Joe Blanton is Having One of the Weirdest Seasons Ever

Before this season, there had been 25 seasons with a qualified starting pitcher who has had a strikeout-to-walk ratio greater than 6.00, and every single one of them has had an ERA- of 86 or better. To the likely surprise of many, Joe Blanton currently leads the NL with a 6.39 K/BB, and since Colby Lewis is out for the season and no other qualified starter has a mark better than 4.87, it is a pretty safe bet to expect Blanton to lead the majors in K/BB at seasons end. What makes Blanton’s season even more interesting is that he currently holds an ERA- of 114 and has allowed the most home runs in the NL.

The home run rate is not entirely unprecedented, as a pitcher with a K/BB ratio greater than 6.00 has led the league in home runs three other times in the history of baseball. Those three include Curt Schilling with 37 allowed in 2001 (I hear a lot of home runs were hit that year), Fergie Jenkins with 29 allowed in 1971, and Walter Johnson with 9 allowed in 1913. Schilling finished second in Cy Young balloting in his year while Jenkins won the award and Johnson won the MVP (there was no Cy Young award back then). Unless he goes on a tremendous tear to end the season and brings whatever team he is playing for to the playoffs, it is doubtful that Blanton even receives one Cy Young vote this year.

So how has Blanton posted the top K/BB ratio in the league and allowed this many runs, specifically of the over the fence variety? It starts with tremendous control of every pitch he throws. PITCHf/x has Blanton labeled with six different pitches this year, each of which has a strike percentage above 64.4%. To put that into perspective, Colby Lewis has an even better K/BB ratio than Blanton this year and even he has a pitch that is thrown for a strike less than 60% of the time in his curveball.

The high strike frequency has also been a reason for his high home run total, as he has allowed a home run with each of his pitches this season. The big issue Blanton has run into is leaving pitches out over the plate. Whether it be down the middle, high, or low, a majority of Blanton’s home runs have been on pitches that weren’t exactly close to the corner of the plate. Just by viewing the below chart, it seems that only five of the 20 home runs allowed were very low in the zone or on the corner of the plate while the rest were either close to the middle of the plate or up in the zone. Blanton has allowed 22 home runs, but Joe Lefkowitz’s PITCHf/x system has not recorded Blanton’s two most recent outings yet.

In looking particularly at Blanton’s pitch frequency by zone to right-handed batters, over 18% of his hard pitches have been in the dead middle of the zone. Blanton has not thrown hard pitches to any other part of the zone more than 13% of the time, so it is clear that he has had struggles keeping balls out of the center of the zone to right-handers. That issue correlates to his home run allowed total, as 14 of the 22 home runs he has allowed all year have been to right-handed hitters despite facing fewer right-handed batters than left-handers. According to Lefkowitz’s stats, right-handed hitters have a .524 ISO against pitches in the heart of the zone while left-handers have a still huge but less incredible .421 ISO against similar offerings.

In terms of home run distance, the average home run off of Blanton’s bat has traveled just under 400 feet. Six of the 22 home runs have been of the just enough variety, three coming in Philadelphia and one coming in also homer friendly Camden Yards. With Blanton a pending free agent, a team with a big stadium could opt to target him due to his stellar K/BB rate and their favorable park which should help limit his home runs.

Blanton may never be a tremendous starter, but in the right park and with continued control of all of his pitches, he could be a surprisingly valuable pitcher. While he has netted just one season with a WAR above 2.1 in the past six seasons, a team in an appropriate situation would be wise to target Blanton this offseason.



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Ben has been at RotoGraphs since 2012 and focuses most of his fantasy baseball attention toward dynasty and keeper leagues.


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phattonez
Member
phattonez
4 years 27 days ago

Citizens Bank Park is definitely not meant for flyball pitchers. I’m guessing he’s a perfect fit for an NL West team.

ChadT
Guest
ChadT
4 years 23 days ago

Good guess.

libre
Member
Member
libre
4 years 23 days ago

Very prescient of you.

Josh M
Guest
Josh M
4 years 27 days ago

So basically Blanton just tosses pitches right down the pipe and hopes for the best.

Hurtlockertwo
Guest
Hurtlockertwo
4 years 26 days ago

Agreed, this is a firm grasp of the obvious.

Al Dimond
Guest
4 years 27 days ago

Overall this article makes a lot of sense — Blanton has pretty good strikeout and walk numbers, and it focuses on home runs. It’s worth noting in any article that cites K/BB that it’s a metric that breaks down really badly for pitchers with low walk rates. Fairly insignificant variations in low walk rates lead to wild swings in K/BB, and pitchers with very low walk rates generally have highly inflated K/BB — Jon Lieber, according to b-r, is #11 in career K/BB.

ppabich
Guest
ppabich
4 years 27 days ago

80 control, 20 command. A rare season indeed.

Dan in Philly
Guest
Dan in Philly
4 years 26 days ago

I’ve always considered that all pitchers throw just exactly as many strikes they need to be get the most outs possible. Almost any pitcher could throw as many strikes as Blanton, but if they did, they would similarly give up a lot of hits and HRs. Blanton has, I think, concluded that he simply has to never walk anyone to be effective, and his pitches reflect this.

JoeS
Member
4 years 26 days ago

I’ve always thought Blanton was a little underrated because of his K/BB and was actually really surprised that he wasn’t moved today.

MC2
Guest
MC2
4 years 26 days ago

Based on this data, I guess the Orioles were lucky they weren’t able to land him, as he seems almost as bad a fit for Camden Yards as he is for Citizens Bank Park.

B N
Guest
B N
4 years 26 days ago

Sounds like the Mariners should make a move for him… if they’re ever in a good enough position to be a buyer before Blanton retires.

Dennis O.
Guest
Dennis O.
4 years 26 days ago

Something’s wrong when the Phillies offered Blanton to Baltimore on a silver platter and offered to pay part of his remaining 2012 salary, but the Orioles still wouldn’t agree to the deal.

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