Friday, October 29, 2010
Joe Blanton signed a 3-year, $24M extension last offseason, keeping him in a Phillies uniform through the 2012 season. This made some sense for the Phillies (minus the whole ‘should have just kept Cliff Lee with that money’ thing which I’m not going to get into) since he asked for $10.25M in arbitration, and the Phillies countered with $7.5M. Meeting in between was a good idea, since the arbitration process can be difficult to predict. Plus, the Phillies were keeping a reliable arm, someone that had just come off a pretty good year, who is fully capable of pitching 200 innings to a 4.10 ERA. That’s useful.
However, Joe Blanton start to the season had people yelling to remove him from the rotation. Through his first eight starts of 2010, Blanton sat at a 7.28 ERA and his peripheral stats supported that lousy number. His FIP sat at 5.34 in May and 5.16 in June and his xFIP numbers were just as close. His K/9 rate was awful (4.5 in May, a season low) and he gave up 13 homers in his first 11 starts. The numbers just didn’t look good for Joe.
Thankfully, something turned around in July. From the All-Star break on he started 15 games, pitching to a 3.33 ERA (this doesn’t include his one game relief appearance). His K/9 rate rebounded to 7.89, which helps explain the ERA drop. Couple that with fewer walks and HR allowed and suddenly he was back to being a reliable 4th starter (which is what he was once the Phillies grabbed Oswalt). From the naked eye, it would appear that the early season strained oblique Joe suffered in spring training probably delayed him in getting up to speed. That and the fact that he may just be a slow starter (since he had an equally bad start to 2009, although it ended a little quicker then).
In looking at the numbers, it was striking how similar a pitcher he was to 2009 (his xFIP numbers were almost exactly the same) except for one major difference: he learned a cutter. In the past, Blanton was primarily a fastball, slider, changeup pitcher, occasionally throwing a curveball (not a very good one, mind you). This season, like most Phillies pitchers though, he started to work in a cutter. This came at the detriment of his slider, his second best pitch historically, which he threw less often. That change may account for some of the early season woes as well. As we saw with Hamels early in the year as well, the cutter is a very powerful pitch, if you know how to throw it. If not, it’s basically a slower fastball that hangs in the middle of the plate. That isn’t good. Another offseason to work on the pitch should be very beneficial for Blanton’s 2011 performance.
Overall, Joe Blanton really is what he is. He’s a decent starter, averaging exactly 2.0 WAR in the past three seasons. He’s getting paid a contract that he’s worth, as he’s set to make $8.5M both this year and next. I really couldn’t sum it up better than in this chart from Fangraphs.com:
See, he really is about as average as possible. And you know what? Sometimes, especially in the National League, average is plenty good enough.
Next up, Ryan Madson.
[chart courtesy of Fangraphs.com]