Joe Blanton Returns to Being Himself

The other day someone asked me what happened to Joe Blanton this year. He’s gotten torched this year after being a pretty solid pitcher for the Phillies a year ago, and his demise has been a big reason why the Phillies currently find themselves in third place in the NL East. The big factor in Blanton’s new found suckitude has been a dramatic drop-off in his strikeout rate, which has fallen from 7.51 K/9 a year ago to 4.98 K/9 this year.

However, perhaps the question shouldn’t be what’s changed about Blanton this year, as much as it should be what changed with Blanton last year? Here’s his career K/9 in graph form:

When seen over the course of his career, his current strikeout rate seems pretty normal. It’s last year’s performance that looks like the massive outlier, and rather than the product of a breakout, it looks more like just a fluke. How did a pitch-to-contact guy with no outpitch suddenly post an above-average strikeout rate?

Certainly, the change in leagues had something to do with it. Blanton faced #9 hitters 78 times last season, and he racked up 26 strikeouts in those at-bats. Blanton took full advantage of getting to face the opposing pitcher several times a game, and was able to pad his strikeout total against guys who don’t hit for a living. But that doesn’t begin to explain all of the change in his strikeout rate.

His velocity didn’t jump. He didn’t add a new pitch. From a big picture standpoint, not much changed. So how was Blanton able to get so many strikeouts last year, and why has he crashed back to earth this year?

Pitch selection looks like one possible suspect. With the caveat that we’re dealing with really small samples here, the glaring change in his performance from last year to this year is how well he’s done on the 2-2 count. A year ago, he threw 125 pitches when the count was even at two balls and two strikes and managed a whopping 44 strikeouts (35 percent), holding opposing batters to a .189/.194/.320 line against him.

This year, he’s thrown 27 pitches in a 2-2 count, but only racked up 5 strikeouts (19 percent), and opposing hitters are knocking him around at a .444/.444/.852 clip on that pitch. The 2-2 count is a very good one for pitchers to be in, as National League hitters are putting up an average .191/.197/.305 line in that situation this year, but Blanton has not been able to take advantage and put hitters away.

In looking at his pitch selection, we can see that he’s curiously decided to throw mostly fastballs on this count, despite it being a strikeout situation. On 2-2 this year, he’s throwing 60 percent fastballs, 6 percent sliders, 15 percent curves, and 19 percent change-ups. Last year on a 2-2 count, he threw 48 percent fastballs, 23 percent sliders, 13 percent curves, and 16 percent change-ups.

Essentially, on 2-2 counts this year, he has replaced the slider – a-swing-and-miss pitch – with the fastball. Hitters have been appreciative, and instead of going down flailing at a breaking ball, they’re driving his fastball with authority.

Maybe he has a good reason for why he’s decided to start throwing 89 MPH meatballs in a pitcher’s count, but regardless, it’s not working, and perhaps he should consider trying something else.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

12 Responses to “Joe Blanton Returns to Being Himself”

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  1. RondoC says:

    I guess after 47 innings we know all we need to know, if you know what i mean

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    • joser says:

      I guess every regular reader of Fangraphs understands sample size and doesn’t need to see that caveat in every article they read, unless they just like annoyances (reading or being), if you know what I mean

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  2. DonCoburleone says:

    As a Braves fan I hope he keeps it up!!

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  3. Ben Hall says:

    I assume it was a typo, but “outliar” was pretty funny, I thought.

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  4. Bronnt says:

    Some pitching coaches encourage pitchers to throw fastballs in 2-2 counts, on the belief that you don’t want to throw anything 2-2 that you would not throw in a full count. While most pitchers are fine throwing outside of the zone 0-2 and 1-2, when it’s 2-2, they feel obliged to be at least very close to the zone.

    Personally, I don’t really see any reason to treat it differently than a 3-2 count. Unless you’re not confident in your ability to throw a strike, you shouldn’t let fear rule your pitch selection 2-2.

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  5. bflaff says:

    Joe Blanton, 2009, after 8 starts: 7.11 ERA, 44.1 IP
    Joe Blanton, 2010, after 8 starts: 7.28 ERA, 47 IP

    I wouldn’t get excited unless he kept bombing for another month.

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    • Franco says:

      He’s not going to continue to be a 7+ ERA guy, I just think they’re saying last year was a fluke with his much higher K rate. It’s more likely he regresses to 2008 numbers than 2009.

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  6. frank says:

    I know you qualified the sample size issue, but lets put some perspective on these #’s

    If he’s had 27 2-2 counts this year, the difference between a 58% and a 48% fastball rate is all of 3 fastballs (actually it’s slightly less than 3)… so we are to believe if he threw 3 fewer fastballs this year on this count, it would impact his K rate and effectiveness significantly?

    You talk about this as if it is some massive shift in pitch selection(“Essentially, on 2-2 counts this year, he has replaced the slider – a-swing-and-miss pitch – with the fastball”), when it amounts to a difference of <3 fastballs to date. 3 fastballs could be variation on the handedness of the hitter or the type of hitter or maybe he's gone to a few more 2-2 counts on opposing pitchers or maybe the game situation might dictate pitch selection.

    In 2008 he threw 52% fastballs on 2-2 counts, fairly close to his 48% in 2009 (so maybe the K rate jump in '09, and subsequent drop in '10, is not 2-2 pitch selection?)

    Also, if you look at the pitch value #'s his slider has been markedly less effective this year (wSL/c has gone from +1.11 to -3.08)

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    • DavidCEisen says:

      Posting a triple slash line for a 27 AB sample is essentially useless as well, especially considering his .500 BABIP in that situation.

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  7. pounded clown says:

    He suffered an oblique strain that comprimised his spring training. Abdominal muscle strains are notoriously one of the hardest strains to recovery full from and are often a prelude to a Sportsman Hernia. Wouldn’t suprise for the bastion of athletism we call Cupcakes to end up on the DL with this diagnosis. Actually it is a common reoccurring injury for all types of athletes. It could be lingering effects from the injury like adaptive shortening of surrounding musculature to protect the damage tissue and assist it in performing movements. Another scernio is that there might have been pre-existing conditions that caused the injury that have gone unidentified and not corrected which is often the case with alot of baseball players. Also he may not have been properly stretched out and could not complete his spring training general conditioning. That said he struggled early last year as well before righting the ship for what ever that is worth. However that he is returning to his 2008 self would be a suprise. His first few starts he was kept in the the game longer than he should have been esp. in light of this type of injury. Manuel has always struggled with identifying the right time to pull his pitchers and Rich Dubee is dreadful counsel in this regard. So, some of his early starts the wheels came of the wagon in the inning where he should have been pulled. How that effects this analysis if at all, I don’t know.

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    • pounded clown says:


      ”However that he is returning to his 2008 self would be a suprise” should say
      ”However that he may be returning to his 2008 self wouldn’t be a suprise”

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  8. BosoxBob says:

    If you look at Blanton’s PitchFX chart, you’ll notice that in 2009, he was getting more vertical movement on his slider, curve and change than in preceding years or this year. I suspect that has a lot to do with Blanton’s K/9 outlier in 2009, and why he’s throwing fewer breaking pitches in 2-2 counts this year.

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