Maybe the headline is a tad misleading; Joe Blanton-to-the-bullpen looked like something of a success story before he went to Pittsburgh and worked under the tutelage of pitching coach guru Ray Searage. But it was in Pittsburgh and under Searage that Blanton really took off, and without that time in Pittsburgh, Blanton may very well have been Just Another Reliever on the scrap heap, rather than a reliever who receives $4 million on a one-year deal to pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
It’s the year 2016, and we live in a world where Joe Blanton is getting guaranteed money to serve as a relief weapon for a contender. What a time to be alive.
Like many of you, I’ve long played fantasy baseball, and I’ve got a history with Mr. Blanton. Beware: I’m currently breaking rule No. 1 of playing fantasy baseball by talking about my fantasy baseball team. Nobody cares, I know, but I promise it won’t take long, and it’s related to the events at hand. My history with Joe Blanton goes like this: when I first started learning about sabermetrics, I learned about xFIP, and thought to myself, “Hey, this could be a useful tool for fantasy baseball.” One single stat, a predictive stat, that shows you potential under- and over-performers who have the peripherals to succeed; it was perfect!
Through the power of the almighty xFIP, I hastily, yet assertively, concluded that Joe Blanton was just unlucky. I concluded that Joe Blanton’s peripherals hinted at better results than he’d shown, and that Joe Blanton would provide Good Value. I drafted Joe Blanton, and then he was bad. Drats. Unlucky. Drafted him again, bad again. It goes on like this for several seasons until I couldn’t draft Joe Blanton anymore because he was no longer in the major leagues. At a certain point, I think I just became pot-committed and was determined to squeeze a good season out of Joe Blanton. It never came.
The point is this: Joe Blanton was always close. It always seemed like he might just be an adjustment away. An adjustment, or a lucky home run season. One of the two. He didn’t get a ton of strikeouts, but he got enough, he didn’t walk anybody, and he got a bunch of ground balls. That’s typically the beginning of a strong recipe for a successful pitcher, except Joe Blanton just gave up so many freaking dingers. Joe Blanton dingered himself right out of baseball, culminating in a 2013 in which he allowed 29 homers in 28 appearances. That was it for Blanton.
Or so we thought — until right around this time last year, when Blanton announced he was coming out of retirement, and we scoffed. Until Blanton received a minor league deal with the Royals, and we scoffed. Until Blanton found his way onto the major league roster and pitched effectively out of the bullpen, and we continued to scoff, but our hearts weren’t really in it, and as we scoffed we kind of looked around the proverbial room at one another, quizzically, as if to say, “Should we still be scoffing?” Until Blanton made his way to Pittsburgh and flat-out dominated, and we all just sat there, dumbfounded.