Name: Geoff Blum
Age on Opening Day: 37
2011 Stats: 23 games, 55 PAs, .224/.309/.408, 2 HR, 10 RBI
2010 Stats: 93 games, 218 PAs, .267/.321/.356, 2 HR, 22 RBI
The next player to be called into the principal's office for review of his performance in the Diamondbacks' 2011 season is Geoff Blum. No lie, it's hard to examine a guy who only played in 23 games. Ironically, Blum's biggest contribution may have been getting injured in Spring Training, which opened up a roster spot for Ryan Roberts, who ended up being one of the team's biggest contributors. Blum was injured in mid-March, had knee surgery five weeks later, and didn't return until after the All-Star break. He appeared in seven games, fractured his right pinky on a grounder to third, and missed another seven weeks.
Regardless of his limited playing time in 2011, Blum made the post-season roster and is signed with the team for next year as well, so let's look back on his year with the Diamondbacks.
Geoff Blum was signed to a two-year, $2.7million contract last November. He was one of Kevin Towers's first signings, and it showed he was putting money where his mouth was in shoring up the bench with veteran presence. Blum played with Towers's San Diego Padres in 2005-2007, and although he was traded to the Chicago White Sox mid-season (and won a World Series with them), he returned to San Diego. He then spent 2008-2010 with the Houston Astros in a similar role as he was expected here, which is super-utility/third baseman/veteran bench player. As a pinch hitter in 2010, he had 44 PAs, a line of .333/.364/.405 with 11 RBI, which is quite impressive. He also has a decent walk % and his glove isn't considered a liability.
Our expectations were low. With two 38 year-old third basemen in Blum and Melvin Mora, we were just hoping that wouldn't become the Vortex of Suck. Blum was expected to split time with Mora and be available off the bench as a pinch hitter or to go in on defense as well (he's played every offensive position except catcher and center fielder). He hit a respectable .269 in limited spring training action before injuring his knee. If memory serves, it was a general cleanup and cartilage issue, not a microfracture, which at the time seemed like something they could've been aware of after his physical exam in the winter, but ç'est la vie. By the time he got back in July, Mora was gone and Roberts was the starting third baseman, but Blum still fit the same role. When he returned again (re-returned?) in September, we'd kind of gotten used to seeing Sean Burroughs as a pinch hitter.
Keep in mind that 23 regular-season games is an incredibly small sample size. Even for a veteran like Blum, who I'm sure wouldn't use lack of playing time as an excuse for low numbers, it must be hard to get into any sort of offensive rhythm in only 55 plate appearances. That said, he wasn't really able to fill the role the team needed him to do. He hit .238/.273/.429 in 12 games as a starter, and was only 1-for-7 plus three walks as a pinch hitter. His biggest WPA at-bats were, not surprisingly, his two home runs, a two-run shot in July and solo HR in September. His biggest game of the year was that September 5th start in Colorado where he went 3-for-5 including the home run.
We'd hoped his avowed pinch hitting skills would help in the playoffs. Blum had a pinch-hit go-ahead home run in the 14th inning of Game 3 of the 2005 World Series for the White Sox, only his second at-bat of that post-season. Similarly, he only got two appearances in the 2011 NLDS, this time striking out with men on the corners to end the 8th inning in Game 2 and striking out with nobody on in Game 5.
It's nearly impossible to judge the defensive skills of a player who only got 28 chances to field his position, though it's always nice to note that a player had a 1.000% fielding percentage in those opportunities, however few they were. Blum's zone rating was .714, his UZR was 0.9 and UZR/150 was 10.1, and someone with better knowledge of fielding statistics can explain those. He helped turn three double plays and did not appear in any way to be a liability at third base, which is more than we can say for others who manned the hot corner this season.
Despite Geoff's injuries, he seemed like a great teammate in the clubhouse and off the field. He remained upbeat about his return from injury, and during rehab he had chances to spend time with other injured and minor league Diamondbacks players and he was often seen on the bench while he was injured the second time. I'm sure Geoff did provide some positive veteran presence even in his limited time on the active roster.
As we go into next season, we are confident that Blum will remain on the roster in the second year of his contract. The Diamondbacks will need a reserve third baseman whether or not Ryan Roberts gets the starting nod, and the team still hasn't found that veteran bat off the bench no matter how hard they tried last year with the likes of Russell Branyan and Wily Mo Peña. I don't expect him to hit .333 as a pinch hitter like he did in 2010, and older veterans aren't expected to be superstars, but pinch hitting is a trouble spot for the Diamondbacks, and the team needs more out of Blum than a .143 average! Even with Geoff's past playing for Kevin Towers, KT has shown he'll part with those who under-perform. I hope Geoff can hit at least .250 and stay with the team.
Snakecharmer's Grade: C-
It's hard to fault a man for being injured, especially when one of those injuries was a freak ground ball accident. Nonetheless, he was brought on to be a pinch hitter and was below average at the role even in limited playing time.
23 games and 0.3 fWAR can't be considered anything but disappointing from someone who was supposed to be the lefty part of a third base platoon. Blum wasn't all that bad when he was on the field, I guess - an 88 wRC+ is useful from a reserve player - but you don't want to see a guy's late-30's knees giving out in the first year of a two-year contract. Without the "two-year contract" tag keeping him safe in 2012, he needs to perform or he could have a short leash with the twin Ryans, Roberts and Wheeler, trying to take as much time from Blum as possible.
See me after class.
I'm agonizing over whether or not injury should factor into the grade. I think, on balance it should, at least somewhat, even if it's outside a player's control. Because, if you sign a 38-year old who injured himself getting dressed last year, you can't be too surprised when he misses time. However, Blum had averaged 119 games per year from 2000-10, so the extent of his absence was unfortunate. His production when present (OPS+ 93) was okay, though small sample-size applies - his career numbers are significantly lower (OPS+ 82), and if it hadn't been for the surprising rise of Ryan Roberts, one wonders how the team might have coped. The two-year deal currently looks dubious, but with Blum better from the left-hand side, he will give us a bit of flexibility in 2012, and it's not as if he's expensive.
Of all the questionable moves made by Towers this offseason, perhaps the weirdest was giving a two-year deal to Blum, a 38-year-old utility player. The injury was obviously not his fault, and his OPS, OPS+ and wRC+ were all slightly above his career averages, but that doesn't change the fact that he simply did not have a particularly large impact on the 2010 Diamondbacks. He had a grand total of 11 hits on the season in 55 Plate Appearances, good for 0.3 fWAR. So, in short, he didn't play much, and when he did, he played like Geoff Blum. Can't go any higher than a D.