Blanton in Philly

So, last night, the Phillies traded top prospect Adrian Cardenas, solid prospect Josh Outman, and long shot prospect Matthew Spencer to Oakland in return for Joe Blanton. Cardenas is the best second base prospect in the game and, in my view, Philadelphia’s best minor league talent, so in parting with him and the potentially useful Outman, the cost to acquire Blanton was fairly high. Is he going to push them over the top and help them hold off the Mets down the stretch?

Let’s take a look at Blanton’s skills in graph form.




His strengths and weaknesses are pretty clear – he has well above average command, pounding the strike zone but not missing bats. He’s a classic pitch-to-contact starter with a very slight groundball tendency, whose approach is to put the ball in play and let hitters get themselves out. There’s a lot of pitch to contact starters out there, but most of them haven’t experienced the same kind of run prevention success that Blanton has. The main reason can be best seen through the following chart:


Blanton’s allowed less than 1.0 HR/9 in each of the last three years, including a 0.63 HR/9 that ranked 11th lowest in baseball last year. The guys ahead of him were almost universally extreme groundball pitchers (except Chris Young, who pitches in Petco Park), which is intuitive – its hard to hit a groundball over the wall. But since Blanton isn’t really an extreme groundball guy, his home run prevention over the last few years is a bit surprising. In fact, his HR/FB rates are shockingly low.

2005: 9.6%
2006: 6.8%
2007: 6.5%
2008: 8.0%

Oakland Coliseum is a tough place to hit the ball out of the park, so part of these low rates are explainable as a park effect, but not to this extreme. Over the last two and a half years, Blanton has consistently beaten his projection for what we’d expect his HR/FB rate to be, even when we include the park factor into the equation.

If you think this is a sustainable skill, you’re probably pretty bullish on his ability to rebound to his 2007 form and return to above average starter status, especially with the move to the weaker NL. After all, his 4.11 FIP suggests that his 4.96 ERA is mostly bad luck, and Philly may have bought low on the 27-year-old.

However, there’s a pretty good mountain of evidence that shows that pitchers have little control over their HF/FB rate, and it varies significantly on a year to year basis. If you think (as I do) that Blanton’s low HR/FB rates the last couple of years were more of an outlier than a skill he’s going to take to Philadelphia with him, then you’re a bit more bearish on his future. In general, pitchers whose performance is built on a low HR/FB rate don’t have the same consistent success that pitchers who control the strike zone, and a move from Oakland to Philadelphia could exacerbate the regression in HR/FB rate that Blanton likely has coming.

For the price they paid, the Phillies should have gotten a borderline all-star, but from my perspective, Blanton’s more of a back-end innings eater who isn’t likely to perform in the future as well as he has in the past. This looks like the kind of trade the Phillies fans will be looking back on with frustration for years to come.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

13 Responses to “Blanton in Philly”

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  1. Pat Gillick says:

    I really regret making this trade… sorry fans.

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  2. Tom Au says:

    More power to Billy Beane. He traded away Harden at a time when he is likely to collapse for good (remember the Mark Mulder trade to St. Louis for both Dan Haren and Kiko Calero). Now he’s traded a pretty good, but not superlative, pitcher for three prospects, one of whom is “top.” And if Beane’s history is any guide, one of the remainding two will be a “sleeper” who will perform far better than now expected. With all these prospects, he will be able to “trade back” for a pitcher in a year or two.

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  3. Terry says:

    Blanton has sustained his lower than expected HR/FB% basically throughout his career as a starter for the As. As you suggest, he beats even park-adjusted projections in this regard (he shows a similar result on the road so it’s probably not a park issue anyway). He’s done it in rotations where no one else has been able to similarly post lower than expected HR/FB rates consistently.

    Given he’s consistently “done it” for greater than 750 innings, it’s worth considering that he might be an exception to the rule in this regards.

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  4. mymrbig says:

    I agree with Terry, though I can’t imagine how he does it. Sample size is getting pretty darn big at this point.

    I do not hate the trade. I think the Phillies really wanted Bedard, but with him on the DL (and with Seattle’s front office instability). they probably decided to move for Blanton now, rather than sit around praying that Bedard is available and affordable.

    They probably gave up too much (Cardenas seems pretty well regarded), but there are no guarantees and it certainly improves their rotation for the next couple years.

    I think it is a good trade for both teams, considering where they are right now. What is Oakland going to do with all these 2nd base prospects though? Weeks, Cardenas, Patterson seems like overkill.

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  5. PJ says:

    Does anyone know the MLE on Gio Gonzalez who is likely to be called up today to fill Blanton’s spot in the rotation?

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  6. Sky says:

    Even if Blanton has a true skill of allowing 85% of flyballs to leave the park, he’s still not that special. He’s a #3 at best. Yay. Buh-bye Outman and Cardenas.

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  7. mike says:

    I think you are grossly over rating the prospects the Phils gave up. Cardenas can’t play another position and if he does make any splash in the bigs it certainly wouldn’t have ever been in Philly. Outman is a marginal pitcher at best and Spencer will most likely never reach the majors. Blanton may not be the piece of the proverbial puzzle the Phils coveted the most (Sabathia) but they got a serviceable major league starter without giving away any of the prospects they believe in the most (Carrasco, Donald, Marson). This a good, not great, deal.

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  8. Paul F. says:

    The sample size isn’t really that large. In Blanton’s first season plus (only 8 innings in his first year) his HR/F rate was over 10% in 209 innings. In his career, Blanton has allowed 892 fly balls. At a 10% rate, you would expect 89 home runs, at a 9% rate, you would expect about 81 home runs. He has allowed only 69 HRs, which is difference of 20 homeruns from a 10% rate and a difference of only 12 HRs from a 9% rate. Over 4 plus years and over 825 innings, that is less than 3 home runs per year from a 9% rate. So, if we assume that he is an 11% HR/F guy, but that park effects (not just his home park, but Safeco and LAA both depress home runs, as well, and Arlington has actually played fairly neutral in recent years) reduce him to the 9-10% range, it is only a matter of 2-3 balls per year that didn’t go over the fence that is reflected in his 7.7% HR/F rate. That could certainly be explained by luck. Now, I don’t recall the average run value of a homerun, so I can’t translate that into ERA off hand, but I would imagine that an additional 3 balls going over the fence would tend to make him appear more like the 4.50-4.90 era pitcher he probably is than the mid-3s he looked like last year.

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  9. don says:

    Paul F – this is quick and sort of ugly. A solo HR is worth 1 run (obviously) and others are worth fractionally more than that dependent on the situation, I believe. I’ll guess 5 ER for three additional HRs. That may be wrong, but probably not by too much. Over 180 IP to make things easy that’s a 0.25 difference in ERA. That’s not huge. His career FIP is 4.15. Let’s say 4.4 would be more realistic with those extra HRs. He’ll lose a bit moving to Citizen’s Bank, but he’ll gain back a bit from the overall NL/AL talent differential and he’ll gain back a bit from not having to face a DH as well. A 4-4.5 ERA guy could be a workable #3 starter in Philly over the next three years. That’s better than Eaton or Kendrick, and Moyer’s not going to keep pitching forever. Should they have gotten more for Cardenas? Probably… but unless he has some hidden injury like Freddy Garcia, this isn’t a terrible deal.

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  10. Sky says:

    If you change three outs into homeruns, that’s an expected change of 3 * (1.4 + .3) = 5 runs per year. That’s half a win. Or, in ERA terms, a change of 5/180*9 = .25 points of ERA.

    If you instead assume the “lucky” homeruns would have been doubles, it matters about 1/3 as much.

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  11. Eric Seidman says:

    As a Phillies fan I really do not like this trade. Now, don’t confuse that with my feelings towards Joe Blanton. I think he’d make a very good #3 or #4 starter on this team, and if they had gotten him prior to the season to replace Adam Eaton it would have been great. But with the Mets breathing down your neck and two of your top prospects (forget Spencer at this point) dangling in the wind, Kentucky Joe is not the right kind of return.

    Now, who says they’re done? If they trade, say Carrasco (not all that special as Dave noted) and maybe Jason Donald for Bedard or Burnett, we could be looking at Hamels, Bedard/Burnett, Moyer, Blanton, Kendrick… but I have a sneaking suspicioun they ARE done, and that they’re going to try to spin this into an extreme positive based on most of the fanbase not knowing about Cardenas or his potential trade value.

    Does it improve them for the rest of this year? Maybe. By how much? Who knows, probably not very much… and they gave up one of their prime pieces of trade bait to do so.

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  12. Eric says:

    maybe i missed it but has it been mentioned how pitching in philly will affect his hr/9 in relation to the fb rate?

    i like the trade for the A’s.. not wild about it for the phillies however they are still operating from a position of strength atop the NL East.

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  13. Pat Gillick says:


    Did I mess up. I shoulda got a pitcher who at least striked fear in the hearts of batters! Instead I’ll have to make sure he stays away from Pats and Gino’s after the games. Shit.

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