Joe Blanton is kind of like Clark Kent. He might be solid at his job, but no one really notices. There’s no flash or dash to his game. He goes out there, gives a workman like effort, an at the end of the day retreats to his Fortress of Solitude. Can Blanton take flight, you see what I did there?, and become someone’s hero in the fantasy game in 2013?
2012: 10-13, 4.71 ERA, 166 Ks, 1.26 WHIP in 191 IP
Blanton made 21 appearances for the Phillies and 10 for the Dodgers last season. In the end he was his normal, mild mannered performer with an under .500 record, an ERA worse than the league average and a WHIP that was only slightly better than the rest of his NL mates. So like many others in my Player Profile series you are thinking to yourself – why bother? – while at the same time wondering just what little bits of information that I’ve been able to dig up point to Blanton as being a person of note.
Let’s start out where Blanton was elite. I chose that term specifically to denote how he performed, there is no hyperbole involved. Blanton’s 1.60 BB/9 mark was the third best mark in baseball (it was only bettered by Cliff Lee 1.19 and Bronson Arroyo 1.56). Wow is right. Thanks to never issuing a free pass he rarely beat himself. Blanton wasn’t just avoiding the free pass last year, he was also hitting his spots with all his pitches and the result was a 7.82 K/9 mark, a career best total. When you add together those strikeout and walk numbers, guess what, you get another elite number – 4.88 as in his K/BB ratio. Where did that number place him among all starters who threw at least 162 innings (the total you need to qualify for the ERA title)? Nope, it wasn’t third. The actual answer is second, i.e. there was only one man in baseball who was better than Blanton (Cliff Lee at 7.39). When you do what Blanton did you’re not supposed to have an ERA approaching five, nor are you supposed to have an ERA that is three tenths above your career mark (in fact, his xFIP was 3.35 and his SIERA 3.45 showing that he actually pitched much better than his raw ERA would lead you to think).
So what happened? Good question.
Blanton posted a 1.39 GB/FB ratio, the third best mark of his nine year career. However, he also allowed a line drive rate of 23.4 percent, more than three points above his career mark (20.2) and nearly three points above his previous season worst (20.6). That certainly didn’t help his performance, but oddly, his BABIP was .310, a three year low and just above his .301 career mark. So again, why all the runs allowed? Remember the Player Profile on Ervin Santana and all that homer talk? Welcome to Blanton’s world, though not to the extent that it was for Santana. Blanton allowed 1.37 homers per nine innings (career 1.07) an a 15.3 HR/F ratio. Not only is that number a career worst, it’s also five points above his career rate. I would have to think that the number normalizes in 2013.
I could talk about his struggles with lefties (.293 average) or how he fared with RISP (.300 average), or note how batters hit .309 against him once he reached 91 pitches in an outing, but the bottom line is that he pitched much better than his ERA would lead you to believe. Remember, this is a guy who was a truly elite performer in BB/9 and K/BB last year, not to mention a guy who posted his best WHIP in five seasons. If Blanton were to maintain his overall performance from 2012 into the 2013 season you would be safe to expect his win-loss record to reverse itself while his ERA could drop by a full run. I’m not saying it’s going to happen, I’m merely pointing out that the performance he threw out on the field last year was indicative of a pitcher operating at darn near peak efficiency, not a guy who was barely worth rostering in mixed leagues. Maybe Blanton is more Superman than Clark Kent after all.
By Ray Flowers