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Casey (at the bat) McGehee

Not a whole lot went right for the Brewers in 2010, especially on the pitching side of things. Ryan Braun failed to hit at least 30 homers for the first time in his career, Prince Fielder continued a trend of being merely very good and not holy crap good in even-numbered years, and Trevor Hoffman was below replacement level despite soaking up close to 9% of the team’s payroll.

There was certainly some good, however. Rickie Weeks finally stayed healthy and put together a six-win season, Corey Hart rediscovered his power stroke, and an unheralded 2008 waiver claim by the name of Casey McGehee built upon his 2009 success (.367 wOBA) and emerged as an above-average player at the hot corner. His .346 wOBA was the most production Milwaukee got out of the position since Braun’s rookie season, before he moved to the outfield.

McGehee was a nice surprise for fantasy owners too, especially those who didn’t grab one of the position’s elite producers early in the draft (or Jose Bautista from the free agent pool). Here’s where his production ranked among all third baseman in the core fantasy categories this season…

AVG: .285 (6th)
OBP: .337 (10th)
SLG: .464 (8th)
HR: 23 (8th)
RBI: 104 (tied for 3rd)
R: 70 (13th)
SB: 1 (negligible)

It’s rock solid production, better overall than guys like Mark Reynolds, Mike Young, and Aramis Ramirez, all of whom were drafted much higher than McGehee on average yet had down seasons for whatever reason. At 28-years-old (well, he will be next week) and basically the prime of his career, is this the kind of performance we can expect out of McGehee going forward?

The power numbers didn’t come out of nowhere. McGehee hit double digit homers in four of his five full minor league seasons, then swatted 16 in just 394 plate appearances in 2009. Hit Tracker considers 14 of his 23 homer this year to be “Just Enoughs,” meaning they cleared the fence by less than ten vertical feet or landed less than one fence height beyond the wall. It’s the second highest total of Just Enoughs in the NL (and MLB) behind Adrian Gonzalez (who has extreme ballpark issues), and as you can imagine those are the most volatile homers on a year-to-year basis given the margin of error. That’s not to say that McGehee is due for a huge homerun drop-off next season, but we can’t just brush it under the rug.

McGehee also took advantage of southpaws in 2010, tagging them for a .399 wOBA (158 PA) compared to just .327 against righties (452 PA). It’s a small sample, but enough of one to boost his overall production. He also raked at home (.375 wOBA vs. .316), so there’s two significant splits that should raise some eyebrows. Is the output against lefties just small sample size noise? Miller Park is generally neutral, perhaps favoring pitchers a bit, so why such the large gap? McGehee doesn’t have enough of a track record to know if this is sustainable production, or if it’s just an outlier.

That said, he’s still a solid third base option, perhaps as high as eighth or ninth on most draft boards. Weeks, Braun, and Fielder will get on base enough in front of him to create RBI opportunities, and he hits enough line drives and ground balls to keep his average in an acceptable range. We don’t know all that much about him after a season-and-a-half, but McGehee’s 2010 season is unlikely to be a complete fluke that fools us all, yet there’s definitely a little risk going forward. Probably not enough to consider passing on him in the double digit rounds, especially if you whiffed on a high end third baseman early.