s question….no, I would not give that fictious player a salary commensurate of a 100 T player, because more than likely, he won’t be a 100 T player over the life of his contract. Because the player’s age says that 2004 was more of a fluke than a legitimate break-out, it’s not likely that the player will even maintain his T level next season. In this real-life situation, the medium involved is arbitration, which is a different environment to work in. The Indians weren’t going to lose Blake if they didn’t agree to a deal before the arbitration hearing, and given the figures submitted by Blake and the Indians, his 2005 salary wouldn’t be a whole lot different if the two sides had gone to arbitration. But the guarenteed second year means that the Indians may be paying $3.05M for a player without a position in 2006. Like Rotoworld said, Blake is a player you really need to go year-to-year with. Which makes this move the first real dud of the offseason for the Indians.

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