Philadelphia Phillies: What the Team Can Expect Out of Big Joe Blanton

February 8, 2011 by  
Filed under Fan News

For a while during the off-season, it seemed like Joe Blanton was the odd man out.

After the Philadelphia Phillies made the biggest surprise move of the season, signing top free agent left handed starter, Cliff Lee, to a multi-year contract, it looked as though Blanton was on the outside looking in.

Blanton was set to become the highest-paid No. 5 starter in all of baseball, so speculating a trade was a simple task.

Moments after the Lee signing became official, rumors began to sprout up surrounding Blanton. The first rumored suitor was a questionable one—the Boston Red Sox. With a full house of their own, the rumor was speculation of the highest quality.

Some reporters believed that the Red Sox and Phillies had somewhat of a “gentleman’s agreement” in place—the Red Sox would take on Blanton’s salary if the Phillies lured Lee away from the Red Sox’s AL East rival, the New York Yankees. However, those rumors quickly faded into oblivion.

Although at various points in the off-season, teams like the Yankees, Minnesota Twins, Washington Nationals, Milwaukee Brewers, Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals and Oakland Athletics were speculated as landing spots for the big right-hander, with just days until the official opening of Spring Training remaining, he is still a member of the Phillies’ rotation.

With that in mind, what can we expect out of the Phillies’ fifth starter this coming season? For that, we take a look into Blanton’s past, his future, a number of projections and stats of all variety.

Over the course of his career, at the very least, Blanton has been a serviceable “innings eater” (No pun intended).

From his first full season with the Athletics in 2005 to his injury shortened 2010 season with the Phillies, Blanton has tossed right around 200 innings in each of his six, full big league seasons.

To date, he is the owner of a 72-60 career record, with an ERA of 4.30. If nothing more, the man has been consistent.

In 2010, Blanton, 30, had an interesting season. After experiencing some discomfort while throwing, the Phillies held Blanton out of the final weeks of Spring Training, and when he told the club that he wasn’t ready to go, the Phillies placed him on the 15-day Disabled List to open the season.

Many people within the organization credit Blanton’s slow start to this injury.

He missed the entire month of April with an oblique injury that sidelined him completely—no running, no throwing and no work at all until that was cleared up.

When he was finally ready to come off the Disabled List, it was clear that the time he missed in Spring Training was proving to  be crucial. He made his first start of the season against the St. Louis Cardinals—allowing four earned runs in a loss.

In fact, Blanton would not receive his first win of the season until May 15, in a game that he allowed five earned runs against the Brewers. Luckily, the Phillies’ offense was there to support him.

Before the All-Star break, the season was looking grim for “Big Joe.” He headed into the break with a record of 3-5 and an abysmal ERA of 6.41. The following months would be much better for Blanton, however.

After the All-Star break, the right-hander returned to his old self, throwing 95.2 quality innings. In the second half of the season, he posted a record of 6-1, with an ERA of 3.48.

He finished the season with a complete record of 9-6, with an ERA of 4.82. In other words, Blanton had another “Blanton-like” season. However, some of his advanced statistics were a little more telling than those that just scratch the surface.

The most notable of which was an extremely high Batting Average on Balls In Play. BABIP is an advanced stat that measures the percentage of plate appearances ending with a batted ball in play (excluding home runs) for which the batter is credited with a hit.

Therefore, a high BABIP suggests that a pitcher was unlucky and a low BABIP suggests that a pitcher had good luck. The inverse applies to a hitter.

With that in mind, Blanton’s 2010 BABIP of .321 suggests that he was unlucky in 2010, and his ERA could be much better in 2010.

As with any pitcher, though, Blanton’s overall success will be determined by how well he is throwing his pitches.

Using some expert projections and determining the strength of his repertoire, we should be able to get a good idea of what to expect out of the big right-hander.

Over the last three seasons, Blanton has shown no decrease in velocity across the board—an excellent barometer of what he’ll bring to the table heading into 2011.

He has a standard repertoire of pitches. In other words, he’ll feature a straight four-seam fastball, a curveball, a change-up, a slider and various forms of a moving fastball.

In 2010, he continued a similar rate of velocity. Whatever the movement was, his fastball remained right around 89 mph. His best secondary pitch was his curveball, which is said to be in the mold of former Athletics’ teammate, Barry Zito.

It maintained consistent break and crossed the plate around 77 mph—up from 2009. The rest of his arsenal shakes out quite normally—an 82 mph change-up and an 83 mph slider.

Despite his consistency, all of those velocity readings are below major league average. That means one thing—Blanton will have to show good control in 2011. That shouldn’t be a problem.

Since joining the Phillies in 2008, Blanton has honed his control. He posted BB/9 rates of 3.01, 2.72 and 2.20 respectively. 

In 2011, two well respected stat-projection systems—Bill James and Marcel—expect Blanton to follow a similar path, and post a walk rate in that roundabout area.

James projects a 2.48 BB/9 while Marcel projects a 2.64 BB/9. Either of those numbers would be perfectly acceptable, as they are right around league average.

Blanton’s overall success, however, could come down to his ability to strike opposing hitters out.

Over the course of his career, he has never been known for overpowering “stuff.” He relies on hitters making contact and hitting the ball on the ground.

Since he has a ground-ball rate over 40 percent over the last three seasons, he’s been relatively successful.

Coupling that with a strong out-pitch would make him leaps and bounds better than he was in 2010.

Over the last three seasons, Blanton has posted average strikeout rates. Since joining the Phillies, he’s finished with K/9’s of 5.01, 7.51 and 6.87 respectively. For a fifth starter, those are certainly acceptable averages.

Moving into 2011, James projects that Blanton will punch out 5.95 K/9, but Marcel disagrees, projecting 7.01 K/9. If we can agree to settle somewhere in the middle, we can expect strikeout rates close to what Blanton posted in 2010.

In the long run, however, all of that could be meaningless if  the Phillies’ offense does not continue to support Blanton the way they have in the past. In 2010, the right-hander received top-notch run support.

In fact, only Yankees’ starter Phil Hughes and Blanton’s teammate, Kyle Kendrick, received more run support. The Phillies’ offense averaged an incredible 8.45 runs per starts made by Blanton.

In his only other full season with the Phillies, the offense averaged 7.37 runs per start. While there’s no evidence to suggest that the offense won’t support him equally as well, it’s a concerning factor.

Blanton, who surrendered close to five runs per nine innings in 2010, would need at least six to be considered the winner.

So, all in all, what does this tell us about Blanton? Basically, the Phillies should be in for much of the same, albeit a slight improvement.

Entering Spring Training, Blanton is healthy. One of the biggest flaws of his 2010 season was that he did not have adequate time to prepare before the season.

This year, that should be different. Outside of that, Blanton could be a key cog in the Phillies’ rotation.

What do I think Blanton’s projected line will look like?

GS: 30; W/L: 13-8; ERA: 3.99; K/9: 6.45; BB/9: 2.35; IP: 198.1; WAR: 2.7

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Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies

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