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How the idea of Casey Blake in left field could still be alive: Or how Don Mattingly could make like Gumby

Don Mattingly
spent his entire 14-year playing career in the American League. He spent his first four years as a coach in the American League. It was only in the last 2½ years that he coached in the National League. So only a little more than 10% of his career has been spent in the league without a designated hitter.

Mattingly had best be a quick read. One early indication is he is.

"I want to be flexible," Mattingly said. "That’s the one thing I think I’ve learned as much as anything in the National League, you have to have a team with some flexibility in its lineup.’’

Which is why even after the signing of outfielder Marcus Thames
, the idea of using third baseman Casey Blake in left may not be dead.

There are several scenarios that could have the infield in flux, whether as an occasional change-up in the lineup, or in regular platooning of several players.

Right now, the working assumption is that left-handed Jay Gibbons and the right-handed Thames will platoon in left, with a set infield of first baseman James Loney, second  baseman Juan Uribe, shortstop Rafael Furcal and Blake.

Yet if you had an offense that struggled as badly as the Dodgers’ did in the second half, you’d best be open to plenty of options. And the Dodgers have them.

First off, they can’t close themselves to the possibility that Ivan De Jesus Jr. could play second. Not the plan, but it should be a possibility this spring. Mattingly said De Jesus was his most major-league ready Dodger he had in the Arizona Fall League. De Jesus would give them the still-needed No.2 hitter, allow Uribe to move to third (his better position) and Blake to left. Same with playing Jamey Carroll at second.

Then there’s the thought of giving Loney some time off, particularly against left-handed pitchers. Loney’s OPS (on-base plus slugging) was over 200 points higher against right-handers last season (.785 to .575).

Blake has also played a little first (108 games), but so has Thames (44 games).

If Mattingly really wants to get right-handed hitting heavy -- remember three of the Giants' starters are lefties -- he could play Thames and Blake together, one as the left fielder.

Before the Dodgers signed Thames, Mattingly said he talked to Blake about playing some left field. He’s played 240 games in the outfield, though only twice since joining the Dodgers in 2008.

"Primarily, I think he’s a third baseman, but I had a little chat with him about possibly playing some outfield," Mattingly said.

Blake is 37, but still runs surprisingly well.

"He’s an interesting guy in that respect," Mattingly said. "He’s really athletic. He’s lean and long, and he runs pretty good. So he’s a valuable guy."

At his age, Mattingly would also like to see Blake take a few more days off.

Blake, ever the good teammate, apparently told Mattingly he would do whatever was requested.

"Actually, Casey understands," Mattingly said. "Casey is at a point in his career where he’s getting older. We really feel like he may benefit from playing a hair less and get more production out of him. I know (ex-Yankees manager Buck) Showalter did it with me late. Those extra days off that I didn’t necessarily want, made me better.

"We talked about that a little bit. You hear what you want to here, because he wants to play every day. You like that. But he’s also realistic to a point that he knows what may be best for him. He wants to be a team guy, he wants to help the club win."

Uribe can play second, third, of if really needed, short. Carroll can play all three, plus the outfield. Thames can play outfield or first, Blake third, first or outfield. And then there’s playing Tony Gwynn Jr. in the outfield, or the more remote possibility of De Jesus at second.

That’s a lot of juggling even for a veteran manager, let alone a rookie manager who has spent almost his entire career in a league where there’s dramatically less late-inning lineup movement.

The safe bet for a new manager would be to go with a set lineup. Apparently, however, Mattingly is open to being as flexible as Gumby in the dugout. And that’s a good thing.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Photo: Casey Blake. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (21)

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If Joe thought that way maybe we would have a productive Martin catching today.

It's alive because McCrap's Disgraced Dodgers have a pile of manure in left field.

Good insight from Matt Klaassen at Fangraphs
Delving into the stats, he sees the platoon in left field as a major weakness.

So many weaknesses facing Mattingly and the Dodgers - is it too much?
(forgetting any pitching issues)
1. Defensive weakness of LF platoon, CF and RF
2. Offensive weakness of 3B, 1B and catcher and possibly Gibbons in LF
3. No identified 2nd batter in the order
4. Low OBP and power overall

I propose some solutions
OF - Ethier (LF). Gwynn (CF), Kemp (RF
IF - Uribe (3B), Furcal (SS), DeJesus (2B), Loney/Blake platoon (1B)
C- Barajas/Navarro
Bench - Carroll, Gibbons, Thames, Navarro, Blake

There would still be some weaknesses, but fewer and not so deadly
1. Offensive weakness at CF and C and possibly 2B - could be helped by strategic use of batters off bench
2. Offense is improved at 1B, 3B and LF - Defense improved at LF, CF, RF, 3B
2. No major defensive weaknesses - good D at 1B, CF, SS and average or better at all other positions
3. 2nd in the order - Gwynn or DeJesus - whomever has the better OBP
4. Great bench - balanced with power and good defensive backups (Blake & Carroll)

This could be a solid team if Gwynn hits a little and everyone stays healthy - especially Furcal.
If Furcal goes down, it will only will start the dominoes falling

Now that sounds great, the more options that Mattingly has the better. He can make changes because of injury, to rest people and when a player slumps. I like it very much.

Hey, you do read my comments Steve. I'm flattered, and thanks for the research. It would appear that Donnie is already more open minded than Torre. A good sign. It looks more and more likely that Loney and Bills will be traded with every signing, so the early season flexibility will only help him and the club after the deadline. Don't think we could get or pay for Fielder or Pujols but at this stage Bautista and the lights-out lefty in the Jays pen seems like a good fit and a fair deal for Loney/Bills as long as we don't have to give up Robinson, Sands, Gordon, or Dejesus as well. It's shaping up to be a wild one.

Perhaps most interesting here is how well Mattingly seems to be communicating with his players in the offseason and how he is still thinking in terms of how life was for him as a player. This may really help him as a manager, and he may be more relevant to his players than Torre could be at the end.

N.P. Krohn: I read every comment.

Have we given up on Broxton playing Left Field? He has what it takes platoon in the "cacawood"

Casey Blake is due $5.25 mil. in 2011 and has had a chronic problem with his right hamstring the past two seasons. Very doubtful the Dodgers would risk his season for a few games of running down balls hit to the gap in left center.

If you liked watching Mitchell at 1B last season, then you'll enjoy howling at the antics of Thames when he mans the position.
A more likely right handed scenario to rest Loney vs. left handed pitching might be Blake to 1b, Carroll to 2B, and Uribe to 3b?

De Jesus will make fans cry for Ryan Theriot.
Perhaps it's more realistic to see DeJesus in September?

Tony Gwynn Jr.'s 2010 season BA .209, OPS .591

Gibbons, how are those eyes doing?

Can Furcal's back stay healthy?

Carroll and Uribe are proven.

Lots of things need to go right for this crew to be successful, be thankful the Dodgers have outstanding pitching.

Donnie is more like Howdy Doody than Gumby. Ned is pulling his strings. And Frank is pulling his. This whole team is one big shell game. Can't wait to see under which shell we'll find the left fielder! You can play as many times as you want but it will cost you $15 to park your car.

The one thing that could work is sitting Loney against left-handers and putting Blake at first. Of course, Blake's defense there won't be as good as Loney's, but that's OK. Speaking of Loney, I'm tired of people getting complaining because he doesn't hit 20 homers. So's not that big of a deal. As long as he hits 14-15 and drives in at least 90 runs everything will be fine. Well, not everything. For one thing, the team still needs a left fielder. The Thames/Gibbons tandem isn't gonna cut it...especially Thames, who is an American League DH. As Clemenza and others said in "The Godfather"'s not personal, it's just business. The more I think about it, the idea of Ethier in left, Gwynn in center and Kemp in right sounds better and better.

Any chance they might move Blake to first base and trade Loney?


I must disagree with your logic. You believe that the dodgers lack OBP and power, but you want to take out Loney who drives in 90 runs a year and one of your best on base guys on the team and then you want to insert a CF who hit .209 last year.... Wow, I see the production change already! They go from 4 runs a game to maybe 2.5 and not to mention you want to move one of the only gold glovers we have from CF to RF. I also must disagree that the dodgers do not have a identified #2 hitter and I believe that James Loney could excell in that spot because he is a guy that puts the bat on the ball and works the strike zone very well. You said (forgetting any pitching issues) have you not seen what they have done with the rotation and bullpen this offseason? Pitching will not be the problem, infact some say they have a surplus of pitching (6 Proven starters) and this is the first time in a long time where they have not tried to resurect a broken down oldtimer to take the hill every 5 days. Offensive weakness in 1B and 3B? 90 Rbi is a offensive weakness? People get to excited about power and there is a difference between power and production. Loney has been relatively productive for the past few years, but does lack power for the position. The guy rakes when there are runners on base and if you watched the playoff game 2 years ago vs. the Cubs he steps up in the clutch.

There are not as many holes as what you think! Be prepared for this team to surprise you

What about Xavier Paul? DonnyB was talking about him just a few weeks ago, and now he's dropped off the radar. His five year stats are solid in minor league play; he's a contact hitter with a little pop, and a solid out fielder who can play center.
He could bat second in the line up, move Kemp to right, and Either to left, and we would have a good denfensive and offensive outfield. Hey, I'm a realist at heart. I understand the minors are the minors, but at least give him a chance in the spring... he shows more promise than Gwynn Jr.

Looks like we're heading for quite a mess again this season. Wake me when it's over.

For Justin - I like Loney almost as much as you do, but he needs to sit against left handers. He was last in the league in first basemen against lefthanders (.222/,262/.313/.575 - 31 SO, 7 BB) while Blake hits left handers at an All Star level.
Kemp may have won a Gold Glove, but it was an illusion. Kemp was last in the league defensively in CF last year. The Dodger OF was 25th of 30 in OF defense. Kemp has speed and an arm, but is lost in CF. He turns the wrong way, runs poor routes, makes bad choices. If you saw him often trying to track a ball you would cringe. He lacks focus, but mostly he was not well trained as CF. He has the athleticism, but was rushed into the position and missed the years of training most CF's have had. His weaknesses would be less shown as a right fielder. With a poor OF defense and with a possible LF platoon of terrible fielders (Gibbons, Thames, XPaul) some changes must be made

Where Mattingley is going to be tested is not in the platooning of position players. It will be in the decisions he makes regarding the pitching staff. As Steve mentioned, he was an AL honed player that had the DH and whether to bunt, change pitchers or take out the pitcher for a pinch hitter will happen frequently during the season.
In the AL, the platooning of the position players, and for the DH, does not affect any pitching change decision as compared to the NL.
As we have seen all of last season, Torre would constantly use the faddish modus operandi of starter, then two or three out of the bullpen regardless if the Dodgers were ahead and the pitcher was in control.

justin justin justin, where do I begin? First of all, RBI's is a TERRIBLE stat. Please do not use that in an argument, lots of really really bad hitters tally up huge RBI rates. RBI's just give an indication of how many chances a player has to drive in runs and Loney batted with 400 runners on base, more than anyone else in the National League. "The bottom line is that Loney gets his RBI because he has more runners to drive in than just about anyone else." (TBLA) James Loney is a slightly above average ML hitters, but among 1st basemen he is one of the worst.
(True Blue LA) Using wOBA from Fangraphs, here are Loney's ranks among qualified first basemen each year:

* 2008: .333 (22nd out of 27)
* 2009: .332 (23rd out of 25)
* 2010: .321 (24th out of 26)

He is a very below average 1st basemen in this league. Given the amount of runners he has to drive in, he should have much more RBI's than 90 if he was a better hitter. Don't get me wrong, I love what he did in Chicago in 08... but we need more of that in order for him to do well. RBI's do not = production.

2nd, Matt Kemp didn't deserve that GG in 09' and frankly he was terrible in 10' with a -24.0 UZR... that makes me want to puke. It basically means he cost the team 24 runs over the course of the season in CF. He needs to shape up or else he WILL get moved to Right and Tony will go in CF.

I have to agree with Chris' post about Loney. Its like saying that Juan Pierre was a great hitter because he'd approach 200 hits a year. Of course he'd get more PAs than just about anybody as well. Everything's relative. Given this team's projected OBP, Loney will have to have a career year to get to 90 RBI in 2011.
Now my question to all of you... Are the young guns all products of underachieving/poor work ethics/attitude?, or poor coaching/managing? My arguments always been the latter because I think Torre & Co. were about as poor a choice as you could make [surprise] for a young club. To me one need only point to the stalled progression and/or regression of just about everyone once Torre arrived. This gives me some hope now that he's gone.

A little sceptical of your source Chris. If it's correct then no other team got on base more than the Dodgers for Loney. Just can't imagine the Dodgers gettin on base last season. Then again, the Cubs led the NL in quality starts. I don't think RBI is a bad stat, just misunderstood. It is as much a team stat as an individual stat. Tommy Herr driving a hundred RBI's with only 6hrs speaks not only of his ability to get the hit but also McGee and Coleman's ability to score from second on a single, from first on a double but more to the point, Herr's ability to sac them home from third. Sac don't show in wOBA and Loney is one of the few Dodgers who can be counted on to hit the ball to the right place of the field w/runner on 3rd and less than 2 outs.

The Dodgers should improve on last year, but will they be able to beat the Giants? Their best move was picking up Uribe because that weakened the Giant's offense. The Giants have an awesome pitching staff, but their bats look like toothpicks.


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