Casey Blake: Are the Los Angeles Dodgers Thinking Outfield for the Beard?

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Casey Blake: Are the Los Angeles Dodgers Thinking Outfield for the Beard?
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Without a shadow of a doubt, the biggest buzz around the Dodgers camp right now is the uncertainty surrounding which player will see the bulk of action in left field for Los Angeles during the upcoming 2011 campaign.

As absurd as it sounds, one name that continues to crop up is Casey Blake.

Since the evolution of the Internet, the Dodgers' fanbase has been known for its overwhelming number of fan forums and blogs.

At the present moment, in every direction on each one of these websites are endless discussions about the left field situation, as posters offer their own advice to skipper Don Mattingly and general manager Ned Colletti on how to staff the squad's roster.

While many believe that Tony Gwynn Jr. may be the best option in left, some have brought up several different platoon situations, most specifically scenarios involving Jay Gibbons splitting time with everyday third baseman Casey Blake.

Other notable bloggers have gone as far to say that Andre Ethier should be platooned, pointing out his ineffectiveness against left-handed pitching.

For the record, it should be noted that several of us here at Bleacher Report believe that Xavier Paul just may surprise everyone in Dodgertown and have a breakout season while substantially contributing to the offense. We've also indicated several times that it's even logical to shift Matt Kemp to right field and Ethier into left in order to optimize the defensive game.

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Nevertheless, for the casual Dodger fan, all of this speculation can be quite confusing or misleading. Yet that's all it is—completely hypothetical. This is why players report to spring training six weeks before the regular season begins—anything can happen, and everybody invited has the potential to shine.

Speaking to Ken Gurnick from Dodgers.com, Mattingly has offered up a few ideas already and admitted he talked to Blake about the possibility of seeing outfield time.

"Casey understands at this point in his career he might benefit by playing a hair less [in the infield] and might get more production," Mattingly told Gurnick on Wednesday. "He's played a lot of outfield, more right field than left."

Although not a prototypical platooning team, the Dodgers have benefited from several platoon situations in recent history. Even managing great Tommy Lasorda, who never really advocated these types of scenarios, utilized several combinations in the early 1990s that showed a bit of success.

In 1991, Lasorda utilized right-handed-hitting Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter against leftties, while plugging in Mike Scioscia against right-handed pitching. At third base he rotated utility men Mike Sharperson and Lenny Harris based on pitching matchups.

In 2004, Dodger manager Jim Tracy benefited from perhaps his most successful platoon advantage when Alex Cora shared time with Jose Hernandez at second base. Cora hit .264 with 10 home runs and 47 RBI that year, while Hernandez belted 13 HRs of his own while batting .289 with a .540 slugging percentage.

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Still, as critical as these hitting matchups seem, they may not be as vital as many people think. As a general rule, most analysts use the typical 2:1 split—on average, teams normally face right-handed pitching two-thirds of the time while seeing left-handers the other third.

For the Dodgers in 2010, it was a bit more lopsided. Los Angeles saw lefty starters in 50 games while they battled right-handed starting pitching in 112 games. In 6,140 total plate appearances, the Dodgers logged 4,454 against right-handed pitching and 1,686 against lefties, which calculates to a 73/27 percent split.

As for the 37-year-old Blake, although he may benefit from more rest than he's accustomed, the outfield may not be the best option. It was only several years ago when he saw significant outfield time with the Cleveland Indians. However, he experienced his fair share of struggles.

Over the course of 2005-2006 he played a total of 231 games in the outfield but committed a whopping 11 errors. His UZR in right field for the 2005 season was 5.3, while in 2006 he dropped to 0.9, which is considered well below the norm.

In addition, Dodger Stadium, with its vast real estate and treacherous corners in the outfield, isn't exactly friendly to those who are not so much fleet of foot. Just ask Manny Ramirez.

Regardless, Blake is the type of competitor who will do whatever it takes for the team to win, and if it means playing outfield, first base or being utilized as a pinch hitter, he's more than up for the challenge. However, with a full five-man outfielding corps already on the roster, it remains to be seen if left field is a spot where he'll find success.

View B/R's complete 25-man roster projections for the 2011 Los Angeles Dodgers here.

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